Digital Radio – Online or DAB?

Digital ROLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAadio UK, the body pushing for switchover to digital radio, claims that 50% of all radio users listen digitally at least once a week. But new evidence suggests a significant proportion of the growth is through web and mobile application listening, rather than dedicated digital radios (DAB radios). Although almost 30% of radio listening takes place on a digital format, DAB use is down by 0.% in the first three months of 2012. Meanwhile, online and app listening is at its highest yet, moving from 3.4% to 3.9%. Tim says he saw this coming two years ago…

‘I wasn’t surprised to hear these figures. I believe it’s two-and-a-half years ago since I suggested to Ford Ennals, CEO of Digital Radio UK (DRUK), that increased digital growth is likely to take place online. After all, if most people have an analogue radio and an internet-connected computer, they’re likely to simply use the computer if they want to digital radio, rather than buying an expensive new DAB radio. I suggested that DRUK should give more emphasis to online listening, especially as internet-connected TVs become more popular.

‘Ford Ennals responded that such a possibility was unthinkable – the UK simply doesn’t have enough bandwidth available online for mass adoption of online digital radio.

‘But at WaveLength we believe that listening behaviours can’t be dictated. Of course the increasing trend towards online digital radio is alarming, because of the current sub-par state of UK broadband – which I blogged about here. But the solution is surely to improve broadband provision rather than putting more and more money into erecting digital radio transmitters.

‘Keeping the UK connected digitally is a fine and important goal. But we have to think very carefully about where to spend limited resources. DRUK wants to turn off analogue radio when 50% of listening is digital, but their timespan keeps being forced back. Not long ago, this goal was predicted for 2013, with switchover taking place in 2015. Now, they’re estimating a switchover in 2020. But should investment be redirected instead towards broadband?

‘The Consumer Expert Group, of which WaveLength is a part, thinks we should only switch when 50% of listening takes place through DAB radio, not when 50% of listening is digital in general. Otherwise, we risk a majority of analogue listeners – those who don’t want to use a computer or connected TV – forced to buy new digital radios. It’s our job to look out for the most vulnerable, so WaveLength will always campaign for access to preferred listening systems to be a priority, over new technology for new technology’s sake.’


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