Often when I talk about DAB Digital Radio, people bring up the internet and ask “well, won’t it all be over from DAB soon?”.
The things I generally say in response, are:
1. I think it’s quite surprising that even though Broadband has 50% penetration and it’s pretty much standard in offices, radio listening on-line is still amazingly low. And this is with there being a million-odd radio stations and pretty much all of the UK’s analogue stations too. Plus the majority of radio listening is at home and work (not on the move). So, really, it should be doing much better online.
2. People like listening to radio on radio-like devices. Simplicity is one of the key reasons radio has so much consumption. It’s almost like a utility, you open the tap and in it flows. Internet radio is still a bit complicated/a hassle to use.
3. People are overwhelmed by choice. They want to be able to recognise and find the stations that they want to listen to.
4. Mobile internet (at the moment) is still quite expensive/a bit rubbish so listening on the move isn’t a great experience.
5. Internet radio is expensive for operators, the more listeners they have the more money they have to pay – this is something very different to broadcast – where it costs the same if you have one listener or a million.
6. DAB solves most of listeners problems with the radio. It replicates all the places you listen to the radio, it has loads of stations that you know and another medium selection of specialist ones. It has some of the highest appreciation scores of any consumer electronics device.
7. Even with a fraction of broadband penetration it generates over 8% of all UK radio listening.
However, the world is changing, so perhaps internet radio listening figures and use will change.
Devices like the iPhone have user interfaces and internet connectivity that doesn’t penalise data use. The move to WiFi at home means that people are more comfortable having a variety of devices that use the connection. With more sophisticated use of the internet, people are also more comfortable seeking out specific content that interests them. So maybe internet radio’s pathetic 1.8% share of listening (whilst DAB is 8.6%ish) will grow.
There is also the emergence of WiMax. Basically it broadcasts broadband through the air to boxes in your house, these are usually connected to your router and then you use regular WiFi to access and surf. It also means that you don’t need a phone line as that bit comes through the air. It’ll serve as a catalyst that will, no doubt, reduce broadband prices. It will also mean that if you’re too far away from the exchange to get broadband you’ll at least have another option.
There’s also Mobile WiMax which is basically the above, but straight into your phone/computer. It doesn’t really exist commercially at the moment, but will probably find its way to market in a couple of years. However, by then, 3G and 4G services might have made WiMax redundant.
Many people also think that WiMax services will mean lots of radio like devices will appear and will become the defacto way of listening to audio. Me, i’m still to be convinced….
Especially, based on the experience i’ve just had to endure.
My friend Helen has recently become the programme controller of radio station and where she lives she’s not able to pick up the station on FM or digital. The internet is therefore her only chance of spying, er, listening in, on her presenters from home. She has purchased an Acoustic Energy WiFi radio to do this. She’s was having trouble installing it, so she promised me dinner in exchange for some tech support.
Helen’s also on the cutting edge of internet technology as she has a WiMax-ish broadband connection, that pulls the internet over the air, from Now Wireless Broadband. So, to get her internet radio to work we had to hook the weirdo modem thing from Now to a wireless router. We then had to get the wireless router working and encrypted and get all the laptops and the WiFi radio to be able to connect.
This took a long time. And I know a little about such things.
To achieve this I had to use the Netgear admin panel, change the different encyption settings and google some queries to my problems. Then to get the WiFi radio hooked up I evntually worked out that I had to take all the security off the network to get the radio to connect and download some new firmware. I then put the security back on and realised that the WiFi radio only like one of the five different encryption options and even then you weren’t supposed to enter the full password, or something. I then had to change all the laptops to the new security settings.
This is all a little but different from hitting ‘autotune’ on a DAB Digital Radio.
Now, i’m convinced that this will all get easier, it better do, it would be impossible for it to get any harder.
However, the radio itself, is alright. When you’ve got the bloody thing to recognise the network it brings up a station menu that lets you navigate by continent to country and then it pulls a list of all the stations (from Reciva). For the UK it pulls 1340 stations, which makes the tuning take a long time to get to the station you want. When you tune in you get a connecting and a buffering and then it appears. We tuned to a GCap local station (that broadcasts on a number of bitrates up to 128), the version we got was 32kbits. It sounded alright, but nothing special, definitely not as crisp as DAB. I imagine this is because it has trouble connecting to the peered version of the stream.
We also had a play with Radio 4, and that was where the best point of the device came up. As well as live streaming you can hear all the ‘listen again’ content on-demand. Lots of the research i’ve recently commissioned has shown that people would love to listen to on-demand content on a radio-like device and this device definitely proves it.
Listening to on-demand radio is something that DAB lacks at the moment. It is something however that we’re working on and should hopefully fixed by the end of the year. Fingers crossed.
So overall, the WiFi radio is a terrible for setup, okay for navigating and use, but has some excellent features. It will be interesting to see how the next generation devices grow and develop and whether their use increases. As part of my job I regular do research studies and have recently added WiFi radio to the list of ‘ways you’ve listened to the radio in the last week’. At the moment i’ve never had a person say they listen this way, it’ll be interesting to see if that changes too.