The Digital Radio Working Group’s Interim Report

This year DAB Digital Radio’s had more ups and downs than the Great Wall of China. Well, the industry has, meanwhile listeners are still buying the radios (7m of them) and listening more and more (DAB listening accounts for around 11% of all radio listening).

It’s nice, however, to see some good news this afternoon as the Digital Radio Working Group have just published their interim report. The DRWG-who? Well, they’re a body put together by the government at the end of last year to find out the following:

  • What conditions would need to be achieved before digital platforms could become the predominant means of delivering radio?
  • What are the current barriers to the growth of digital radio?
  • What are the possible remedies to those barriers?

What’s positive about the DRWG is that it made up of existing broadcasters – commercial, BBC and community – people involved in the manufacturing of radios, car companies and the relevant government departments. Who, to be fair, haven’t always seen eye to eye on how (or in some cases if), DAB should develop. Indeed, even within commercial radio there’s been some disagreements (and the occasional curve-ball like Fru Hazlitt’s toys-pram incident earlier in the year).

The purpose of this interim report is to show:

  • an agreed vision for the future of radio in the UK;
  • a number of interim recommendations for Government, Ofcom and industry to consider;
  • an outline of future work; and
  • to provide an opportunity for wider debate on the initial findings of the DRWG.

The fact that the group themselves have all agreed this is bigger news than anyone will pick up on. It shows a united ‘radio’ (in its broadest terms) approach to the future.

So, what have they all agreed then? Well, this…

Summary of Interim Recommendations:

  • DAB is the most appropriate replacement for analogue radio in the UK;
  • The future radio landscape should at least in the medium term be a mixed ecology with:
  • DAB as the primary platform for national, regional and large local stations;
  • FM capacity for small local and community radio stations; and
  • IP delivery to complement the above and provide opportunities for greater interactivity.
  • Future receivers should be capable of receiving FM, DAB and the other main variants of the Eureka 147 family.
  • A long term plan should be developed to move all services to digital. MW should be re-allocated for other uses, while more work is needed to consider the future role of LW.

And suggestions for Government…

  • The Government should make a clear statement on the future of digital radio.
  • Government should agree a set of criteria and timetable for the migration to digital.
  • These criteria should include an assessment of: o the percentage of listening to DAB enabled devices;
  • Current and planned coverage of DAB and FM; and
  • In considering the case for migration we expect the Government will also want to consider the take-up of digital radio in cars, affordability, functionality, and an environmental impact plan.
  • The aspiration should be to meet these criteria by between 2012 and 2015 with migration completed by 2020

Obviously I’m quite happy about this as my company owns a load of digital radio multiplexes, but I think it’s also good news for broadcasters who want to move from AM to FM and eventually digital too. However, the key thing about a lot of this work is that through co-ordinated decision making and agreement it builds confidence – whether that’s for listeners, radio stations or manufacturers.

Of course, the Government can happily reject all of this, should it wish, but even if that was to happen the working group has given the industry a place to consider their DAB future and collectively work on a plan to make it even stronger.