So, a couple of posts this week talking about the digital upgrade.
There’s still a significant chunk of radio people who are either ‘on the fence’ about ‘DAB/digital’ or are firmly in the ‘no’ camp.
If that’s you, the one question I ask you to think about is “What will happen to radio industry if digital radio doesn’t happen?”
In the UK, in the analogue world, the news is about consolidation and networking. Less stations, less choice and less jobs. However, crucially, at the same time, no room for new analogue competitors.
I often hear that the internet and mobile is radio’s saviour. Yep – it might well be. It is however a completely unproven hypothesis. Internet listening accounts for just 2.9%. In other words it’s a platform that can reach the most people in the UK, offers unlimited choice, is supported by every radio station and broadcasts at excellent audio quality (all the things that people say DAB needs) but still provides little UK radio listening (DAB provides 15.1%).
Is IP the platform, that on it’s own, is going to be radio’s real saviour? Do you think that by the time that figure gets anyway to be able to support a radio station with actual programming we’ll have any new radio companies left to really take advantage of it?
It does of course make sense that at some point in the future ubiquitous broadband will allow radio to be consumed in volume that way, I just think the slow-take up we’ve seen (and is likely to continue) and the explosion in online choice of things that replace readio consumption means that it will be incredibly difficult for anything other than established players to make the transition from analogue to IP.
Indeed, whilst we’re waiting for this IP-only future the existing analogue broadcasters will continue to dominate the airwaves whilst reducing their local commitments. The BBC will continue to be the excellent broadcaster it is (though always under threat from a licence fee settlement).
Now, in the short-term I don’t imagine this scenario would drastically affect listeners. I imagine what would happen though is what we see in other countries without non-analogue platforms – a slow decline in total listening and a higher decline in the younger demographics (as they look to a variety of sources for music and entertainment – split over many different sources).
Analogue commercial groups will continue to prosper through cutting costs and taking their share of the shrinking radio advertising market. IP and mobile platforms will of course generate new types of services, but the radio listening hours available means that companies providing radio programming are unlikely to be able to formulate a business plan that can cope with the smaller hours that IP (at least over at least the next five years) will deliver. I’m not aware of any Internet-only stations currently generating signficiant broadcast station-style hours – please leave a comment if you do.
I think UK Radio Player will start to make a difference to internet radio listening. Particularly it will improve the user experience of accessing online audio content – and that’s definitely good news for operators.
I often look at my own radio station, Fun Kids. There’s been periods where we’ve been on DTV, DAB and Online. DTV’s good for reach, DAB provides all the hours (how we make any money) and whilst of course I have an IP stream (with mobile on the way) as a niche service without much format competition we’re still very hard to just come across online. IP is good for people who know us and are out of area etc, but it’s such a small number of people. We really wouldn’t bother running Fun if it was IP only. I might well invest the money instead in an online product but it certainly wouldn’t be a radio-based one.
The reason new entrants like Planet Rock, Absolute 80s, Jazz FM etc are around are because of the combination of DAB, DTV, Online and Mobile – this is ‘digital’ taking the benefits of each of the elements and working together.
I’m always amazed at radio people who are negative about DAB – as at the moment its the one thing that’s giving the hours base for these new entrants to survive and turn themselves into real radio stations and businesses.
All technology is transitory. In telly – Black and White to Colour to Nicam to Widescreen to Freeview to Freeview HD. All requiring replacements. However each one took the platform to the next stage, new benefits, new entrants.
Take a moment to think that 694,000 people listen to Planet Rock every week. That’s amazing. A big push of publicity took 6Music to over 1m listeners. Wow! If you work in radio – the success of these stations means your skills will continue to be in demand. As a radio person i’d rather not have to rely on the analogue operators thank you very much.
People in other countries can’t believe we’re not only growing radio listening, but that a quarter of it isn’t even on AM or FM. They are all truly shocked. Their radio industries are fixed with their analogue platforms and a slow increases in internet listening. They see us as having freed ourselves from the analogue shackles.
A healthy radio industry needs plurality. An analogue and internet only future now will stifle innovation in radio programming and leave us at the mercy of existing operators with the hope that the BBC will be able to continue.
Reading around today the main arguments about the ‘upgrade’ are really about coverage and cars. Thank god. At least that’s something that’s easily fixable. There was the BBC announcement yesterday about 60-odd new transmitters to improve their national coverage and there’s more announcements like that on the way. The people who have a proper in-car receiver rarely moan about coverage (it’s a great user experience). If you’ve got a crap radio or it’s not installed properly then i’m not surprised if it’s not very good.
In-car roll-out though, is of course, a bit more of an issue (though it does only represent 20% of UK listening). I’m less concerned about line-fitting than I once was. Listening to recent announcements from Mini and the like, i’m confident that as we ramp up to 2013 every range will line-fit. The after-market needs more and better products, but with necessity the mother of invention i’m sure we’ll see some developments.
Do we need to wait or reset to use a different digital radio broadcast platform? No. It’s been a hard old slog to get where we are now, I don’t think a change would be good for listeners or any of the people creating a business. Listeners will judge the digital platforms on what they deliver now, not what they could, potentially, deliver in the future. This will be the true test, not just for DAB, but for radio if we want to make a leap forward, or stay where we are today forever.
Collectively, us in radio, should support all the digital platforms. DAB, DTV, IP and Mobile all work together to provide a future for the industry – lets not try and sabotage our future by in fighting over platforms, lets celebrate the best of each of them. If one particularly suits you – that’s great, but don’t assume that everyone feels the same way. Every digital listener is a radio listener after all.
I expect over the years that the relative importance of each of the different platforms will change and ebb and flow – what’s important is that by building a strong future together now – that a broad selection of radio stations will still be around to survive and evolve!
So next time someone slags off something that allows our listeners to hear us, that’s meant a new entrant can justify investing in their business, or has allowed someone to be employed who’s been laid off from a co-located analogue station, remember to have a word and say digital radio means (through a number of methods) means we’re able to build the future of our industry.