Guardian Rebuttal

This is a boring post. I’m sorry.

John Plunkett at The Guardian’s written an article that’s calling out for some rebuttal. Having been forced to sit through the MoU meetings I at least want something on record that reflects what actually happened. I also find it slightly odd that a newspaper that loses a million pounds a week, and sells less copies than Absolute Radio 90s, a digital-only radio station, has listeners – wants to lecture our industry about misplanning ‘the future’.

Anyway, basically the vast majority of commercial radio, the BBC and the Government are working together to ensure that digital coverage matches FM coverage. Everyone has different views, business strategies and objectives – but we’re all sitting down to work through them. The meetings were not particularly fun and they took too long, but the net result is that we’re all on the same page – for the benefit of radio listeners. Which I think’s a good thing.

So… some rebuttal.

A £21m BBC, government and commercial radio plan to pave the way for the switch-off of FM radio immediately ran into criticism from the industry today, with one insider describing the scheme as a “total waste of time and energy”.

One person’s disagreed.

A “memorandum of understanding” announced by communications minister Ed Vaizey on Monday said that ministers had reached an “agreement in principle” with the BBC and commercial operators to extend the reach of local digital radio, starting with five new rural services.

Oxford and Northampton’s not particularly rural, but we’ll let that one go.

However, those close to the talks pointed out that the memo is not legally binding and the extra investment is ultimately dependent on ministers committing to turn off popular FM radio services.

The point of an MoU is that it takes people with diverging views and brings them all together. Across the three elements there’s bits where we (BBC, commercial radio and the Government) need to do things that ordinarily we might not do on our own. Therefore by tying us together in stages it’ll mean that it builds the trust to get everything to happen. As happens in pretty much every MoU there’s ever been.

Proposals to switch off analogue radio to force listeners to buy to digital receivers have failed to take off amid controversy over the axing FM – and the reluctance on the part of ministers to insist on the change as a result.

Despite more than a decade of investment and industry promotion, digital radio, including DAB, online and digital TV, currently accounts for 29.2% of all radio listening – although that is up 11% year on year.

First of all – analogue radio isn’t being ‘turned off’. There will continue to be small commercial and community radio stations on FM.

Secondly – ‘we’ (whoever that is) aren’t, haven’t and won’t be forcing people to buy digital radios. As we haven’t been doing that, it can’t have failed.

Thirdly – the despite promotion it’s all a failure thing. Sigh. Half the country listen to digital radio every week. A third of ALL RADIO LISTENING is digital – as an example that’s more than all of the listening to Radio 2 and Radio 4 combined – ie it’s not particularly small.

Fourthly – the bit at the end that say, “oh, though it is up 11%  year on year”. FFS.

William Rogers, the chief executive of local radio group UKRD and a long-time digital radio sceptic, said the memorandum was a “total waste of time and energy” which was “tantamount to kicking the can down the road”.

So the long-time sceptic says a digital radio-related thing is rubbish. Er, and that’s a surprise?

He added: “We have been waiting for this for months and months and all we get is a meaningless piece of paper devoid of any serious commitment to the necessary funding required or any sensible strategy to deliver certainty to this whole local digital shambles.”

Except for the £21m commitment, with money from the BBC, Government and Commercial Radio to bring digital radio coverage to 90% and then on to FM equivalence?

Vaizey said that government was committed to making a decision on digital radio switchover in 2013, expected towards the end of the year.

No. 2013 is when the decision about switchover will happen. The decision and not that the actual switchover is going to happen in 2013. Nothing’s happening towards the end of this year.

In the interim, the first part of the £21m plan will see five new local DAB multiplexes launch in Gloucestershire, Hereford and Worcester, Northamptonshire, north-east Wales and west Cheshire, and Oxfordshire in the next 18 months.

Not really, but i’m getting bored of correcting the errors. But yes, they’ll be five multiplexes on air quite soon.

Industry insiders said the commercial sector was reluctant to commit millions of pounds to extending their digital services until the government was fully committed to switchover. Under-pressure local stations are unwilling to be caught permanently with the costs of broadcasting on analogue and digital without any end in sight.

Sort of wrong again and it’ll be more obvious when the MoU’s published. However, as is stated there are three phases –  each needing investment from all sides. This includes everyone putting in more money before there’s a government announced switchover – as well as after – so this isn’t really true.

They said the agreement between the various parties involved, including Global Radio, Bauer Radio and TalkSport parent UTV Media, was only possible because it was not legally binding. “It’s a case of not wanting to throw good money after bad,” said one source.

Except that Phase 2 makes the MoU legally binding. And it’s actually something that everyone has been very enthusiastic about happening.

The industry tensions – and public scepticsm about the benefits of digital – meant that it proved impossible to get a binding agreement to invest in digital, meaning that Vaizey was only able to announce a non-binding memorandum of understanding.

Yeah, public sceptisism – what with 50% of the public listening to digital each week and all. And the fact everyone’s on-board with wanting to sign a binding agreement.

In particular, the BBC was understood to be reluctant to commit to funding commitments beyond the start of the next licence fee settlement in 2017.

If they’re so reluctant, why have the signed the agreement which commits them to funding requirements beyond the next licence fee settlement?

Nevertheless, Vaizey said it was a “positive and significant step forward for the future of digital radio in the UK”.

The minister added: “As more and more listeners make the switch to digital, it’s vital that we keep on increasing the areas able to receive a digital signal. Government, the BBC and the commercial operators are working together to ensure this happens.”

Media regulator Ofcom will also set up a Joint Planning for Radio Group to oversee the technical aspects of local DAB rollout and come up with a “technical switchover plan”.

Further investment will be subject to a “positive in principle” decision on switchover by the government and a further legally binding agreement on funding being in place.


A switchover date can only be set in place by the government when 50% of all radio listening is digital and when national DAB coverage is comparable to FM and local DAB reaches 90% of the population and all major roads.

Which, sigh, is the point of the MoU.