Posts Tagged ‘DAB’

Radio amnesty fails to lift DAB

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

The radio audience ratings service RAJAR has published the first full quarter of figures since the launch of a DAB trade-in scheme called ‘Radio Amnesty’, fronted by ubiquitous luvvie Stephen Fry. The aim was to induce households to exchange their FM radios for a DAB radio. The result? DAB’s share of digital listening has fallen for the first time.
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Stephen Fry’s truly terrible mistake

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

It’s little wonder that Stephen Fry holds such a place in the nation’s affections. He’s earned it through a string of unforgettable performances. There’s his voiceover for Direct Line’s pet insurance, his voiceover for the 2008 Argos catalogue, not to mention voiceovers for Anchor Butter, Tesco, Dairylea, Kenco, Coca Cola, Trebor Mints and UK Online to name but a few examples. Who could forget his legendary partnership with Hugh Laurie for Alliance and Leicester?

Then there’s the quiz shows. When it comes to reading out infonuggets from pieces of card prepared for him by TV researchers, Fry is the master. And more recently, his pioneering new media work on Twitter has put him at the forefront of an elite group of British comedy talents (including Graham Linehan and Peter Serafinowicz) who have found fame by telling us when they’re stuck in a lift, or about to have lunch. Once upon a time, comedy writers and performers had to be funny, as a minimum requirement. Now, the Twittering comics have now smashed that glass ceiling.

But Fry risks throwing away this incomparable legacy, built up over a lifetime, because of a weakness. And it’s a weakness every bit as reckless as Oscar’s love for Bosie.

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BBC pulling back from the DAByss?

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

Simply because Tim Davie, the BBC’s new radio chief, has a background in advertising and marketing, that isn’t a reason to assume everything he says is a lie. It’s more charitable to say he’s well practiced in the dark acts of spinning, having learnt the trade at Pepsi and Proctor and Gamble. And so you might want to take the explanation he offered on DAB strategy last week with a large dose of organic salt.

For the first time, a top BBC executive admitted that DAB radio isn’t inevitable. The Director of BBC Audio and Music told Radio 4’s Feedback programme that “since I have arrived at the BBC, I certainly haven’t seen it as inevitable that we move to DAB.”

Davie continued:

“We do believe that, if radio doesn’t have a digital broadcast platform, it will be disadvantaged. I’m pretty convinced of that logic. What I’m not saying is that we have to move at 2015 if we haven’t delivered the thresholds – the right levels of listening to digital radio and to DAB. I don’t think we are on a course that is unstoppable to 2015, although we are pretty committed to a DAB switchover over time.”

Davie was responding to a deluge of negative responses unleashed by Carter’s Digital Britain report. The report, the nation’s Media Correspondents told us, would order analog radio to be switched off in 2015. Incorrectly, as it turned out. Emboldened by this, it was suddenly open season on DAB. The Tories have sniffed a vote winner, although shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt shows the same reluctance to grasp the underlying problems.

Radio 4’s Today programme sent its radio car to the remote location of er, BBC Television Centre, and discovered DAB reception “is more irritating than Norman Collier’s broken mic routine”. That is, if they could get it at all. Back in the studio, former TalkSport owner Kelvin McKenzie listed more DAB closures and concluded: “There are no advertisers out there, no listeners out there. DAB is a technology whose day is done.”

Davie was merely trying to defang the backlash. Listeners don’t like to feel bullied, and especially not bullied onto a technology that is perceived to offer only disadvantages. No one talks about the much-vaunted crystal clear reception any more, or choice, or whizzy new features.

“What we might be seeing is the opening salvo of an action folder marked ‘Possible DAB Downgrade/Exit Strategy’”, mused the radio analyst Grant Goddard. “The nuclear button might never have to be pressed, but it’s always useful to know where the exit doors are and how you are going to reach them, however little you might want to think about the DAB plane going down in flames.”

I’m not so sure.

Carter’s report failed radio by ducking two serious areas. DAB’s problems are both technological and financial, and the two are interlinked. More modern codecs offered by DMB (the DAB technologists’ preferred route) or DVB-H could cut the transmission costs, lead to cheaper sets, and give us better and more complete reception. This required something stronger than what Carter proposed – an airy desire that sets should be forward compatible somehow.

As for the financial issues which beset commercial radio, it’s hard to see how anything short of a compulsory nationalisation of Arqiva and chopping up the spectrum could help. (Arqiva is where the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority’s transmission facilities, along with DTELs, the Home Office’s radio network for defence and emergency services, have ended up).

The BBC doesn’t want half of its audience to disappear overnight, either (one of the two switchover criteria is 50 per cent of listeners), so here we see Davie steering it away from backing any kind of commitment. But nor does the BBC want a fragmented world where the audience wanders off to discover more engaging material, as they have since the very beginning of radio. That’s what Davie means by “a digital broadcast platform” – he means one single, nationwide, one-to-many broadcast standard, with presets in all the receivers. The sheep must not stray from the fold.

So we’re muddling along as before, without the carriage costs being addressed, and without a firm roadmap for DAB’s successors. One thought ought to keep radio executives awake at night. By 2015, IP networks will be fully capable of IPv6 multicast, as we’ll be well into 4G (LTE) deployment by then. If half of the terrestrial radio is audience is disenfranchised overnight, the mobile operators will only be too happy to offer them – and advertisers – a home from home.

OFCOM mulls legislation to save DAB

Friday, November 7th, 2008

Parliament may need to step in with new legislation, to save the digital radio fail whale OFCOM admitted today.

OFCOM’s Peter Davies made the comments in front of a critical audience at the Radio Academy’s Radio At The Edge conference today. Davies was put on the spot by moderator James Ashton. After years of trying to put a brave face on DAB, the OFCOM man all but admitted the British radio industry now needed drastic action.

“Yes, it will require legislation,” he said, in order to restructure the industry, and lower costs, so that commercial operators could survive.

Davies acknowledged he’d have no choice if the commercial operators all decided to revolt en masse.

OFCOM effectively forces national operators onto DAB by making it a mandatory condition of a new 12 year analog license. But DAB is nothing but a millstone – costing about 10 times as much as analog to broadcast, and with very few listeners. If all the commercial operators handed in their DAB licenses back to OFCOM at once, what would the regulator do? Davies said that may be the cue for action. But he did warn that legislation took a year to pass through Parliament, so even if the broadcasters revolted tomorrow, it would be 2010 before

Asked if Britain hadn’t leapt into digital radio too early – the rest of the world is introducing more advanced and efficient standards – Davies said it didn’t really matter, as radios using a common profile would be technology-neutral. Which is too bad for those of us with plain old DAB.

So how low is DAB listenership?

One radio exec, Daniel Nathan of Brighton-based Juice, even went as far as suggesting that listenership was so low on the new digital stations, it might as well not go out over broadcast radio at all. Nathan pointed out that most get around 10,000 to 15,000 per half hour, and big hitters like BBC Radio 6 barely topped 50,000, with peaks of 61,000 on Saturday mornings.

“We might as well move them to IP,” he pointed out.

“Five years ago DAB looked like the future – but the world has moved on,” he said.

That was one one of the nicer things said about digital radio yesterday at yesterday’s Academy event.

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DAB: A very British failure

Thursday, March 6th, 2008

Emergency talks to save digital radio are taking place in Manchester today, the FT reports. Unloved, unviable, and often unlistenable, DAB is a technology the public clearly doesn’t want; so it comes as no surprise to learn that coercion will be used to persuading the public to get on board. With DAB, we’re expected to pay for the stick that beats us up.

DAB has been a very British failure. While the specification is almost 20 years old, and (just about) adequate, bureaucracy and regulatory greed left British listeners with an experience far short of the “CD quality” sound they were promised.

Digital radio has been expensively promoted by both the BBC and Ofcom – both of whom have deeply vested interests in the digital switchover. And the vested interests range far and wide, too – media companies have digital stations of their own, and prefer cross-promoting their investments in their publications to reporting the subject frankly. Meanwhile, analogue radio remains Briton’s best-loved and most popular medium, a survey confirmed this week, with 100m analogue sets in use – compared to 6.5m DAB receivers.

Finally, GCap blew the whistle on the charade two weeks ago, when it announced that it was canning two of its DAB stations.

“We do not believe that – with its current cost structure and infrastructure – [DAB] is an economically viable platform,” the commercial broadcaster said.

The FT reports that secret crisis talks are taking place in Manchester today to try and make digital radio more attractive to commercial broadcasters. Coercion of one form or another seems high on the agenda, however.

One idea is to make the analogue receivers obsolete overnight, by withdrawing BBC broadcasts from analogue radio. Want the Beeb? Go out and buy a new set.

Running down analogue has also spawned dozens of thriving community FM stations, which provide a stark contrast to government-backed “community empowerment” programs based on web technologies such as social networking. These stations also embarrass the BBC, whose own lacklustre local radio stations too often appear to serve as a home for washed-up Alan Partridges. When given the choice, people prefer listening to real people, rather than the patronising “local” voice of the BBC.

Another idea cited is to use our own money for more digital propaganda. The FT reports that the BBC has a £250m spare license payers’ cash, in the kitty handed to it for digital radio:

“Another radical idea would be to use public money to support a huge switchover advertising campaign – and subsidies for elderly and low-income families to buy new radios – in the same way that as has happened in aiding the switch-over to digital television.”