Posts Tagged ‘radio’

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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Lords: Analogue radio must die

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Digital radio isn’t great and the public doesn’t want it, but you’re going to get it anyway. So recommends the House of Lords Communications Committee today.

90 per cent of the UK listens to radio, and 94 per cent of listeners are happy with what they’ve got. The Lords accept most of the points made by critics of DAB and the Digital Switchover, noting: “The gradual rate of take-up of digital radio services does not suggest that consumers are enticed by the reception quality, extra functionality or the digital-only content so far available.”

How about something better, then?

“To go back on this policy now would risk turning confusion into an utter shambles” they write in a new report (pdf).

So the Lordships recommend everyone get on with the Digital Switchover. They advise implementing the Digital Radio Working Group’s (DRWG) recommendation to build out DAB coverage so it reaches 94 per cent of the population, but don’t say who how it should be funded. Both the BBC and the commercial broadcasters want extra cash for this. But the Lords duck this issue.

Punters will be browbeaten into buying a digital set, when an analogue one would do, we’re told:

“The Government must ensure that advice goes to retailers and the public that when purchasing radios, consumers should purchase sets that include a digital tuner.”

That’s the stick. But there may be a carrot. The Lords back a cash-for-trannies scheme, so perfectly good FM radios can be traded in.

“The Government should encourage the industry to devise a sensible scrappage scheme, recognising that the industry, manufacturers and retailers, will benefit heavily from the new sales generated by digital switchover.” They also advise “the Government inform consumers as soon as possible as to how the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) regulations will operate for disposal of analogue radios”.

Another recommendation is for car manufacturers to fit a multistandard chip, ASAP. It isn’t clear whether multistandard chip here means digital and analogue, or the different flavours of digital radio: DAB, DAB+, DVB-T too.

Anyone hoping a timetable for DAB+ implementation would be part of the deal will be disappointed. The Lordships say too much has been invested by the public in DAB, but advise a timetable for multistandard radios to be produced. In other words, the public will have to invest even more in obsolete radios.

It’s everything the DAB lobby could have hoped for – short of a blank cheque.

Home streaming is ‘killing music’

Monday, March 8th, 2010

Two weeks ago a US market research company caused a panic in the music business when it reported sales of MP3s had declined. DRM has all but disappeared from digital music, while music catalogs and retailer choice have grown… and yet the volume of digital song sales fell. Ironically, it’s the major labels’ darling Spotify that’s bearing the sharp end of the backlash.

Two thirds of people don’t download unlicensed music at all, it’s a minority pursuit. But that “honest” mid-market is not only losing the habit of buying CDs, it hasn’t acquired the habit of buying digital songs either. NPD found that between 2007 and 2009, about 24 million Americans stopped paying for music in any form.
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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.

Radio whinge(r)s

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

Ed Richards cocked a sympathetic ear to the troubles of the commercial radio business yesterday – but the Ofcom chief could offer little in the way of instant pain relief.

With an end-of-life government meandering to its termination, and Carter’s Digital Britain review soaking up all the attention of bickering departments, he can’t set policy.

Largely as a result of their own greed, financial miscalculations and lack of innovation, large radio companies are suffering. They want to slash costs and merge. Richards, who was addressing the “Radio 3.0″ conference in London, listed his preferred solutions. One was to put more emphasis on news and local radio as a community information service. (You could almost hear teeth grind at that one). This was especially useful “during flooding or heavy snow” or other times of crisis. (The grinding continued).
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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.”

Orb turns MySpace into a personal radio station

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

Just as you thought the MySpace phenomenon was running out of steam, tomorrow will see the biggest innovation to the site since it launched.

This one doesn’t come from MySpace itself, however, but Orb Networks. Orb already allows you to listen to or view media stored on your home PC (music, playlists, photos or TV channels), at work, or on a mobile via it’s “MyCasting” service. Now it’s added MySpace integration to the list of features. Using the Orb client MySpace users can upload songs to their MySpace page – and stream them.

A drag and drop client makes the operation trivially simple.

Last year, El Reg was the first to notice how MySpace is really a radio set of sorts: you push a button, and out streams music. There’s only four songs per station, and there’s millions of stations – but it’s still radio.

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Digital music nirvana isn't impossible, it just takes longer

Friday, May 12th, 2006
An early look at on-demand streaming of your own music. The cloud buzzword hadn’t caught on back then…

The idea of being able to play your music anywhere, on any device, has become a cliche without quite coming to pass. Viewed from a distance, this looks like one of technology’s greatest failures.

If you’re acquainted with Orb, Sling Media, or MP3Tunes – all of which fulfill that promise to some degree – you’ll know how close we are to this goal. But for every breakthrough, it seems, there’s yet another setback.

Look a little closer, and we see that for the most part it’s not the fault of the basic technology components. The networks are in place, the hard drives are big enough and the processors are fast enough for “audio everywhere”. And all are fairly affordable to a critical mass of the market, although the cost we bear is undoubtedly higher than it was in the analog era.

“If I can play it to myself, then I should be stream it to myself on any of my networked devices,” says Orb Networks’ EVP of product marketing, Ian McCartney.

Politics and greed are the problems.

This week Michael Robertson’s MP3Tunes service enabled subscribers to play their iTunes music collection on their TiVo. That’s no thanks to TiVo or Apple, though. It’s possible because subscribers first upload their iPods to the “cloud”, in this case MP3Tunes’ servers, which then performs transcoding if needed.

Orb does something similar, although with a different architecture. In its case the PC punches a hole out to the network, and via Orb’s servers – which also transcode if necessary – allow any device to access the media. Another approach, taken by Sling Media and a host of consumer electronics companies, is hardware based. Like Orb, the media files remain on your own devices, rather than being cached in the cloud. Sling concentrates on TV access, but the problems all three face in getting an end-to-end approach to work as expected are very similar.
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