English Muffing

Grant Goddard, who covers the English airwaves in a highly literate site, is sounding the death knell for DAB, the European version of HD radio that’s actually far superior to HD in that, for one, it does not interfere with adjacent channels. Some of the material in this post should be required reading for radio poobahs here, as it makes far more sense than they’ve been making of late. One particular quote, considering the lack of a revenue stream from HD, is this: “No digital radio station has yet made a profit.” But there’s much more:

The latest additions to the lengthening list of stations that have failed to make the national DAB platform work for them are NME Radio and Panjab Radio, both of which quit Digital One in June 2010. The reason? Almost no one was listening. Add together the digital-only stations broadcasting on the platform last quarter (and that are measured by RAJAR) and, in total, they accounted for less than 1% of total radio listening.

Yet the radio industry, the receiver manufacturers and their lobby groups are still spending money on campaigns to convince the public that DAB radio is a raging success. Digital One says its radio platform reaches “more than 90%” of the [UK] population,” equivalent to 46m adults. RAJAR tells us that 35% of those adults have a DAB radio. Yet only 226,000 adults per week listened to NME Radio, after nearly two years on-air. If you were in any way persuaded to believe the hype surrounding DAB, your business plan to start a digital radio station might look dangerously over-optimistic.

Sounds like iBiquity and their screaming “NOW’S THE TIME TO UPGRADE” campaign. Grant also includes some charts showing the forecast listener base for DAB versus the actual listeners. These are the kind of charts that need wide distribution in the states.
In its forecasts, NME Radio had projected that DAB would be “53%” by 2010. Maybe this referred to Ofcom’s forecast that, by year-end 2010, digital platforms (not DAB alone) would account for 50% of all radio listening. In fact, in Q1 2010, only 15% of listening to all radio was via DAB, and 24% was via all digital platforms (worse for commercial radio at 12% and 23% respectively). Ofcom’s forecast of how digital radio usage would grow was disastrously inaccurate. NME Radio did not stand a chance of commercial success using DAB.
Grant makes special note later of the difference for non-commercial stations. (In the states, of course, HD radio has been bankrolled on public radio by tens of millions of dollars in grants from the CPB to set up transmission, though that just represents the initial investment.)
As the table above demonstrates, the national DAB platform’s history is littered with commercial digital radio stations that failed to make it work for them. Most of the stations currently on the national DAB platform are non-commercial and so do not need to meet their costs from advertising revenues.

Grant then finishes them off with a blistering rejoindre to the industry line “we believe DAB still offers the best solution for the future growth of radio in the UK.”

This nonsense was written in an Ofcom report less than a year ago, when the writing on the wall could not have been larger that the national DAB platform’s future for commercial radio was doomed. Surely, a regulator that refuses to deal with the reality of the here and now could be a regulator that will eventually find it has no future. For years, Ofcom (and its predecessor) have led the commercial radio sector a merry dance down a DAB blind alley that has proven almost fatal to the industry’s economic health.

If Ofcom publishes one more policy document proclaiming (as if it were still 1998) that ‘the future of radio’ is DAB, rather than it working to bang industry heads together to find a practical route out of the present mess, all it will succeed in doing is writing its own epitaph.


One Response

  1. Grant’s radio site is by far the best I’ve ever seen, and even John Anderson (DIYmedia) quickly jumped on it. Globally, there hasn’t been one country where digital radio has been successful, yet radio groups persist on ramming inferior digital radio technologies down our throats. Watch for Bob Struble to manipulate Arbitron and claim ratings are showing up on over-the-air HD2s, when in reality the are showing up on translators and web streams. Bob’s latest claim will be from Apple Inside’s spin on that Apple patent to claim that HD Radio might be included directly in Apple products in the future.

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