Sunday, 5 July 2009

Digital radio switchover: the Conservative Party viewpoint

Jeremy Hunt, Shadow Culture Secretary, speaking on The Guardian’s Media Talk podcast:

We support the idea of [digital radio] switchover. We have more concerns about [FM] switchoff. There are 120m analogue radio sets and, if we were to tell consumers that, after 2015, those are going to be useless and you have got to chuck them away, people would I think be very angry. And so there’s a lot of work that needs to be done before we can even think about switchoff.

[What sort of incentives do you think you could give to the public to be attracted to digital radio?]

I think the most important thing is not something the government can do, but something the industry can do, which is to develop new services on digital platforms that actually mean there is a real consumer benefit to DAB. At the moment, the benefits are marginal. I mean, there are some benefits in terms of quality, but your batteries get used up a lot more quickly, the reception is a lot more flaky, and a lot of the things that make digital switchover attractive on TV don’t apply to radio in the same way. So I think the industry needs to do a lot more to make it in consumers’ interests to have that switchover. That’s one thing. I think what the government can do, though, is work much more closely with car manufacturers. The French government has bitten the bullet on this. I think we should do a lot more.

[The French government has mandated car manufacturers to put digital radios in cars. Should the British government follow suit?]

Given the French government has done that, there may be no marginal cost to car manufactures were the British government to say the same thing. But, at the very least, we should be looking at incentives to encourage car manufacturers to standardise on DAB because, until you do that, we are not going to get the network to the 97% or 98% coverage that we really need.

[What about all those old [radio] sets? You raised it in your speech here at the Radio Festival – old analogue sets that could become obsolete.]

Well, exactly, and there is an environmental consideration with that as well, because I think people would be very very concerned at the environmental cost of having to get rid of 120m sets. So I think we have got to think about that. We have also got to think about consumer anger. Consumers are people that the radio sector needs. It’s going through a very tough patch. We don’t want to switch off listeners by suddenly saying that we are not going to – that we are going to force you to have a new radio, and there’s a real danger, if we do that, that they might start listening to their iPods and their CD players instead.

[You mentioned a possible swap scheme. How would that work? You take your old analogue radio into Currys and Dixons and get a shiny new digital one?]

Yes, I think this is something that I don’t think is really for the government to do. But I’m just really putting it on the table. I think it’s the kind of thing the industry might think about. If you could swap your analogue radio for a digital one, people might think ‘wow, there’s a benefit to switchover’. At the moment, we seem to be getting into this mindset where we want to force it on the public, even though the public can’t really see what the benefits are.

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