Saturday, 17 April 2010

Selling the UK DAB radio ‘success’ story overseas

In amongst all the jubilant public statements from media stakeholders following Assent of the Digital Economy Act 2010 this month, one press release stood out for taking wild optimism to new heights. It said:

“The Digital Economy Bill is linked to the government’s Digital Britain report which defines a digital radio switchover plan lasting two years. The migration start date for this is triggered when DAB coverage reaches the same as today’s FM and when 50% of all radio listening is via a digital platform. Based on current digital listening projections from Rajar, and the roll out of new DAB transmitters from Arqiva and the BBC, the UK market is set to achieve both of these milestone [sic] in 2013 …”

Will 50% of radio listening in the UK be delivered via digital platforms by 2013? Not a chance. Even our politicians have admitted this will not happen. Look at the graph below.

The government’s Digital Britain report, published in mid-2009, had forecast that digital listening would be 26% by year-end 2009, which proved to be wide of the mark. The actual figure was 20.9%. What is the chance of 50% being reached by 2013? Zero.

So why is this press release so determined to tell us that “the UK market is set to achieve” a milestone that is so obviously impossible? The answer lies in this next graph which shows that DAB radio receiver sales in the UK were lower in 2009 than in 2008, and lower in 2008 than in 2007.

The market for DAB radio receivers in the UK has been slowing since the end of 2007. DAB radio unit sales are now less than 2m per annum, a volume last seen in 2006. For financial stakeholders in the UK DAB radio receiver sector, this is very bad news.

Frontier Silicon is one of those main stakeholders, a private UK-based semiconductor company that supplies 70% of the global DAB receiver market. With the UK market for DAB drying up, and the European market never having really developed at all, companies such as Frontier Silicon are having to look further overseas for DAB sales. Trade shows such as last week’s Hong Kong Electronics Fair become significant events to convince new territories of the advantages of DAB radio.

So the Frontier Silicon press release quoted earlier, though datelined “London”, is not intended for domestic consumption at all. Yes, it might seem laughable in the UK to believe that digital listening will reach 50% by 2013. But, for Frontier Silicon, this ‘success’ story will help convince overseas markets that DAB is already a raging success in the company’s homeland. This is ‘sales patter’, not fact.

Who at the Hong Kong event would want to learn that the commercial radio industry in the UK has been brought financially to its knees by its decision more than a decade ago to pursue the DAB dream?

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