Wednesday, 27 October 2010

DAB radio usage: going nowhere slowly

Sometimes it seems as if the UK radio industry operates in two parallel universes. On the one hand, there is the virtual world of the DAB radio lobbyists, a reality that only seems to exist within the confines of their Soho office and its funders. On the other hand, there is the real world of the 47 million people in the UK who listen to the industry’s radio stations each week, spread far and wide across this green and still largely analogue land.

It was only last week that Ford Ennals, chief executive of Digital Radio UK, was telling anybody who would listen that:

· “There is now real momentum in the transition to digital radio…”
· "… significant progress towards building momentum for digital radio…"
· Digital radio switchover is a "matter of when, not if"
· "We have set a course to double listening and expand coverage by 2013, and to switchover by the end of 2015"
· “We do believe it is possible to get there in the four- to five-year time period…”

Yet, today, RAJAR published the latest listening figures for UK radio. None of Ennals’ statements are in any way supported by the official radio listening data. “Momentum”? No. “Real momentum”? No. “To double [digital] listening by 2013”? You have to be joking.

The headlines for all radio listening via platforms in Q3 2010 were:
· Analogue radio’s share of listening up from 67.0% to 67.6% quarter-on quarter
· Digital radio’s share of listening up from 24.6% to 24.8% quarter-on-quarter
· DAB radio’s share of listening down from 15.8% to 15.3% quarter-on-quarter.

At its current long-term growth rate, the government criterion of 50% of radio listening via digital platforms would not be achieved until year-end 2018. The statistical probability of that 50% threshold being reached by 2013, the achievement of which Ennals is supremely confident, is zero. Even Derren Brown could not pull off that stunt.

And so these two radio worlds continue on their parallel paths. Digital Radio UK continues to insist that everything in the digital radio switchover garden is sweetness and light, whilst wilfully oblivious to the fact that the majority of radio listeners simply could not care less about DAB – even after more than a decade of being told by the government, Ofcom and the largest broadcasters that DAB is ‘the future of radio’.

The verdict of UK radio listeners on DAB seems perfectly transparent in the RAJAR data, though many in the radio industry still refuse to listen. On the other hand, the activities of Digital Radio UK, still trying to persuade us of DAB’s virtues, are anything but transparent. After 10 months of existence, its
web site remains empty. And the web site of its forerunner, the Digital Radio Development Bureau, has been conveniently deleted so that all the empty promises, inaccurate forecasts and ridiculous propaganda that were generated about DAB over the last eight years are no longer publicly available.

Those with experience in the radio industry understand perfectly what happens to radio stations that refuse to listen to their listeners, radio stations that refuse to engage in truthful dialogue with their audience, and radio stations that are still broadcasting exactly the same tired messages as they did a decade ago. They die … and nobody misses them when they are gone.

1 comment:

J Bonington Jagworth said...

Mr Ennals was on R4 this morning, still apparently deluded and opining that 40% of the listeners were tuned in digitally. As Evan Davies pointed out, that seemed unlikely when half the audience would be listening in their cars and Ennals offered no support of his figure beyond just repeating it.

What is wrong with leaving the mainstream channels on FM, which works in every existing home and car, and letting the fringe and special interest groups continue to inhabit the internet, where capacity is expanding all the time?

If radio bandwidth is in short supply, then ditch DAB!