Sunday, 28 November 2010

BBC head of radio: "I'm not going to give you a date" for digital radio switchover

Feedback, BBC Radio 4, 26 November 2010 @ 1330 [excerpt]

Roger Bolton, interviewer [RB]
Tim Davie, director of BBC audio & music [TD]

RB: Tim Davie is the BBC’s director of audio and music. I asked him if the campaign to get decent DAB coverage in 90% of the country by 2015 is still realistic.

TD: I think 2015, and I’ve said it before, is highly ambitious. The BBC would not want to see any [digital radio] switchover unless you had clear evidence of mass listening to digital, and good penetration of digital devices. I think the idea that we force a lot of listeners to a situation where they have to get rid of FM devices and not have something to listen to on digital is clearly not in the interests of the head of BBC radio [laughs].

RB: When would you say, without doubt, we will have digital switchover …

TD: [interrupts] I’m not going to give you a date. I’m not going to give you a date. I’m …

RB: … not ten years, not fifteen years, not twenty years?

TD: I think there will be a switchover. I think it’s been extremely helpful to put a stake in the ground and say ‘could we get to 2015?’ I say that’s ambitious. I quite like ambitious targets. We’ll see how we go.

RB: And there’s concern about coverage. What about quality? Because there are still a lot of our listeners who are not persuaded that the quality [of DAB] is superior, in that digital is actually sometimes worse than FM.

TD: In terms of the areas that are covered by a digital signal, I would be the first to say that we’re not there yet. So, you know, I know some of the listeners out there will say ‘well, I just can’t get a good signal’. Let’s be clear. Before the radio industry would say to people ‘we’re moving away from FM’, we must have full coverage of a DAB signal …

RB: And yet, despite this, you are running a campaign, or rather supporting a campaign, which says ‘digital radio: more to love’ [and] pushing it hard. You’re pushing something …

TD: [interrupts] Absolutely.

RB: … which you have reservations about.
TD: When you say ‘reservations’, I don’t think it’s quite the right word. I’m saying we’re building out coverage. I would not endorse a switchover unless coverage were as good as FM. At this point, I think it is utterly appropriate for me, as the BBC head of radio, to say: those people in areas of coverage – and it is important, by the way, when people buy radios, they check that they are in an area of coverage, we absolutely say that repeatedly – but, if they are in an area of coverage, I would absolutely say ‘buy a digital radio’ because you can get Radio 7, the joys of 6 Music, etcetera.

RB: But, in terms of this campaign, let me quote something said by William Rogers, the UKRD chief executive – part of the commercial radio network. He says it was ‘fundamentally immoral and dishonest to run the campaign, knowing that DAB infrastructure is not good enough, and knowing full well that when people buy a DAB radio, it may not work when they get it home. The BBC should be ashamed of themselves for running this ad. They are telling their listeners to buy something which they know isn’t ready for us yet.’

TD: Well, I mean, it is one voice, and I say ‘one voice’ among many in commercial radio and …

RB: [interrupts] And there are quite a few others who, again, refuse to run the ad.

TD: Absolutely. And, well, I think their beef is, by the way, slightly different to that articulated by William, but it’s really straightforward. 88% of the people in the country can get a signal. If you can’t get a good signal, I wouldn’t recommend digital radio. If you get that coverage, we would absolutely recommend – I think it’s utterly appropriate – to say to people: ‘go and get a digital radio to enjoy the full range of services.’

RB: But the commercial radio sector, or some of it anyway, is saying ‘this is precisely the thing the BBC should be doing. It should be investing and spending so that everybody can get digital coverage.'

TD: Mmm. We’ve said, in the last few weeks, and part of the BBC [Licence Fee] Agreement with the government was to build out national coverage of DAB services. The debate with local radio – just to be clear, and this is a bit complex, so apologies, but – is around the local layer of DAB. And we are negotiating out those costs at the moment. While that negotiation goes on in pretty tough financial circumstances for the BBC, it’s understandable that people say ‘well, we need a bit more clarity.’ I agree with them.

RB: Can I ask you, though, whether the BBC’s enthusiasm for the potential of digital, in terms of stations, is waning. For example, you did propose the closure of 6 Music and the end of the Asian Network, at least as a national station. Are you still in love with digital?

TD: It’s a fair point. The idea around looking at the line-up of stations was never about taking money off the table for digital. We want to keep investing in digital and, I think, in terms of our commitment to digital, this not just about DAB, this is about internet services. We’ve just said, on Radio 3, we’re launching HD sound, which will be a wider signal through internet radio. I think, as the head of BBC radio, I really want to see radio develop into a more competitive marketplace so that it can grow. The idea that the BBC just sits on FM spectrum, and there’s no growth in radio, to me, seems a pretty limited vision of the future for the industry.

RB: So there’s no doubt about the destination, only the amount of time, the speed of getting there?

TD: Radio’s going digital.

1 comment:

Steve Bowbrick said...

You can listen to this interview in full on the BBC Radio blog: http://bbc.in/ieSkuK

Steve Bowbrick, blogs editor, BBC Radio