Monday, 22 November 2010

Trick or treat? £55m to be spent scaring UK consumers into buying DAB radios

The Daily Mail is the perfect medium to scare middle Britain into reaching for its credit card. So it was no surprise to read in Saturday’s edition that:

“Four out of five car radios are expected to become obsolete in less than five years, experts warn.”

Why? Well, according to the Daily Mail, because “the traditional FM and medium-wave signal is due to be switched off in 2015.” To back up this assertion, the Mail quoted Car magazine associate editor Tim Pollard:

“In four years’ time, 80 per cent of car stereos won’t work and many sat-navs will be unable to receive traffic data. If you’re buying a new car, you must tick the option specifying DAB now.”

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. As the majority of the 83 Daily Mail readers who commented online about this article pointed out, the facts are:
· FM and AM radio are not going to be switched off
· 2015 has not been agreed as a date by anybody for anything
· FM and AM radios will not become “obsolete.”

So why are these untruths being distributed by Car magazine and the Daily Mail? Because they seem happy to regurgitate propaganda produced by commercial companies who, as a last resort, are reduced to scaring the public into buying DAB radios. UK car audio fitters, UK car radio manufacturers and UK audio retailers would all benefit financially from the public suddenly buying DAB radios en masse. Persuasion has failed as a tactic to grow DAB radio take-up over the last decade … so the strategy now is to scare them into putting their hands in their pockets.

This strategy is all part of a DAB radio ‘roadmap’ developed by lobby group Digital Radio UK. Its ‘Phase 1’ activities for 2010/1 include “stimulating the market: preparing cars” or, in plain English, forcing DAB upon car owners through articles like the Daily Mail’s. Digital Radio UK revels in disinformation, consistently referring to ‘digital radio’ in its recent slide presentation to the Digital Radio Stakeholders Group, when its sole imperative is to push DAB radios.
This Digital Radio UK presentation is full of stuff that reads like it was written on the back of an envelope in the pub one lunchtime. The industry has had almost two decades to come up with a powerful ‘brand positioning’ for DAB, yet the best that Digital Radio UK could create is:

· “WHAT WE KNOW. We all love radio and it deserves a future. Radio needs to become more relevant for all audiences, and only digital can do that. Digital radio is radio as you know it, but better - and it gives you more of what you love
· KEY THOUGHT. If you love radio, you’ll love digital radio
· WHAT WE SAY. Digital radio, more to love”

Expect to see these, er, important characteristics of DAB radio espoused in a £0.5m pre-Christmas marketing campaign that will tell consumers: “There’s a digital radio for everyone this Christmas.” Cynics will respond that this is because warehouses are brimming over with crates of unsold DAB radios. 2010 must have been a disastrous year for DAB receiver sales because the industry has kept the figures a closely guarded secret. Pure Digital, which accounts for the lion’s share of DAB receiver sales,
said last week that its “revenues are now expected to show a decline compared with the first half of the previous financial year.” In 2009, total UK unit sales of DAB radios had already fallen year-on-year [see my earlier blog].
Between now and 2015, Digital Radio UK plans to spend £55m on campaigns to try and convince consumers once more that DAB radio is a 'must have.' At a time when budgets are being slashed in both commercial radio and BBC radio (which fund Digital Radio UK), you might think that somebody somewhere might ask if it is worth throwing more good money after bad. And what is the stated objective of all this effort? According to the final slide of the Digital Radio UK presentation:

“Our ‘destination’ is a healthier radio sector
– and that’s good for everyone.”

A healthier radio sector? You must mean a more impoverished UK radio industry, it having already thrown £1bn into the DAB black hole. You must mean digital radio stations, none of which generate a profit because, in aggregate, they attract only 5% of radio listening. You must mean consumers who are being lied to that their FM/AM radios will no longer work in 2015. You must mean frustrated car owners (according to Roberts Radio, a 35-40% customer return rate for in-car DAB radio adapters).

How are these outcomes good for anyone other than the lobbyists and radio receiver manufacturers whose shirts will be saved if, and only if, the public complies by rushing out to buy lots of DAB radios?

[Should you remain unconvinced to buy a DAB radio in December, you can look forward to a January marketing campaign that will proclaim: “If you didn’t get a digital radio for Christmas, now’s the time.” This must be my favourite radio sales pitch of 2010.]


Paul said...

But the man on the Today programme this morning said that 40% of people listening at that moment were listening to digital radio - including those in cars.
Really. He did.

Grant Goddard said...

Thanks, Paul, I too heard the comment on the radio. Telling the public a lie does not make it a reality.

Yours, Grant

DP said...

Facts don’t slow them down. “If you can’t convince them, confuse them.”

Illusion: BBC News – Today: Digital is ‘transitional backbone of radio’
Ford Ennals of Digital Radio UK, “There are 40% of all your listeners this morning listen to this program, are listening on a DAB radio.”
Ford Ennals, two minutes later, “I said 40% of listeners are listening on digital.”
[RAJARs reports ~15% DAB—including FM and Internet listening on DAB/FM/Internet radios—and ~25% Digital.]
[The BBC’s 800,000 World Cup match video streams last summer demonstrated current capability for more than 8 million audio streams—without the Internet “crashing”—plenty to complement FM radio, adding location and time-shift.]

Reality: BBC News -Today: 2015 digital switchover 'not achievable'
The Queen is concerned about losing BBC Radio 4 with switchover. Buckingham Palace was poor DAB reception, so a DAB repeater was installed. Windsor Castle is not resolved.
Roberts Radio believes 2015 is not a realistic switchover date, “we know collectively those [target] dates are not achievable”, and 2025 is a much more realistic date.

The interchangeable use of Digital radio, usually representing only the special interest DAB, but including DAB, TV, and Internet when the larger numbers are desired, is deceit—far beyond sloppiness to be intentional misrepresentation.