Monday, 29 November 2010
Pantomime often brings out a sense of déjà vu, of having seen the same thing during previous Christmases. This winter’s DAB radio marketing campaign has that feeling. The 2010 slogan is:
“There’s a digital radio for everyone this Christmas”
While the UK radio industry’s Christmas campaign for 2009 had been:
“Struggling to think of the perfect gift for Christmas? There’s a digital radio for everyone …”
Pantomime often stages a sleight of hand, where you are not quite sure if what you saw was real or just some cheap trick. This winter’s DAB radio marketing campaign has that feeling. On 18 November 2010, the press story was:
“The commercial radio campaign [for DAB], which breaks on November 22, covers Global [Radio], Bauer [Radio], Guardian Media Group [Radio], Absolute [Radio], UTV [Radio] and many local commercial stations.”
But, within days, that story had changed so that the campaign:
“… will run across major commercial groups” and “commercial radio stations including Absolute, UTV, Orion.”
What happened to Global Radio, Bauer Radio and Guardian Media Group Radio? Well, every pantomime has its jesters who do their best to spoil the rest of the cast’s fun. This winter’s DAB radio marketing campaign has that feeling. Two days after the Christmas DAB campaign had started, The Telegraph broke the story that:
“Leading commercial radio groups [Global Radio, Guardian Media Group] have refused to promote DAB radio …”
Every pantomime has its bully, who picks on people mercilessly and prevents them from going to the ball. This winter’s DAB shenanigans have that feeling. Commercial radio trade body RadioCentre offered its story as to why its members, Global Radio and Guardian Media Group, had pulled out of the marketing campaign:
"Commercial radio operators are currently in discussions with government about the funding of local DAB coverage. Until those discussions are resolved, we understand that some stations felt it would be inappropriate to run the digital radio Christmas campaign."
Er, isn’t that blackmail rather than negotiation? Is it not transparent that, if you really cared about making DAB radio a success, you would think twice about cutting off your nose to spite your face by deliberately NOT promoting the very DAB platform that you have been attempting to palm off on the public for the last decade? In essence, you are trying to convince consumers that you care so much about your backward 10-year old offspring that you intend to starve it to death. In pantomime, such a tragedy might give the audience a laugh. In reality, it would be time for Social Services to intervene. It cannot be good PR for the commercial radio industry to be so convincingly playing the part of The Wicked Witch of The West.
RadioCentre’s lack of parenting skills has been evident in recent weeks:
· Its children had refused to attend the government’s Digital Radio Stakeholders Group meeting on 1 November [see earlier blog]
· Last Friday, its children refused to participate in a Westminster conference on ‘the future of UK digital radio’ organised for 7 December, resulting in the event’s postponement until April 2011.
And here is what the school notes said to explain these absences:
· "Following the announcement of the [BBC Licence Fee] settlement, RadioCentre has been in discussions with Government about the funding of local DAB coverage. As these discussions are ongoing, RadioCentre members felt it would be inappropriate to attend the Digital Radio Stakeholder meeting." [Campaign]
· “Sensitivity of current negotiations on the future of digital radio” for the conference pull-out.
The evident paradox in this radio pantomime is that:
· The radio industry is spending £55m between now and 2015 to try and convince the public that DAB radio is the best thing since the cat’s whisker [see earlier blog]
· The radio industry big boys will not stand up in front of other stakeholders in the media sector, or in front of a conference, and explain what, why or how they are pursuing (or not really pursuing at all) the government’s DAB dreams
· Commercial radio has been demanding for several years that the BBC pays for fixing the deficiencies in commercial radio’s own DAB local transmission system. (Yes, this is the same BBC that RadioCentre has lambasted for years about its interference in commercial activities. Yes, these are the same commercial radio big boys who invested heavily in DAB in the 1990s in the hope of making profits for their shareholders.)
Pantomime is pure theatre, and tomorrow’s meeting will doubtless provide much entertainment for all involved. The only unresolved issue is how it will all end. Will the government Minister play the part of Scrooge, insisting that the commercial radio big boys should work longer hours for their living and must pay for improvements to their DAB system themselves? Or will the government play the wicked stepmother, compromising the BBC’s independence by forcing it to pay for an expensive sticky plaster to fix a commercial media sector DAB problem that has been all of its own making?
My feeling is that, in these austere times, it would be opening up another big black hole for public money to now finance such massive deficiency issues with DAB radio that could and should have been anticipated and fixed a decade ago. It is simply too expensive to commit unknown quantities of cash to transform the ugly DAB frog into a handsome prince who might never be fit enough to rival FM radio. Anyway, the BBC has already made a public commitment to not spend any more Licence Fee money on yet another ‘makeover’ show. In which case, our Cinderella DAB may not be going to the ball.
Or is all of the above just a pantomine within a farce? Is all this play-acting merely intended to allow commercial radio to walk away from DAB altogether, pointing the finger of blame elsewhere (and smug that the Classic FM automatic licence renewal is nearly almost within its grasp)?
Sunday, 28 November 2010
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.
Thursday, 25 November 2010
Dagsavisen newspaper commented: “For many years, the major radio companies have attempted to get Norwegians to replace FM radios with digital ones. It has been slow work so far. During the last decade, about 8 million radio sets were sold. Of these, between 300,000 and 400,000 were digital radios, according to figures from the Electronics Industry.”
Rainer Frost of Radio Nero commented: “’Yes to radio!’ is totally misleading. It gives the impression that the entire radio industry is behind the campaign. In reality, it is only the major players who broadcast on DAB and who are engaged in fierce lobbying. They want to impact public opinion in connection with the white paper on the future of radio published by the Ministry of Culture this autumn. This campaign is the latest initiative from the embattled NRK, P4 and SBS in an attempt to gain support for the Norwegian DAB project, which has been running for 29 years.”
Andreas Reitan, chairman of the Norwegian Association of Local Radio (Norsk Lokalradioforbund), said: “The Association has not taken a formal position but, as chairman, I am sceptical of the campaign. I am somewhat surprised. I understand the criticisms. The key question for us is the cost issue. The majority of our members are small stations. They have said ‘no’ to digital because of their finances. None of the small stations have the funds to finance a digital radio launch.”
Per Morten Hoff, general secretary of of IKT-Norge, said: “It’s a vague attempt at lobbying from NRK, P4 and SBS in anticipation of the white paper, it wants people to say ‘yes’ to radio, without saying what it is all about. It is trying to lead the audience towards the light.”
Kristian Aartun, chairman of Radio 3, said: “We believe the campaign is misleading as it is not clear what the ‘yes to radio!’ really means. In our opinion, this is deliberate deception to further their own interests, not the radio industry’s or society’s interest.”
Rainer Frost again: “Digital radio’s future as a whole is in the balance. The biggest problem is the costs associated with the DAB radio network. A new DAB network for local radio would have to be financed by us. That is something we cannot afford. The DAB network will not be built. A decision on digital switchover has not been taken. The money is not there. People increasingly prefer FM radio over DAB at home. But this campaign argues, however, that everything will be fine with DAB. The reality is much more complicated than that.”
Ole Jørgen Torvmark, head of Digitalradio Norge, responded to criticisms of its campaign: “[We] believe it is important for all parties concerned to put in place a clear plan for the transition to digital radio, particularly for listeners who buy new radio receivers. Such a plan, which we believe will be 6 to 7 years, must lead to the shutdown of analogue radio broadcasts, perhaps with exceptions for smaller stations in the least populated areas, such as in the UK.”
Online news source Nettavisen commented: “IKT-Norge has been one of the strongest critics of the DAB initiative in Norway. They believe that Norway is now struggling to implement DAB, because NRK [the state broadcaster] has invested too much money in an outdated technology that more and more European countries are walking away from.”
Per Morten Hoff, general secretary of IKT-Norge, added: “NRK refuses to state how much money they have spent on DAB but, based on figures from Sweden, I have assumed that they have spent around 400 million [krone] on that system in Norway.”
Writing in daily newspaper Dagbladet, one commentator said:
“Does this summer’s ‘Yes to radio!’ campaign, organised by lobbying group Digitalradio Norge, really want us to believe that anything other than a wholehearted embrace of digital radio is a kind of betrayal of radio? And that a ‘no’ to the introduction of DAB technology and the closure of FM networks is also a ‘no’ to all the voices, moments, images and insight that radio gives us?
Dear Digitalradio Norge and the owners of NRK, P4, Radio 1, The Voice and Radio Norge. Do not insult us. We love radio. We say ‘yes’ to radio. It is DAB that we are lukewarm to.
Yes, we know that digital radio also includes internet radio and radio delivered by digital TV, but the political battle is about the closure of FM radio and DAB. Fifteen years after trial broadcasts began, more than ten times as many FM radios are still sold as DAB radios. There are probably between 20m and 25m FM radio receivers in Norwegian homes, compared to a few hundred thousand DAB receivers.”
[with thanks to Eivind Engberg]
Monday, 22 November 2010
Ford Ennals, chief executive, Digital Radio UK [FE]
Q: Doubts persist over this particular digital standard [DAB], don’t they? Let’s just go through some. First of all: that it’s a stop-gap and that we’d all be better off with internet radio, which will become possible in cars and all over the place, and that there will really be no need for DAB at all.
FE: Well, look, what is certain is that the future of radio in the UK, and right across Europe, is digital. And what that’s going to bring is more choice, more competition, and more innovation …
Q: [interrupts] But your particular ‘digital’ is DAB digital, isn’t it …
FE: [interrupts] Well, no. It’s …
Q: … and there are other technologies available?
FE: No, not at all. We’re here to support and promote the transition to digital radio in all its forms, whether it be online, whether it be on TV, or whether it be DAB. DAB is one of those platforms. But, what we do see is great certainty that DAB is, if you like, the broadcast transmission backbone of radio, not just in the UK, but in Europe. There are 40% of all your listeners this morning listen to this programme, are listening on a DAB radio. And, I think, the simple fact is that, if they were all listening online, it couldn’t be supported and the internet would crash. So, right now, IP, as you call it, or online, just isn’t the right technology. It can’t sustain broadcast transmission of radio, and it’s not cost-effective, and it isn’t an option in the short or medium term.
Q: [incredulous] 40% of our listeners are listening on digital? Does that include listeners in cars, because I don’t know a single person who has got a digital radio in their car, I don’t think?
FE: Well, I think you have highlighted the real opportunity here. Car manufacturers have been slow to put digital radios in cars but, since the passage of the Digital Economy Act and the launch of the Digital Radio Action Programme [sic], they’ve now committed to having all new cars with digital radios in by 2013, and we’ve started to see Ford and Vauxhall and Mini putting them in. And I think that’s very important because …
Q: [interrupts] The ‘40%.’ Sorry, though. The ‘40%’ figure – did that include people in cars?
FE: Yes, urm. The 40% does include people in cars …
FE: … and the targets that government have set also includes people in cars. So, what government is saying is, and I think supported by industry, is that we want to see 50% of listening to a digital platform, including DAB, before we take a firm decision about a switchover date.
Q: Mmm. Last quarter, digital listening was actually down, wasn’t it? It sort of implies that the message isn’t getting through.
FE: Well, actually, as I said, 40% of listeners are listening on digital. That’s over 20 million people every week listening to digital. This year, we’ve seen it grow by 20%. So, typically, what we see is growth in the first half-year, it slows down in the second half, and then steps up again in the second half [sic]. So, actually, quarter-on-quarter, we’ve seen moderate growth, but 20% growth year-on-year, and we’re looking for a major step at the beginning of next year. And, what I would say to people, if you’re buying a radio for a present this Christmas, make sure it’s a digital radio.
I was shocked to hear Ford Ennals, chief executive of lobby group Digital Radio UK, proclaim on your programme that:
“there are 40% of all your listeners this morning listen to this programme, are listening on a DAB radio.”
This statement is not merely an exaggeration, it is wholly untrue. The radio industry’s audience data (produced by RAJAR, published by Ofcom for Q1 2010) show that 27% of listening to Radio 4 is via all digital platforms, which include digital television, the internet … and DAB. See graph below.
In-car listening accounts for 19% of total radio usage, but this proportion is likely to be considerably higher during the morning commute period. Because DAB radios are installed in less than 1% of cars, it is probable that much, much less than 27% of listening to the ‘Today’ programme is via DAB.
Ford Ennals’ untruthful statement is only the latest in a long line of disinformation perpetuated by commercial forces that will gain financially from DAB take-up, and which are designed to mislead the public into buying DAB radios.
“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.]
Friday, 19 November 2010
“This issue of EU-wide radio standardisation is still in its infancy. The main reason is that radio, from a political, business and consumer standpoint, is organised primarily as a regional or even local product. This is, in principle, rightly so. The reason the radio landscape in Europe is so fascinating is because it is so diverse and highly innovative. Therefore, EU-wide radio legislation is not advocated.”
“I believe the time is not ripe for a single EU-wide radio FM switch-off, such as we are doing for analogue TV in 2012. I can also well imagine that the 27 EU Member States, given their different levels of development, will want to take their own innovative approaches to digital radio switchover.”
Given this clearly stated EU policy, it was a surprise when World DMB, the lobbying organisation for DAB radio, announced on 10 November 2010 that one of its three objectives for the coming year was:
“To persuade the European Union to champion switch-over policies at European level …”
Using the forum of the European Broadcasting Union [EBU] Digital Radio Conference 2010 held in Belfast the previous week, World DMB seemed to have persuaded the EBU to endorse a no-hope strategy of challenging existing EU strategy in order that digital switchover be mandated through diktat. This follows the evident failure of World DMB’s bottom-up approach to convince consumers in many EU countries to replace their satisfactorily working FM/AM radios with DAB receivers.
World DMB president Jørn Jensen said in the press release:
“If digital radio is to succeed, then the EBU must show their support for the DAB family, the only technology platform chosen by Germany, UK, France, Italy, Spain and the Nordic countries as the future of digital radio.”
The EBU obliged by issuing its own statement which stressed that its conference had “achieved a significant breakthrough in efforts to accelerate moves towards securing a digital future for radio.” The EBU wording is significant – its public statement talked about ‘digital’ radio but never mentioned the ‘DAB’ platform specifically. Whereas, the World DMB press release went out of its way to interpret ‘digital’ radio narrowly as ‘DAB’, almost to the point of obsession, when Jensen said:
“It’s time to stop talking about less mature standards, EBU needs to promote the Eureka 147 [DAB] family of standards.”
And what exactly did Jensen mean by “less mature standards”? Could he be referring to the platform whose name dare not be spoken amongst DAB lobbyists – THE INTERNET? Coincidentally, five days prior to the World DMB press release, Neelie Kroes, the current EU commissioner for the digital agenda, had admonished content producers who do not adapt their businesses to the internet age in a speech:
“Like it or not, content gatekeepers risk being sidelined if they do not adapt to the needs of both creators and consumers of cultural goods. So who will win the heart of the creators and of the public? It is still too soon to say. Of course, some of the new giants of internet come from another continent. I would wish that more of them were European, but when I see the wealth of creativity gathered in this room, I am optimistic for the future.
I believe that those who will prosper in the digital age are those who understand that convergence is one of the keys. The convergence of media provides an incredible opportunity for the artists and creators of our times, and also for their public – you and me. Just like cinema did not kill theatre, nor did television kill radio. The internet won't kill any other media either.”
Despite the EU’s enthusiasm for convergence, the internet is still perceived as a competitive threat by some European radio broadcasters, who fear attrition to their audiences from an influx of online audio content from beyond their borders. To them, Last.fm, Spotify and We7 are the antichrists, and they hope that DAB’s walled garden will banish these insurgents from their kingdom. But, although Jensen wants to paint the internet as a “less mature standard”, history books show that it was around long before DAB (I was sending e-mails, before they had that name, across the Atlantic in 1978).
Also, when World DMB promised in its 10 November press release that it would “foster effective partnerships between broadcasters and the automotive sector” over the next year to get DAB radio into cars, it was advocating actions it could and should have taken more than a decade ago. It has long missed the boat. EU commissioner Neelie Kroes had announced on 8 November that IP-connected cars were the current European policy objective:
“Europe leads in wireless communication to and from vehicles. That is critical to improve both safety and efficiency. And to convert this into global market success global cooperation and standardisation will be required. This is where the EU's Future Internet Public Private Partnership comes in. We need the automotive and ICT communities side-by-side. That way we can seize the opportunities of the next generation of wireless broadband, beyond 3G, to meet the growing demand for connectivity in cars.”
So what chance does World DMB have of achieving these two stated objectives for EU policy during the next year (compulsory digital radio switchover, DAB in cars)? None whatsoever. So why would it set itself objectives that are bound to fail? It can only be sheer desperation at this rapidly deteriorating stage in DAB’s lifecycle.
The third of World DMB’s stated objectives for the next year – “to advance partnerships between public and broadcasters” to make DAB happen – must have been drafted by someone with a wry sense of irony. Such ‘partnerships’ appear to be going nowhere in DAB:
· In the UK, RadioCentre, the commercial radio trade body, has failed in its insistence that publicly funded BBC should pay for the upgrade of commercial radio’s local DAB transmitters
· In Germany, commercial radio has failed to agree with public radio to a new plan to re-launch national DAB radio
· In Spain, commercial radio called DAB “a road to nowhere” despite public radio’s insistence on persevering
· In France, national commercial radio networks have refused to support public radio’s plan to launch digital terrestrial radio
· In Denmark, only one commercial station is broadcasting on DAB, alongside 17 state radio stations (many of which are about to be axed)
· In the Netherlands, national commercial radio stations have had to be forced to broadcast on DAB by the government inserting new clauses in their licence renewals.
World DMB’s rallying call of “let’s just get on with it!” might make more sense if its proposed solutions were practical in any way. Its press release was headlined ‘European Broadcasting Union backs digital radio switch over across Europe.’ Given that all three of its objectives for the next 12 months fly in the face of realpolitik, it would have been more accurate to entitle the press release ‘Three impossible European things before breakfast.’
[with thanks to Michael Hedges at Follow The Media]
Wednesday, 17 November 2010
The following are excerpts from the report:
“Both equipment manufacturers (Simavelec and Secimavi) have focused on the renewal of television receivers (digital TV, flat screens, 3D TV, connected TV) and, at this stage, have invested little in radio receivers. This is evidenced by the IFA [consumer electronics trade fair] held in Berlin in September 2010, where radio receivers were virtually absent from the stands of the main manufacturers. Although, at this international show, the big manufacturers are present in markets where DAB has already launched, they do not consider it sufficiently beneficial to manufacture and sell digital radio receivers. Manufacturers consider that the improvement in sound quality offered by digital radio will be harder [for consumers] to appreciate than the improvement in quality for digital television.”
2.3 The situation in other European countries
“A review of the situation overseas illustrates the same problem: many countries have launched DAB and have long experience of it, but none have been able to implement it as the dominant model for terrestrial broadcasting. This demonstrates what could be called ‘the paradox of DAB radio’ – it is a sufficiently attractive technology to be launched successfully, but it is insufficiently attractive to successfully allow FM broadcasts to cease.”
4.0 Conditions to launch DAB
“Difficulties surrounding the launch of DAB:
· Uncertainties about the economic model
· The consumer benefit is uneven between towns and country
· The existence of IP as a competing platform, even if it is discounted, already exists and can appear to be a real alternative
· Finally, little interest by telecom owners to use the FM band – it is too low frequency (unlike the spectrum released by analogue TV) – which makes it very difficult to monetise it and removes any global interest in accelerating towards digital switchover.”
4.1 How could DAB conquer the public?
“For DAB to be a success with consumers, several conditions must be met:
· DAB radio receivers must be widely available, there must be an incentive for consumers to buy them, and they must be installed in vehicles […]
· The sound quality of DAB must be at least equal, or superior, to that of existing FM radio
· DAB radio must be known to the public and must be made attractive. This requires a powerful, dynamic launch campaign.
· Radio offerings to listeners must be enriched. Since the launch has to be a lesson in effective marketing, it must be huge from the outset in those areas where the media regulator has identified that the increase in the number of radio stations is relatively tangible and quite impressive.”
The report noted that the transmission cost for a national radio station to broadcast to 90% of the population in France, using the digital T-DMB standard, will be €4.4m per annum. Some existing national commercial networks have suggested that the cost of digital transmission would only prove economically viable if it were reduced to between €0.5m and €1m per annum and achieved coverage of 90% to 95% of France.
Kessler’s full report to the government will be published by year-end.
[I have used ‘DAB’ as shorthand for ‘digital terrestrial radio’ though France decided to adopt a technical standard other than DAB]
Monday, 15 November 2010
Spanish broadcasting law requires stations that embarked upon DAB to continue broadcasting for the duration of their licences, regardless of whether anyone is listening or not. Ruiz de Aguirre said that all the commercial broadcasters are united with a single goal: to stop having to broadcast on DAB. To date, the government has not relented, though the current licences end in 2010 and 2011.
“I do not think analogue radio switch-off will happen in either the short or medium term,” said Xosé Ramón Pousa, professor in the Faculty of Communication Sciences at the University de Santiago de Compostela. “In this scenario, DAB is at a dead end.”
“We are a rarity”, said Pere Vilas, who heads Spain’s drive for digital radio (and is the managing director of technology at state broadcaster RTVE). State radio has been simulcasting on DAB since 1998. Spanish broadcasting law has required a technical plan for DAB radio to be in place for the last year and a half, though nothing exists as yet. Such a plan is seen as DAB’s last chance to redeem itself in Spain.
“Work began a long time ago, even before digital television switchover,” admitted Xavier Redón, product marketing manager of transmission infrastructure provider Abertis Telecom. “But it is about to begin again.” Like DAB lobbyists elsewhere, Redón was quick to claim that the rest of Europe was already well down the road to DAB radio switchover. He asserted that, in France, all radios would have to be digital by 2013, and that Germany was creating a national DAB+ network in 2011.
Redón predicted that 2011 would be “key” to laying the groundwork for the re-launch of DAB in Spain. A glance at the website for DAB radio in Spain elicits a similarly optimistic stance. It states boldly: “Digital radio is a fact. It is not the future. It is the present.”
Until you realise that this latest news item was posted in April 2008.
Saturday, 13 November 2010
National station Radio 538 director Jan-Willem Brüggenwirth commented: “Our digital [DAB] transmitters have been running at a loss for three years.” Radio 538 reaches 400,000 listeners per week via its internet platform, and Brüggenwirth said he expects an explosion of listening via mobile phones to internet delivered radio stations.
Martin Banga of Vereniging Commerciële Radio, the commercial radio trade body (and chief executive of Sky Radio), said: "You're talking about millions of [radio] devices in the coming years having to be replaced, not only in homes but also in cars, which is slower than most people think."
Banga added: "Digitalisation is costly and offers little benefit, because almost nobody has a digital receiver. It produces no additional listeners yet, so there is no additional advertising revenue. I estimate that 2,000 people have the equipment actually to be able to receive DAB, so it only goes to the handful of people that have digital radios. Compare that to the 40 million listeners who can receive FM. This means that switching to DAB is relatively costly, and produces little income.”
Originally, there had been a government plan to turn off FM radio broadcasts completely by 2015, but this has been dropped. Instead, the government will auction two national FM frequencies that had previously been licensed to failed station Arrow FM. These licences will similarly require a commitment to broadcast on DAB.
The government’s announcement stated:
“Digital radio has many advantages, such as better quality, more radio stations and the possibly of adding new services to the radio offering. In time, digital radio is intended to replace the current FM radio. To do this, however, the groundwork must first be fulfilled. The existing stations could make an important contribution through this [licence] extension.”
Government commissioned research in May 2010 had determined that the licence of each national FM commercial radio station in Holland was worth around €30 million.
[with thanks to Paul Rusling]
Thursday, 11 November 2010
You have to look in the new government’s Digital Radio Action Plan, published in July 2010, to discover:
“The Government will chair a Stakeholder Group which will be open to a wide range on industry and related stakeholders. The principle purpose of this Group will be to inform external stakeholders of progress against the Action Plan and gather views on emerging findings. We expect that the Group will meet quarterly.”
The government’s project management plan anticipated that, by Q2 2010, it would be able to:
“secure commitment from the Government Digital Radio Group and the Stakeholders Groups to the Action Plan.” [Task 5.1]
This pre-determined outcome was justified on the grounds that:
“Successful implementation of the Digital Radio Switchover programme will only be achieved through close Government-Industry co-operation. […] This will include commissioning and delivery of reports, reviewing progress against key milestones and disseminating information to key stakeholders.”
So, essentially, the Digital Radio Stakeholders Group seems to be an almost non-existent forum that has only been convened to secure some kind of external ‘rubber stamp’ for the government’s proposals on DAB radio. It will allow the government, when challenged as to the democratic basis of its DAB radio policy, to assert confidently: “We convened a stakeholders group and it endorsed our proposals.”
This is cynical government at its worst. A ‘faux consultation’ that pretends to have asked a group of somebodies to endorse a government policy for which no mandate has ever been given by the electorate. It is similar to the manipulation practised by Ofcom in its radio policymaking (viz. Ofcom’s recent decision to permit Smooth Radio to dump its commitment to broadcast 45 hours per week of jazz music, after having acknowledged that 13 of the 15 responses submitted to its public consultation were opposed to this loss of jazz).
According to a government document, the Terms of Reference for the Digital Radio Stakeholders Group are as follows:
To enable a wide range of organisations to contribute to the process of delivering the Digital Radio Action Plan
• To inform all stakeholders of progress with the Action Plan
• To seek the views of stakeholders on future progress of the Action Plan
• To provide an opportunity for all stakeholders to share news, views and concerns relevant to the Digital Radio Action Plan
Any organisation with a valid interest in the objectives of the Digital Radio Action Plan may be a member. Members will include consumer representative bodies, broadcasters, manufacturers, retailers, vehicle manufacturers, transmission network operators, content providers. The Group will be chaired by BIS in the first instance, though in principle the Chair could be any person acceptable to the majority of stakeholders and able to represent the collective views of the stakeholders to the Steering Board.
Mode of operation
The Digital Radio Stakeholders Group will meet quarterly.
The Chair will report the views of the stakeholders, as expressed through the meetings of the Stakeholders Group, to the Steering Board.”
So what happened at the first meeting? Very little, according to some of those who were present. It was a game of two halves. In the first half, the bureaucrats put their case. From the government, Jane Humphreys, head of digital broadcasting & content policy, BIS [Department for Business Innovation & Skills]; John Mottram, head of radio & media markets, DCMS; and Jonny Martin, digital radio programme director, BIS/DCMS. From Digital Radio UK, Ford Ennals, chief executive; Jane Ostler, communications director; and Laurence Harrison, technology & market development director. Then, in the second half, representatives from Age UK, the Consumer Expert Group, Voice of the Listener & Viewer and W4B raised issues on behalf of the consumer.
At the end of it, I guess the government-appointed chairman could return to her government office, tick the box on the government wall planner that says ‘stakeholder commitment’ and be pleased that this ‘rubber stamp’ had cost the taxpayer only an afternoon’s salary plus some tea and biscuits for the ‘stakeholders’. Well worth it!
More interesting than noting those who attended is identifying who was not there:
· No presentation by Ofcom, whose longstanding ‘Future of Radio’ policy has forced the DAB platform upon the public for almost the last decade
· Nobody from the largest commercial radio owners – Global Radio, Bauer Radio and Guardian Media Group – that have considerable investments in DAB multiplex licences
After the meeting, under the headline ‘RadioCentre quits digital radio meeting’, Campaign reported:
“RadioCentre, the commercial radio trade body, has walked out of discussions over the future of digital radio after the BBC licence-fee settlement did not commit BBC funds to roll out DAB radio. The body refused to attend a [Digital Radio Stakeholders] meeting on 1 November after the [BBC Licence Fee] settlement, published last week, included provision only for [BBC] national DAB [upgrade].” [I noted this development in a blog last month]
Whatever RadioCentre’s reason for non-attendance (and the story in Campaign has not been refuted), this kind of stance is a disgrace. Raising two fingers to the people you are supposed to be persuading of your DAB policy is not a clever PR strategy for the commercial radio industry. But I am not surprised. All the organisations pushing for DAB radio have increasingly adopted a ‘bunker’ mentality that precludes any direct contact with the public. What we appear to have now is:
· Ofcom refusing to engage in public discussion about its DAB ‘Future of Radio’ policy
· The government organising a Stakeholder Group to rubber stamp its unrealistic, dictatorial policy on DAB radio
· Digital Radio UK refusing to engage in public explanation of its DAB campaign work, as illustrated by its non-existent web site
· RadioCentre and its members now refusing to attend a meeting to explain just how/why DAB is still being pursued
At the same time, the public – the consumers, the 46,762,000 adults who spend 22.6 hours per week listening to radio – have been omitted altogether from these manoeuvrings that are still focused upon trying desperately to force them to purchase DAB radio receivers. The public had been omitted from the proposals at the very beginning of DAB more than a decade ago, which is precisely why it failed, and they are still being omitted today.
This is not the first time that government ‘stakeholder’ meetings about DAB radio have been organised simply to tick a box. As part of the previous government’s attempts to solve the DAB problem, in 2008 it convened a Digital Radio Working Group with two similar ‘stakeholder meetings’ held at DCMS. I attended and felt they existed purely for the bureaucrats to report back to their superiors that they had done something to ‘disseminate’ their policies. DCMS’ own write-up of the first meeting recounted bluntly:
“A stakeholders meeting was held on 10 March and offered opportunities for a wide range of views to be heard.”
A place where “views” were merely “heard”. The ineffectiveness of these earlier stakeholder meetings is demonstrated by re-visiting the agenda for the first of them. The issues tabled for discussion nearly three years ago (“How to make digital radio the predominant platform for listening to radio in the UK? What are the barriers to this? How can these barriers be overcome?”) still remained the same at this month’s meeting. Worse, none of the DAB technical problems identified then have been solved in the interim. And guess what? All trace of these 2008 meetings ever having happened has been erased from the DCMS website (in 2008, I had had to write to DCMS to get them to add the meeting details to their website).
The next meeting of the Digital Radio Stakeholders Group will be held on 3 February 2011 at DCMS/BSI, 1 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0ET. If you belong to any kind of community group or organisation (even if it is your neighbourhood watch) whose members are likely to be impacted by the government’s policy on digital radio switchover, I suggest you write to Jane Humphreys (e-mail to [first name][dot][second name]@bis.gsi.gov.uk) and ask for an invitation to this next meeting.
‘Stakeholder’ radio listeners should turn up to the February meeting and shout: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more!” ... or maybe the DAB plug will already have been pulled by then.
Friday, 5 November 2010
20 October 2010
“In the end the deal we got [for the BBC Licence Fee settlement] was tough but fair. Tough because the BBC, like everyone, is going to have to make demanding efficiency savings. But fair because it allows them to continue to make the great programmes that we all love and licence fee payers won’t have to pay any extra for the privilege. The assurances I have secured on magazines, local and online activities will also give some comfort to the BBC's commercial rivals that the licence fee will not be used to blast them out of the water.”
Feedback, BBC Radio 4, 21 October 2010 [excerpt]
Roger Bolton, interviewer [RB]
Sir Michael Lyons, chair, BBC Trust [ML]
RB: Does that mean that you would regard any significant cuts in the domestic radio services as something you could not go along with?
ML: I think … that’s rather a sweeping assurance that you’re asking me to give …
RB: Well, it’s people who listen to Radio 4 and to Radio 3 and who value that greatly, and Radios 1 and 2, want to know, as a result of this settlement, will they see major economies made in their networks?
ML: Well, let me be very clear, as I said before. The Trust is clear on the importance to Licence Fee payers of the family of BBC services. The care that we take in reflecting on those radio services is, I think, reflected in the decision that we took on 6 Music – a very careful balancing of the public value that that service provides against its cost. What I can give you assurance on is that the Trust will continue to demonstrate that care across the range of BBC services.
Tim Davie, Director, BBC Audio & Music
Interviewed by Beehive City, 20 October 2010
“I don’t think anyone is proposing taking £300 million [for the BBC World Service] out of the Audio & Music budget. There wouldn’t be a lot left.”
“Obviously this is a decision taking place at a pan-BBC level rather than just looking at radio services. As the guy in charge of Radio I would say that our portfolio delivers value for money for the licence fee. I think Radio stacks up very well.”
“I don’t want to go into detail about discussions at this point in time. It remains speculation until we see what comes out in the Comprehensive Spending Review.”
The Tony Livesey show, BBC Radio 5 Live, 28 October 2010 [excerpt]
Stephen Nolan, interviewer (presenter, BBC Radio Ulster) [SN]
Tim Davie, Director, BBC Audio & Music [TD]
SN: Interesting times for the BBC, Tim, aren’t they, because, with the Licence Fee freeze over the next six years, how’s that going to be felt by radio listeners? What are they going to miss, what are they going to lose?
TD: Well, I think it’s too early for me to say ‘oh, we’ve just had a settlement, this is what it affects’. I would say, as an overall principle, the last thing that people want – me or others want to do – is do things that affect the quality of listening. I think that one of the things the BBC has done pretty well over the last few years is: we have taken out quite a lot of costs. But the truth is our radio services, I think, are in fine shape. That’s for the listeners to decide but, actually, the numbers are good, I think the quality of programming is – frankly, it is quite easy to do cheap radio. The issue is that we also want to do the investigative journalism, we want to do the big stuff, and I think listeners care about that stuff. I would say that, of the Licence Fee, radio is only, at most, 20%. So, in terms of good value for money, as the head of radio, I would be arguing our case pretty hard.
SN: You say it’s quite easy to do cheap radio. Do we do cheap radio?
TD: I think, you know, overall, we do good value radio which is – I’m choosing my words carefully there – because, I think, cheap radio, what I meant by that was that it’s quite easy to have one person playing records. We don’t do that. You know. We get people like yourself, who have a point of view….
SN: [interrupts] Yes, we do! We don’t have one person playing records? Chris Moyles plays records. Radio 1 plays records and the commercial sector could do that any day of the week, couldn’t they?
TD: Well, I think Radio 1 is … that’s a big debate. I’m very clear that Radio 1 does something very different to commercial radio. An average commercial radio station would play probably about 200 records a week and Radio 1 … our records … we may get up to 900. We’ll be playing a lot more new music and, actually, we do a lot more speech. Nine million people are listening to news on Radio 1, with something like Newsbeat, and that’s important.
SN: BBC Radio 2 and the commercial sector will argue until the day they die –and I spent ten years working in the commercial sector – that Radio 2 should be given to the commercial sector. Give them a chance because that’s [no more than] very good presenters playing music.
TD: Well, I don’t think they would do what we do. Radio 2 is currently just about 50% speech so, if you listen … on a day in Radio 2, about half of it is speech.
SN: And define ‘speech.’ Are you including presenter links in that? Including monologues and all?
TD: I’m including everything in that. I’m also including Jeremy Vine doing Poetry Week last week. I’m in ….
SN: [interrupts] But it is a bit of a con to suggest that 50% is speech when that includes a presenter saying ‘good morning, it’s ten past ten’, because the commercial sector can do that.
TD: Well, of that, there’s a bit of speech which is those pure links. Point taken. But I think, if you listen to, as I say, Jeremy Vine, you also … It’s not just about music versus speech. You take the Folk Awards, you take Jamie Cullum doing jazz, I think Radio 2 can be pretty proud of what it does, and its playlist versus a commercial station… All I would say – and this is a very simple request, and a strange one by the head of BBC radio – but have a listen to commercial radio for a while and have a listen to us. I think that listeners know the difference.
SN: What is the difference? If someone was listening to commercial radio?
TD: I think we’re a lot less dictated to by a fixed playlist. We do have a playlist but it makes [up] a lot less of our output. I think we give our presenters, as you know, quite free reign and we allow them to do their stuff. And I think … there’s great commercial radio, by the way, and it would be remiss of me to say anything otherwise. But I would say the BBC – the great thing about having fixed income – is that we can do stuff. We can say go and do your stuff and, sometimes, as you know, that can get lively. But, overall, I believe in trusting presenters. The interesting thing as well, by the way, is [that] music services now on the web – you get all these automated recommendations – the one thing I think radio is doing well on is that we don’t kind of do that. We give a presenter the chance to do their stuff.
House of Lords
Lord Myners: I hope that when the BBC licence is next reviewed we start from a presumption that the BBC should not be doing certain things. The BBC should have to prove why it should continue to operate Radio 1 or Radio 2, for instance. It is extraordinarily difficult to explain to a foreign visitor why Radio 1, a popular music station, is a nationalised industry, and why it is necessary for it to be provided by a public service as opposed to a competitive one.