Tuesday, 4 January 2011

NORWAY: digital radio switchover "postponed indefinitely"

In November 2010, a daily newspaper in Denmark reported that the government’s plan for digital radio switchover had been postponed indefinitely [see earlier blog]. Now, the same is reported to have happened in Norway.

“The transition from analogue to digital radio began more than ten years ago. At the end of 2010, we still have no idea what is going on,”
said the headline in Norwegian daily newspaper Aftenposten.

In 2009, then culture minister Trond Giske had promised that the Norwegian government would publish a white paper in 2010 on digital radio switchover [see earlier
blog]. It has failed to appear. “Recently, it has become clear that the strategy had to be postponed indefinitely,” said Aftenposten.

Ib Thomsen, cultural affairs spokesman for the Progress party,
said: “This is undoubtedly a hot political potato and DAB is, in many ways, a risky sport.” He believes that it is wrong to compare the migration of digital radio with digital television switchover, as many do, because the number of radios in use is much greater. “Nevertheless, we should not set a [switchover] date in order to go out and force people to buy new radios,” Thomsen said.

Olemic Thommsessen, cultural policy spokesman for the Conservative party,
said: “I am more concerned with getting the policy on the table so that we can advance work on planning a digital radio future.” He noted that it had been a long time since the government’s last review of digital radio strategy, and that subsequent development of DAB and DAB receiver sales had not lived up to expectations.

Trine Schei Grande, leader of the Liberal party,
said: “The time is over when politicians can decide how people will listen to the radio.” She believes that the only way to get listeners to invest in digital radio is to make digital content and stations sufficiently attractive. Until then, she said, FM transmissions must be continued.

Øyvind Vasaasen, distribution manager of state broadcaster NRK, said it would not be a very costly issue for NRK to broadcast DAB+ transmissions, should it be required by the government. He emphasised that NRK had a continuing obligation to serve those who had already bought DAB radios that do not support the newer DAB+ standard. “These can be addressed by broadcasting in both DAB and DAB+ for a period,” he
said.

The possibility of the government switching from the DAB to the DAB+ standard was taken up by a commentary in Aftenposten, whose headline
asked: “Your new, expensive DAB radio may be useless in a few years. What is really happening?” It explained:

“The problem is that there are already more than 300,000 DAB radios in the country. NRK distribution manager Øyvind Vasaasen had said that NRK has a contract with listeners who have already bought a DAB radio, and which makes it difficult to switch [to DAB+]. What about all those who listen on one of the country’s 15+ million FM radios? Does NRK not have a contract with them? And what of DAB users who feel they had signed the contract without full disclosure?”

The commentary continued: ”When [state broadcaster] NRK had argued for a transition from FM to DAB, it had said that the DAB system would give us CD-quality audio from the radio. It has not. DAB technology does allow very high sound quality, but most stations use lower sound quality than FM, according to University of Oslo professor Sverre Holm. Many people find the [DAB] sound clearer and less harsh, but many also complain of less detail and poorer stereo image. Moreover, no local radio station can afford the investment of over half a million kroner to broadcast on DAB, so that the diversity we were promised has not become a reality.”

Even DAB lobbyists are acknowledging the slow take-up achieved to date. Jørn Jensen, president of World DMB, the international marketing organisation for DAB,
told Germany’s Digitalmagazin recently:

“Digital radio is still in its infancy. If we compare the situation to the computer market, we are still in the time of MS-DOS!”

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