Sunday, 8 May 2011

DAB Radio Downgrade: how is '90% of FM coverage' a sensible target for DAB to replace FM?

“Makin’ a good t’ing bad!”

Moving the goalposts. Governments are adept at doing just that to help them achieve their targets or to make figures look better than they really are. Digital radio switchover is no exception. Given the technical and financial impossibility of the task plotted twenty years ago to completely replace analogue radio broadcasting with DAB radio, it has became necessary in recent months for the civil servants and digital radio lobbyists to move the goalposts.

In a blog in April 2011, I had outlined Ofcom’s latest ruse to deliberately plan to make DAB reception worse than existing FM reception for many radio listeners. Nevertheless, Ofcom will still declare this a victory for the technical superiority of the DAB platform.

The latest proposal under consideration is to make coverage of local DAB transmitters equivalent to 90% of existing FM coverage. On the one hand, this represents a belated admission that DAB radio cannot realistically achieve the same robust coverage as FM. On the other, it is a massive kick in the teeth to radio listeners – an attempt to purposefully replace something good (FM) with something worse (DAB). Madness!

A recent presentation by DAB lobbyist organisation Digital Radio UK invoked a new, vague “local digital coverage equivalent to 90%” criterion [see below]:

“90%” of what? The government’s Digital Britain report in June 2009 had fixed the digital radio switchover criteria as:
• “When 50% of listening is to digital; and
• When national DAB coverage is comparable to FM coverage, and local DAB reaches 90% of the population and all major roads.” [emphasis added]

There was never anything in Digital Britain about achieving “90% of existing FM coverage.” It was always “90% of the population.” The goalposts are being moved to make it easier for the government and DAB lobbyists to declare that DAB has achieved the criteria. Despite this outcome making the consumer experience of radio evidently worse.

We were told that one result of the Digital Radio Summit meeting on 31 March 2011 between government, regulator and the radio industry was:

“It is understood that it will cost around £20-30m to extend the local DAB signal to 90% of the FM signal in the UK…”

At a Westminster Media Forum conference on 5 April 2011, the topic of this newly created “90% of FM” criterion was raised by several speakers:

Jimmy Buckland, director of strategy, UTV Media: “There's a DCMS [Department for Culture, Media & Sport] plan that's been referred to today that's currently on the table that would take local multiplexes to just 90% of what FM already delivers, with no commitment on major roads. If that plan’s agreed, it just about gets us to base camp.”

[…]

Neil Midgley, assistant media editor, The Daily Telegraph: “Now the briefing that we were getting last week was somewhere below £30 million for a build out to about 90% of current FM coverage. “

[…]

Daniel Nathan, director, Brighton & Hove Radio: “Just leading on from that, in Jimmy’s slide we saw the figure being an aspiration of ‘90% of the population’ and I was quite disturbed to hear that now that they are kind of moving away from ‘90% of the population’ to ‘90% FM coverage.’ When was that decided and by whom?”

[…]

Jimmy Buckland: “There were two different figures, there was originally a figure which was the criterion, at which point you would make a decision about switchover which was that the Government said that once we had ‘90% population coverage’ and ‘coverage of all major roads,’ you could make a decision and there were a couple of other criteria that go with that. The second figure which was ‘90% coverage of current FM’ for local DAB concerns what would be delivered by a proposal which is currently on the table. So to tie in with the previous point, what that £30 million delivers is a little bit more coverage at the local level, aggregated to 90% on a UK wide basis, so in some local markets it could be comfortably less than 90%, in other markets it could be higher and it doesn’t get you to the universality that you need for switchover.”

So, two questions remain unanswered:
• Who came up with the idea of ‘90% of FM coverage’ to be sneaked in as an easier criterion?
• Why are large parts of the radio industry (including RadioCentre and the BBC) not publicly campaigning against this ridiculous proposal intended to make reception of their radio stations on DAB WORSE for listeners than existing reception on FM?

It is hard not to conclude that the parties involved in this latest wheeze seem happy to treat the UK’s 46,727,000 radio listeners with utter contempt.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is about to be a public consultation to gauge the demand and interest to extend the South Devon digital radio service into North Devon.

THIS IS BAD NEWS FOR OUR REGION.

The Facts:

• If the South Devon digital radio service is extended to North Devon, the current FM transmitters will be switched off for good - we just dont know when
• All the FM radio’s you currently have in your home and your car will become obsolete, you will HAVE to replace them with DAB radios.
• Digital radio will only cover up to 90% of the current FM coverage, which means AT LEAST 10% of the region who receive FM radio will not receive digital radio.
• This means that that at least 10% of those who currently listen to commercial radio AND BBC Radio Devon will no longer be able to receive a signal.
• North Devon and Torridge will NEVER have a local radio service again.
• The DAB experiment was tried in Germany and failed.

Do you think this is a good thing for North Devon and Torridge?

If you think this will be bad for the region and the UK as a whole, you need to write to OFCOM when the consultation starts telling them that you don’t want to lose our FM service, and you don’t want the South Devon Digital radio multiplex extended to North Devon, and where possible give a reason why you don’t want it and why you think it will be bad for the region – also state how important it is to re- advertise the local FM licence so that North Devon can have its own commercial radio station, like LANTERN FM, back again

This decision has huge ramifications for DAB, OFCOM relaxation rules and other national radio groups business plans

IAN STARLING
North Devon Local Radio Campaign