Monday, 23 May 2011
GERMANY: "DAB [radio] remains a problem child"
On 2 May 2011, a panel convened at the Central Germany Media Conference in Leipzig to discuss the future of digital radio. The panellists were: Gerd Bauer from LMS, Erwin Linnenbach from Regiocast, Christophe Montague from NRJ International Operations and Willi Steul from Deutschlandradio.
The panel felt that one of the main problems around the planned (re-)launch of digital radio in Germany on 1 August 2011 was the lack of DAB+ capable radio receivers in the market. “The left shoe is there, but not the right one,” commented Erwin Linnenbach, who was concerned that it would be difficult to persuade consumers to buy a digital radio if they did not know what they would be able to receive on it.
Willi Steul said that he had had to visit three shops before he had found one that stocked a DAB+ radio. “An ordinary customer would not make that effort, but would have bought an FM radio from the first place,” he suggested. Deutschlandradio would save €12m per annum from being able to shut down its Long Wave and Medium Wave transmitters, said Steul. However, even if DAB+ were available nationwide, he did not believe that FM switch-off was an issue.
Christophe Montague suggested that, where there were already a wide range of FM radio stations, there was no need for new channels. This was the reason why it would prove so hard to launch digital radio in France. Whereas, in many parts of Germany, Montague said that it was a “radio desert.”
The panellists agreed that the biggest problem was the lack of DAB+ radios in shops. Linnenbach did not believe that this issue could be fixed by 1 August because there was not enough time. The objective had to be to make radio listeners understand the benefits offered by DAB+. If that succeeded, he believed the chances were good for a successful launch.
The panel proceedings were reported in the German press under sceptical headlines:
• “DAB Plus before launch – an uncertain outlook for success,” said Business-on
• “Media conference – success of DAB Plus not guaranteed,” said Digitalfernsehen
• “Media conference – DAB remains a problem child,” said Rein-Hoeren
According to the latter publication, Erwin Linnenbach had said that the monopoly of transmission company Media Broadcast was the major obstacle to nationwide digital radio in Germany. He felt that Media Broadcast’s requirements did not offer a sensible business model to potential DAB+ broadcasters [see blog Dec 2010]. Christophe Montague agreed and said he had the impression that Media Broadcast would make the most out of the DAB tender process.
Heinz-Dieter Sommer, director of radio at Hessischen Rundfunks, said that economically viable conditions had to be created to enable commercial radio companies to participate in DAB+ alongside the public service broadcasters. “Otherwise,” he said, “in ten years time, FM will still not be switched off.”
Two British digital radio companies have committed financial support to the roll-out of national DAB+ in Germany in August 2011. This follows the slow-down of DAB radio receiver sales in the UK in 2009 and 2010 [see blog].
In December 2010, Frontier Silicon announced that, in order to persuade four commercial radio broadcasters in Germany to persevere with DAB+, it had promised them it would purchase an unspecified amount of their advertising airtime over the next four years [see blog].
Then, in March 2011, Pure Digital announced that it had forged “a strategic marketing partnership with Germany’s commercial radio stations in advance of the launch of the first nationwide digital radio multiplex.” It said that “the partnership and financial investment” it was providing would ensure that its digital radios would be “heavily promoted in various German media.”
Germany could be under the mistaken impression that DAB radio is already a roaring success in the UK market. It was reported in the German press last week:
• “While listening in Germany is still dominated by analogue radio, the British have long joined the digital age. Figures from RAJAR have shown that, in Q1 2011, nearly 92% of the population have listened to digital radio, on average for more than 22 hours per week.” [source]
• “Britain remains a pioneer in listening to digital radio via DAB. On Thursday, new RAJAR record figures were recorded. 47.3m listeners (91.6%) in the first quarter listened at least once a week to digital radio.” [source]
In fact, the most recent RAJAR research found that 43% of the UK adult population listened to digital radio in a week, and only 27% listened to DAB radio. The high percentages quoted in the German press are for listening to ALL radio via ALL platforms, not for digital radio or DAB radio alone.
I recall Frontier Silicon chief executive Anthony Sethill having been quoted in his company's press release in 2008 saying: “Digital radio is here to stay, with DAB sets outselling analogue models by six to one.”
In fact, in the UK, analogue radios outsell DAB radios by four-to-one. Mmmm. It looks as if the DAB propaganda war in Germany has only just begun.