Saturday, 29 January 2011

Bauer Radio talks the DAB talk, but walks its Magic brand off DAB

Bauer Radio is the second largest commercial radio group in the UK. It publicly supports the government’s plans for DAB radio switchover. Only this month, Paul Keenan, chief executive of Bauer Media, told The Guardian: “What part if any is the BBC going to play on the local DAB level?” He went on to ask:

“Will there be some form of seismic content innovation or intervention that really pulls listeners across [to DAB]?”

Keenan need have looked no further than his own company’s DAB radio strategy to discover a form of “seismic content intervention” that might well result in pushing existing listeners away from DAB, rather than pulling them in. While Keenan was talking to The Guardian, Bauer was busy pulling the plugs on its ‘Magic’ brand from the DAB platform in the following
areas:
· Aberdeen
· Ayr
· Birmingham
· Bradford & Huddersfield
· Cambridge
· Dundee & Perth
· Edinburgh
· Glasgow
· Kent
· Northern Ireland
· Norwich
· Peterborough
· Stoke
· Sussex Coast
· Swansea

If you were a loyal listener to Magic in one of these areas, your favourite station simply disappeared from the DAB menu in January 2011 (Magic had 1m out-of-analogue-area listeners per week, contributing 24% of the brand’s total hours listened, according to RAJAR). This change is surprising given that, as recently as May 2008, Bauer Radio decided to add its Magic brand to the DAB platform in the following
areas:
· Aberdeen
· Ayr
· Birmingham
· Bradford & Huddersfield
· Cambridge
· Dundee & Perth
· Edinburgh
· Glasgow
· Kent
· Northern Ireland
· Norwich
· Peterborough
· Stoke
· Sussex Coast
· Swansea

In 2008, in most of these areas, Magic had replaced another Bauer brand, ‘Kiss’, which could not have pleased existing Kiss listeners. Now, in 2011, it is the Kiss brand that is replacing the Magic brand in all but three of these areas. Musical chairs, anyone?

In 2009, Bauer had
said that it was investing in the “right long-term platforms for the right stations at the right time.” So, in 2008, Kiss was right for DAB whereas, in 2011, now Magic is right?

It is hard to believe that such precipitous content changes inspire consumer confidence in the DAB platform. But, sadly, the DAB platform has never really been about ‘radio’ and ‘listeners’. Loyalty to DAB radio? What’s that? For commercial radio, its pursuit of the DAB platform had been about the exercise of power, the expectation of profit and the promise of automatic renewals for the industry’s most valuable analogue radio licences.

It was also about a much coveted transfer of the power to determine which stations are broadcast to a cartel of commercial DAB multiplex owners, and away from the regulator. This is why station changes on DAB, such as Bauer’s (Kiss to Magic to Kiss) can be executed without a public consultation or impact assessment.* The regulator merely nods its head and makes a quick note in a file. So what role does Ofcom play in
ensuring that the DAB radio platform “furthers the interests of citizens and of consumers” as mandated by law? The answer is: absolutely none. We might as well have a scarecrow in charge of digital radio at Ofcom.

The reason that Bauer Radio (with a 25% listening share of commercial radio) made these latest changes to DAB is that it is locked in a war with archrival Global Radio (38%). Neither company has a track record of developing its own successful radio stations from the ground up. Both companies are piled high with acquisitions and mergers of other radio businesses. As a result, the two compete with each other by moving their radio pieces around the chess board, rather than by innovation.

In January 2011, Global Radio extended its ‘Capital’ brand outside London, replacing the former ‘Galaxy’ brand and some local FM stations. Global describes the
brand:

“Capital’s target audience of 15-34 year olds are big fans of popular music, they are media savvy and are on trend.”

To compete, Bauer Radio extended its Kiss brand to every available local DAB multiplex (replacing Magic). Bauer describes the
brand:

“Kiss evolves around ever changing lifestyles and trends of the UK’s young 15-34 market … Every part of their day revolves around music.”

If, like me, you think that these two brands sound almost identical, understand that this phenomenon is the outcome of long understood business practice in the radio sector. In 1951, American economist Peter Steiner wrote:

“If, as is often suspected, [radio] broadcasters exaggerate the homogeneity of audiences and their preferences for certain program stereotypes, the tendencies towards [programme] duplication will be increased. … The problem, of course, is that a series of competing firms, each striving to maximize its number of listeners, will fail to achieve either the industry or the social good. Here, then, competition is providing a less than desirable result.”

In the UK, this is precisely why we have a regulator for radio broadcasting – to ensure that consumers benefit from a wider choice of content than a free market would provide. However, with its hands tied in DAB policy by the Broadcasting Act 1996, and its laissez-faire ‘do nothing until someone complains about it’ strategy, Ofcom has had no more impact on the DAB station menu than having no regulator at all.

DAB is the Wild West of radio where anything can, and often does, happen. Seemingly, it often happens with little concern for listeners or for those who paid good money for a DAB receiver. Without a sheriff in sight, or a cavalry about to ride over the horizon, the danger is that the public might come to view DAB radio as nothing more than a bunch of cowboys locked in a private war of one-upmanship.

Yet the radio industry wonders why the DAB platform is not stimulating more listening or more receiver sales.


[*NB: There was an Ofcom
consultation in November 2010 about a change of format for the Kiss brand, but this did not touch upon Magic being dropped from DAB. Magic continues to be simulcast on DAB in nine areas where it is already available on FM or AM, as a contractual condition of its automatic analogue licence renewals.]

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Q: Who is the government commissioning to produce an objective report on the costs & benefits of DAB radio switchover? A: The government

For two decades, the British government has pursued a policy to replace analogue radio broadcasting with DAB digital radio broadcasting. Why? The real reasons might as well be lost in the mists of time (or maybe were never made public). However, this has not stopped the government and its civil servants continuing to pursue the same digital radio switchover policy since the 1980s, despite overwhelming evidence that the surrounding media landscape has changed beyond recognition in the interim.

Because the government policy to replace AM and FM radio with DAB radio had never been decided on the basis of consumer demand, commercial necessity or global standards, it was unnecessary for officials to produce a document that justified it logically. When a government decides that a particular policy is necessary, it can make legislative change happen without recourse to the consumer market outside of Parliament or the Ministries. Politics and the real world do not inhabit the same space.

In the case of DAB radio switchover, the government made no effort to produce a cost/benefit analysis until 2008, when PricewaterhouseCoopers [PWC] was commissioned by Ofcom. However, the resulting 91-page
report did not provide the solid, positive argument for DAB radio switchover that the government had desired. So the PWC report was hidden from the public for a year, eventually to be released and trivialised by civil servants [see blog entry Feb 2010].


In contrast to the government’s unbridled enthusiasm for DAB, the PWC report felt that “the [radio] industry and consumers may fail to see the benefits of digital radio over the longer term.” It concluded that “there are relatively few up-sides to the estimates and several significant downside risks” from its cost/benefit analysis of DAB radio switchover [see
blog entry Jul 2010].

The House of Lords Select Committee on Communications, in a
report on digital radio switchover in March 2010, expressed its dissatisfaction with the government’s attempt to bury the evidence from this PWC report:

“We strongly regret that the cost benefit analysis carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers was not published at the time it was delivered to Ofcom and the Department for Culture, Media & Sport in February 2009.”

The government
responded that “technical difficulties” had prevented the report’s publication for nearly a year. As excuses go, it would probably have been better for the government not to have responded at all.

After this embarrassing debacle over the PWC report, the government must have wanted to commission a further report that would conclude what PWC had not: that DAB radio switchover is a wonderful thing and that there are sensible economic arguments to justify forcing it upon the British public.

In June 2009, the government’s Digital Britain
report promised: “We will conduct a full Impact Assessment, including a Cost/Benefit Analysis of Digital Radio Upgrade.”

In January 2010, Ofcom’s Peter Davies offered
evidence to the House of Lords Communications Committee that another report would be done:

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: “What about your own impact assessment?”

Mr Davies: “We haven’t done an impact assessment yet.”

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: “But you have been asked to – correct?”

Mr Davies: “At some point in the future. I think the Digital Britain report said that we would be asked to do one, but we haven’t been asked to do one yet. Obviously we would need to do that and we would need a much fuller cost-benefit analysis before any final decision was taken.”

In June 2010, the government
stated:

“We agree that a full impact assessment is an essential part of informing the Government’s decision on whether and when to move from a primarily analogue to a digital radio landscape. Work has already begun to collect the evidence needed to support an impact assessment and analysis should begin shortly.” [emphasis added]

Here we are now, in January 2011, and there remains no sign of the long promised cost/benefit analysis of DAB radio switchover, despite the new government continuing to pursue the digital radio switchover policy of the previous government. However, in December 2010, a document from the Department for Culture Media & Sport [DCMS] (marked “UNCLASSIFIED”) disclosed:

“The Government launched a joint Government and industry Digital Radio Action Plan on 8 July 2010. This Action Plan sets out the process for providing ministers with the information and assurances necessary to make a decision on whether and how to proceed with a Digital Radio Switchover. … Fundamental to the information provided to Government as part of the Action Plan will be a comprehensive Cost Benefit Analysis on the proposals for a digital switchover. … Government is conducting the modelling of the costs and benefits in-house. This research will provide robust evidence of potential costs and benefits to consumers of digital switchover to be incorporated into the Government’s Cost Benefit Analysis.”

So the government has confirmed that the government decision on digital radio switchover will be informed by a government cost/benefit analysis of digital radio switchover that utilises government modelling of the costs and benefits. It appears that, in the case of DAB radio switchover, the government has decided to be judge, jury and executioner too. This smacks more of ‘big brother’ than of the Conservatives’ much touted ‘big society.’

The unclassified DCMS document hinted that the earlier PWC report had not produced the desired results:

“A similar piece of work was carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2008 to inform the work of the Digital Radio Working Group into the future of digital radio and the potential for switchover. That Cost Benefit Analysis raised a number of caveats, chief among which were the gaps in research into consumer behaviour and willingness to pay. Although the radio ecology has changed since that Cost Benefit Analysis was produced, the document provides useful insights and the recommendations made by PricewaterhouseCoopers on further research remain valid.”

So what will be in the government’s new cost/benefit analysis report? The latest
version of the government’s Digital Radio Action Plan explained:

1.4 IMPACT ASSESSMENT
Carry-out an impact assessment of the options and timings of the Radio Switchover. This will include, but not limited to, the following:
· the costs and benefits of any interventions to enable the switching the migration of all national and large local radio stations to DAB and alternative uses for the analogue spectrum vacated after the Radio Switchover;
· the rural impact of implementing the Digital Radio Switchover;
· Impact on energy consumption of a Switchover; and
· Environmental impact of analogue receiver disposal following Switchover.”

Interesting to see that neither the ‘consumer’ nor the ‘listener’ are mentioned here. For this workstream, the “first report to Ministers” is not scheduled until Q4 2011. It is evident that there is little urgency to execute this new cost/benefit analysis or for it to make a significant contribution at this juncture to any government re-evaluation as to whether to proceed with DAB radio switchover. If a cost/benefit analysis were a genuine priority, why was:
· the PWC report buried in February 2009 for a year
· a new cost/benefit analysis promised by Digital Britain in June 2009 but not prioritised subsequently
· the government saying in June 2010 that “work should begin shortly” on the analysis
· a “first report” of this work now not scheduled to be presented until Q4 2011?

If the government’s DAB radio switchover policy were but a minor issue within the DCMS Ministry, all this deceit, delay and manipulation might be considered trivial. It is not. In December 2010, Minister Ed Vaizey
admitted that he receives more correspondence from angry consumers about DAB radio than about any other issue within his portfolio.

So why are we witnessing such a continued lack of government transparency on the DAB radio switchover issue, despite prime minister David Cameron’s
commitment in November 2010 to make the UK “the most open and transparent government in the world”?

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

DAB radio receiver sales in 2010: what was the actual number?

On 21 December 2010, a press release from Digital Radio UK announced that “12 million digital radios have been sold in total in the UK” and estimated that:
· “due to strong Christmas sales, over 2m digital radios will be sold during 2010
· A cumulative total of 20 million digital radios will be sold by the end of 2013.”

It takes a brave person to predict in mid-December what a year-end sales figure will be. More so with DAB radio receivers because, in previous years, the month of December alone has accounted for more than a quarter of annual sales.

It takes an even braver person to predict that, by year-end 2013, an additional 8m digital radios will have been sold. Whether or not 2m units were actually sold in 2010, we do know that just under 2m units had been sold in 2009, and just over 2m units in 2008 and in 2007. So please can Digital Radio UK explain what revolutionary change will ensure that sales suddenly spurt during 2011, 2012 and 2013? Buy one, get one free?


Perhaps this new ‘20m by 2013’ figure was forecast by the same party that produced earlier forecasts for the Digital Radio Development Bureau, the forerunner to Digital Radio UK. As the graph above demonstrates, none of those forecasts made in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 were rooted in an analysis of reality. If they were, then 24.5m digital radios would have been sold by now. Whereas, the actual figure is 12m, less than half the forecast for 2010 the industry had made four years ago.

It is interesting to note that all the recent sales figures offered by DAB lobbyists refer to ‘digital radios’ rather than ‘DAB radios.’ One wonders exactly how many internet radio receivers have been sold in the UK and are being used to prop up the illusion that DAB radio is some kind of success story with consumers. When I have asked for a breakout of internet radio sales, data were not supplied.

If, as the Digital Radio UK press release shouts, a “digital radio landmark” was really achieved in December 2010, then why are the recorded UK monthly and quarterly sales figures for DAB radios not available from the Digital Radio UK
web site for the public to admire? (Maybe because the Digital Radio UK web site is completely empty.)

The chief executive of Digital Radio UK was quoted last week
saying: "There is now real momentum in the transition to digital radio.”

“Real momentum” is not what the sales data for DAB receivers, even those few estimated figures released by Digital Radio UK, demonstrate to be the reality.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

UK commercial radio revenues Q3 2010: still no sign of "renewed growth"

2008 had been a bad year for commercial radio revenues, down 6% year-on-year. 2009 was a worse year, when revenues fell a further 10% year-on-year. So how is 2010 shaping up? Radio Advertising Bureau data for Q3 2010 demonstrate that, although revenues are likely to be up marginally for the calendar year, they have yet to regain the substantial losses suffered during those previous two years.

Why? Because commercial radio’s falling revenues are largely the result of structural decline, something that the ‘credit crunch’ of 2008/9 merely exacerbated. Adjusted for the impact of inflation, commercial radio revenues peaked in 2000 and, by 2009, were down 32% in real terms. The single-digit improvements we might see in 2010 will claw back only a tiny part of these enormous losses.



Q3 2010 TOTAL REVENUES
· Up 3.2% year-on-year to £124.1m, but remember that Q3 2009 had been the sector’s second lowest this millennium

In May 2010, the Radio Advertising Bureau had
told us that “the [commercial radio] sector has turned a corner and not only halted [revenue] decline, but moved into renewed growth …”

Industry data has yet to validate this assertion. The last two quarters produced the third and fourth lowest revenue totals of the decade, showing that the radio sector is certainly not out of the woods yet. More than anything, the industry’s revenues still seem to be bumping along the bottom. “Renewed growth” is not on the horizon yet.



Q3 2010 NATIONAL REVENUES
· Up 5.0% year-on-year to £62.8m

Q3 2010 LOCAL REVENUES
· Up 3.1% year-on-year to £36.8m

Q3 2010 BRANDED CONTENT REVENUES
· Down 1.2% year-on-year to £24.5m


The revenue data for the long term [see graph above] illustrate clearly the transformation of the commercial radio sector from a healthy growth industry in the 1990s to one that stagnated after 2000, and which has subsequently moved into decline. Whilst revenues from local advertisers have simply stalled in recent years, revenues from national advertisers seem unlikely to ever recover from substantial declines suffered since their peak in 2000. This has necessitated significant restructuring of the commercial radio sector in recent years.

For those larger commercial radio stations that depend upon national advertisers the most, the outlook continues to look bleak. Data from Nielsen
estimated that advertising spend by the government’s Central Office of Information [COI] fell by 47% in 2010 year-on-year. COI expenditure has been a greater proportion of commercial radio revenues than of any other medium, making radio particularly vulnerable. In May 2010, I had predicted:

“A 50% budget cut to COI expenditure on radio would lose commercial radio £26m to £29m per annum, 6% of total sector revenues. A 50% budget cut to all public sector expenditure on radio would lose commercial radio £44m to £48m per annum, 9% of total sector revenues.”

Not only have these cuts been realised, but the Cabinet Office is continuing to
pursue a plan for the BBC to carry public service messages for free, rather than pay commercial broadcasters for airtime [also predicted here in May 2010]. This could lose commercial radio a further 6% to 9% of revenues.

In 2009, even before these drastic cuts to government expenditure on advertising, commercial radio was attracting only 4% of total display advertising expenditure in the UK, one of the lowest proportions globally [see Ofcom
report]. What is UK radio doing so wrong that Ireland, Spain and Australia achieve more than double that amount? And why was that percentage already falling before the COI cuts, demonstrating the radio medium’s comparative lack of appeal to potential advertisers?

There could not be a worse time to be a commercial radio station dependent upon national advertising. Yet now is the precise time when several large commercial radio owners are busy transforming their local and regional stations into national ‘brands.’ As a response to the sector’s structural challenges, this is tantamount to cutting off your nose to spite your face. ‘Localness’ has consistently been shown to be the most important Unique Selling Point of local commercial radio, according to Ofcom
research. Throw that localness out the window and all that remains is a music playlist which can be generated by any computer application.

UK commercial radio has always been good at making ‘cheap and cheerful’ local radio, but has been rubbish at making national radio that could compete with the BBC’s incredibly well resourced national networks. The recent decisions of commercial radio owners to switch from production of local radio services with a track record of success to production of ‘national’ ones that have a history of relative failure create massive risks for an industry already in decline.


History tells its own story. The launch of the UK’s first three national commercial radio stations between 1992 and 1995 had much less of an impact on radio listening than had been anticipated. By 1997, Richard Branson had decided to sell Virgin Radio (for £115m) – it was obvious that national commercial radio was not going to be a massive moneyspinner. In 1997, Virgin Radio’s listening share had been 2.6%. Last quarter (Q3 2010), it had fallen to 1.2% (renamed Absolute Radio after another sale in 2008 for £53m), while the combined share of the three national stations was 6.8%. [source: RAJAR]


BBC national networks account for almost half of all radio listening. The only time that their share has not exhibited long-term growth was during the early 1990s, when Radio 1 self-destructed under the management of Matthew Bannister. Since that disaster, the BBC’s national networks have been successfully clawing back listening year-on-year.

The current scenario in which the owners of commercial stations that were licensed to serve local audiences have decided to subvert that purpose to take on the might of the BBC national networks is either brave, or madness, depending upon your viewpoint. What I see is a monolithic BBC that has existed continuously for nearly a century, and then I see three national commercial radio stations that have had a succession of at least three owners each during their almost twenty-year struggle to attract listeners.

National commercial radio. Just why are parts of the commercial radio industry so eager to emulate an idea that has only led to well documented failure?

Friday, 7 January 2011

Commercial radio local DAB build-out "not the BBC's responsibility" says BBC Trust chairman

Culture Media & Sport Select Committee, House of Commons
15 December 2010
BBC Annual Report & Accounts 2009-10 [excerpt]

Sir Michael Lyons, Chairman, BBC Trust
Mark Thompson, Director General, BBC


Damian Collins, MP Folkestone & Hythe (Con): Has the [Licence Fee] settlement affected the amount of support you can give to digital radio switchover and the build-out of digital radio in local services within the regions?

Sir Michael Lyons: What you see in yesterday’s announcement is a clear message that the BBC remains committed to DAB and will continue to build out up to FM equivalents. That is clear. It is involved in discussions with the commercial radio industry and Government about local build-out, for which it is not responsible and for which there are not funds currently identified. They were expected to be undertaken by the commercial operators of those Mux [DAB multiplex] licences.

I don’t think I should add very much to that, other than that, clearly, the Government has determined on a switchover date. Whether that can be achieved is, in our view, whether the audience is ready for it to be.

Damian Collins: I suppose whether it can be achieved ought to be linked to the level of coverage as well. The Government has been clear about that, too. In those negotiations you are having with Government and the commercial stations, is the amount of money you have on the table a smaller amount, as a result of the settlement, than it was before?

Mark Thompson: No.

Sir Michael Lyons: It is clearly another one of the pressures that we have to balance in a tighter envelope; that is the important thing.

Mark Thompson: I think it is fair to say that the underlying commitment that we have made and the focus we have on the building out of our own national multiplex, is unchanged by the settlement.

Sir Michael Lyons: Absolutely. It is a reference to local, I think, that I was …

Mark Thompson: Quite. But the BBC’s focus has always been … the issue about local is that we only have in England, and only intend to have, a single BBC local radio station per region. With each local multiplex that has been opened so far, we have taken a place on that multiplex; we decided that we should do that.

I have no reason to believe we would not continue to do that as they are built out. But whereas the national multiplex, obviously, is a way of getting additional BBC services to the public – the digital services – there is no such increase in BBC services that we can offer if you are taking a single station which is analogue and putting it on digital as well. So our focus is on national build-out, and the broad policy and the commitment over time to absolutely keeping pace with the audience, building out nationally, is unchanged by the settlement.

Damian Collins: Your commitment is clear, and you made that again today, but is it going to take longer to get there now, as a consequence of finding some other issues you have to deal with?

Mark Thompson: I don’t think so. If you say something slightly different, which is, "Would some people have liked some level of additional commitment in the settlement?", perhaps they would, but it is not there.

Damian Collins: But as far as you are concerned, your commitment is the same?

Mark Thompson: It is exactly the same.

Damian Collins: In the document put to us yesterday, you talk about preparing for any potential radio switchover. That does not sound like it is going to happen within the next five years.

Sir Michael Lyons: That is not a judgment for the BBC; that is a judgment for Government. The BBC is very clear that it is doing its bit in these national investments. There remain unresolved issues about where the investment comes from at a local level. That is not the BBC’s responsibility, but we are part of those discussions. And then, very critically, as the Government has conceded, switchover can only take place … I do take your point that audience preparedness will to some extent depend on coverage, but it also depends on choices made about replacement television sets, investment in cars and a whole series of other things, which are not in our gift.


[This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others. Any public use of, or reference to, the contents should make clear that neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.]

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!”