Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Culture Secretary: "digital radio industry needs to do a lot more work ... to carry the public with it"

House of Commons Culture, Media & Sport Committee
30 March 2011 @ 1006 [excerpt]
Committee Room 15

Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media & Sport

Q: What are your expectations now with regard to digital radio switchover?

A: Well, I think the future is digital. I think the future is DAB. But I think the digital radio industry needs to do a lot more work to boost the penetration of DAB and to carry the public with it. And I think that it has not been nearly as successful as that, as the TV industry has been, in persuading the public of the benefits of digital switchover. And that’s why, at the moment, the industry is having to bear the costs of running two systems [analogue and DAB] in parallel. I very much hope that they won’t have to do that. We want to do everything we can to help the industry migrate smoothly, but we would like it to be user-led, so we have said that we are not going to have an arbitrary 2015 deadline. We will make a decision in due course as to whether we can have switchover in 2015, but we want the radio industry to step up to the plate in making sure there are better products and services available, and that consumers really can see the benefit of DAB.

Q: Would your expectation be that the financial commitment of the BBC to expand the radio coverage in rural areas will remain the same or might that be affected by their review of spending?

A: Well, the BBC are committed in the [Licence Fee] Agreement I did to national availability of national DAB channels. There is still a discussion to be had about the funding of local DAB channels, which is an additional cost. And I am closely involved in discussions with the radio industry, and very keen to resolve this as soon as possible because I think it’s a very, very important next step.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

NORWAY: government proposes "possible FM [radio] switch-off" and "possible prolongation of FM licences"

In February 2011, some hysterical reports appeared concerning the White Paper published by the government in Norway on DAB radio. Some of these would have had us believe that Norway had made a definite commitment to switch off all FM radio in 2017. This was not true [as documented by diymedia and Media Network]. In fact, the government had set out several criteria that will have to be met before digital switchover can be sanctioned. The Norwegian criteria are similar to those adopted in the UK which, as commented here previously, are unlikely ever to be fulfilled, making switchover an ‘unreality.’


To make the situation perfectly clear, in the words of Norway’s media regulator:

“The following three conditions are absolute and must be fulfilled regardless of when switch-off takes place:

1. Digital coverage for the NRK’s radio services correspond to that of NRK P1 on FM
2. The multiplex that carries commercial national services (Riksblokka) must cover at least 90 per cent of the population
3. The digital radio offer must represent added value to the listeners

The above three conditions, as well as the two following conditions, must be fulfilled by 1 January 2015 for the switch-off to take place in January 2017:

4. Affordable and technically satisfactory solutions for in-car radio reception must be available
5. At least 50 per cent of daily radio-listeners employ digital platforms, exclusively or in combination with FM-radio

Provided the absolute criteria (1-3) are fulfilled in 2015, switch-off may nevertheless take place in 2019, even if criteria 4 and 5 are not fulfilled.”

Furthermore, far from FM being switched off completely, the regulator
said:

“The Report proposes that the majority of local radio stations should have the right to continue transmitting in FM beyond 2017. The Ministry of Culture will determine in 2015 what categories of local radio may maintain the right to do so.”

The milestones anticipated by the government are:

“2011: The Ministry of Culture decides on the possible prolongation of commercial radio-licenses in the FM-network until 2017 (or 2019).

2013: The Ministry of Culture determines:
· Whether the coverage obligation for NRK radio-services shall be attached to the DAB-multiplex alone, or whether it may be fulfilled by employing other technologies in addition to DAB
· What is to be understood by the criterion ‘affordable and technically satisfactory solutions for in-car reception.’

2015: The Ministry of Culture decides whether the following conditions are met:
· The digital coverage of NRK-radio corresponds to that of NRK P1 in FM
· The population coverage of the national, commercial multiplex >90 per cent
· The Digital radio-offer represents added value to the public
· Availability of affordable and technically satisfactory in-car solutions
· Usage of digital platforms >50 % of daily radio-listeners.

2017: Possible FM switch-off
2019: Prospective postponed final switch-off of FM
2011: Decision on possible prolongation of FM-licences
2013: Definition of coverage obligations NRK & in-car solutions
2015: Assessment whether ASO-criteria are met
2017: Possible FM-switch off
2019: Possible postponed FM switch-off.”


In parliament, the Progress Party’s Ib Thomsen
challenged the Minister of Culture, Anniken Huitfeldt:

“The closure of FM radio worries the Progress Party, it worries IKT Norway and it worries consumers. To close FM radio, we need to scrap 15 to 20 million radio receivers, including even DAB radios that are not of the most modern type [DAB rather than DAB+]. This will have major consequences for consumers and for the environment.”

Thomsen asked the Minister of Culture: “What will the closure of FM radio cost the country? We know that it will cost consumers billions of krone, but what will it cost the state and society?”

The Minister rejected categorically the notion that consumers would have to pay one billion krone, or that 15 to 20 million radios would have to be scrapped. She responded:

“It is very clear in the White Paper that the digitalisation of radio will be consumer focused. It is typical of the Progress Party to spread fear about something that has already been addressed. These figures are not correct. There are, according to numbers that I have been quoted, 3.5 to 7 million radio receivers in Norway. These devices will not be thrown out. People can buy adapters that will provide access to digital radio.”

“It is the simulcasting [on FM and DAB] that is the most expensive. When we published the White Paper on the digitalisation of radio, P4 responded immediately that it wanted to launch more stations. There will be more competition and more channels. It went very well when we introduced digital television. It is going to go just as well with radio.”

Ib Thomsen was unsatisfied with the Minister’s response. He replied:

“The Progress Party is not the only one that is worried. IKT Norway and the rest of the world is concerned too. Adapters will cost consumers 1,200 krone. It is a pity that the Minister is not taking into account that Norway is locking itself into a technology that has already been scrapped by the European Union.”

The Minister responded:

“The European Commissioner has stated that radio must be at the forefront of the digital revolution and has highlighted DAB. It is not true that no other countries are digitising radio. There is no discussion in Europe as to whether to introduce DAB or not, only discussion about the date for digitalisation. Neither is it correct to say that adapters will cost 1,000 krone. Prices will go down.”

To date, sales
figures for DAB radios in Norway have been even less impressive than in the UK. In 2010, only 81,000 DAB radios were sold out of a total of 833,000 radio receivers. The cumulative total of DAB receivers sold is 336,000, although these are DAB rather than DAB+ and will have to be replaced if Norway changes to the latter system.

Year: number of DAB radios sold in Norway
2004: 10,000
2005: 51,000
2006: 55,000
2007: 61,000
2008: 42,000
2009: 66,000
2010: 81,000

IKT Norway has long argued that DAB radio is not appropriate as the digital platform to replace FM radio. After the White Paper was published, its secretary general, Per Morten Hoff,
commented:

“Norway becomes the first country in the world to decide to shut down its FM radio networks. This is a bold decision at a time when technological developments are more uncertain than ever. Closing FM radio gives you no route back. NRK has spent several hundred million krone building its DAB network, ‘a killer’, and its owner, the Norwegian state, and the Culture Minister have concluded that there is no going back. The market has said so far that it is not adopting DAB, so forcing them has been the only way forward.”

There would appear to be a number of reasons why DAB is being pursued so doggedly in Norway:
· Norway was one of the first countries to invest in a DAB radio transmission system in 1995
· Jørn Jensen, since 2009 the president of World DMB (the organisation lobbying for the replacement of FM with DAB), is the chief adviser to NRK on platform distribution
· NRK, the state broadcaster, signed DAB transmission contracts with Norkring that do not expire until 2020, so the government cannot pull the plug on DAB without exposing an embarrassing waste of public funds

Some of the issues facing the successful implementation of DAB in Norway would appear to be:
· Only 80 DAB transmitters are currently in service, although at least 650 will be necessary (TV in VHF Band III uses 2,635 transmitters and transponders)
· Achievement of 99.5% DAB coverage (to match FM coverage) will prove very expensive, and Norkring has only guaranteed 90% in its current transmission contract with NRK. The government will be forced to fund the difference
· The government White Paper noted that current FM coverage is 99.5%, although NRK FM coverage is 99.95%, a more expensive penetration for DAB transmission to match
· The high costs of simulcasting about which Arild Hellgren, former NRK director of technology,
commented: “Compared to what happened when we digitised TV, we will have a very long period of parallel distribution on FM and DAB. It is very expensive”
· The two national commercial stations will be granted automatic licence renewals ONLY IF they support the DAB platform and pay for DAB coverage up to 90%
· Local stations’ transfer to the DAB platform will be determined by the government in 2015 in a ‘Big Brother’-style elimination contest

So who was the bright spark in the Ministry of Culture who decided to
headline its press release: “FM switch-off in 2017 – the radio medium will be digital”?

By 2017, that person could have a large quantity of egg on their face.


[thanks to Bjarne Boen, Darryl Pomicter + others]

Sunday, 20 March 2011

UK commercial radio revenues underperform the 2010 media market

Marketing magazine’s annual survey of the top 100 advertisers announced some good news:

“More than three-quarters of the UK's top 100 advertisers increased their adspend in 2010, defying predictions that the year would mark a steep decline in marketing budgets. By channel, the biggest year-on-year increase was in TV advertising, with a 17% rise, according to Nielsen; print, outdoor and cinema spend also rose.”

So, good news for radio too? Marketing continued: “The only medium in which spending fell was radio, falling 6% on 2009 levels.” Oh dear.

Why was radio so badly hit in 2010? Partly because of commercial radio’s greater dependency than other media on public expenditure which, as Marketing explained, was cut drastically in 2010:

“The government's commitment to slashing public-sector spending was reflected in the 50% year-on-year decline in the COI's [Central Office of Information] adspend to £105.4m.”

And partly because the volume of commercial radio listening has been in decline for the last decade, and sector revenues are a product of listening:


Encouragingly, 2010 witnessed a 3% year-on-year increase in the total volume of commercial radio listening, the first increase since 2001. However, total radio listening (commercial + BBC) had increased in 2010 by 2%, making commercial radio’s gain only marginally greater than the total market.

As for the other issue of slashed public expenditure on commercial radio, although 2010’s loss of £24m seemed bad [see
blog], 2011 could prove to be worse. On Friday, the Cabinet Office recommended the scrapping of the 60-year old Central Office of Information:

“As part of the changes, the COI will be replaced with a new body, the Government Communications Centre, with a wider remit and responsibility for keeping a tight reign on advertising and marketing spend. … The report does not say how much the government might cut from its £1bn annual communications bill, or how much of the £540m spent on everything from TV, radio and posters to sponsorship might be reduced.”

This would prove a further financial blow for commercial radio, since COI expenditure on radio of £30m in 2010 still contributed as much as 11% to the sector’s national advertising revenues, even after having been slashed by the coalition government.

Although Marketing’s (Nielsen) data reported that radio’s national revenues fell by 6% in 2010, the commercial radio sector’s own numbers showed a 6% increase. This discrepancy is puzzling. Nevertheless, analysis of the industry’s dataset tells us:


TOTAL UK COMMERCIAL RADIO REVENUES:
· 2010: £522.6m (£505.5m in 2009)
· Up 3% in absolute terms
· First year-on-year increase since 2007
· Down 1% at constant prices [RPI]

UK COMMERCIAL RADIO NATIONAL REVENUES:
· 2010: £276.2m (£259.4m in 2009)
· Up 6% in absolute terms
· First year-on-year increase since 2007
· Up 2% at constant prices [RPI]

UK COMMERCIAL RADIO LOCAL REVENUES:
· 2010: £144.3m (£144.7m in 2009)
· Down less than 1% in absolute terms
· Lowest value in absolute terms since 2001
· Down 5% at constant prices [RPI]
· Lowest value at constant prices since 1992

This apparent collapse in local advertising revenues would appear to mask a dichotomy that is taking place in the radio sales market. For those stations in small groups or independently owned that rely almost entirely on local revenues, the market for local advertising has already rebounded from the recession. The closure of many local newspapers, the cuts to local council freesheets and the closure of many local radio station offices owned by large radio groups have left these genuinely local stations in an opportune position to hoover up more local advertisers.

On the other hand, local radio stations that have been transformed recently by Global Radio into ‘national brands’ (Heart, Capital) seem to be abandoning their interest in local advertising markets. If I owned a local business in Eastbourne, I would like to know how effective an advertisement would be on the local Heart FM station in my immediate area of Eastbourne & Hastings. This is no longer possible because Global Radio has done away with RAJAR audience data for many local markets. The smallest market that RAJAR can tell me about now is “Sussex,” comprising 1.3m adults – much too big a coverage area for an advert for my one local shop in Eastbourne.

This new strategy seems inconsistent with the Heart FM
licence for Eastbourne & Hastings which Ofcom insists is “A LOCALLY ORIENTED CONTEMPORARY AND CHART MUSIC AND INFORMATION STATION…” So, please will Ofcom explain how Heart FM can be a “locally orientated” station if, as a potential advertiser in Eastbourne, I can no longer determine how many people would hear an advertisement broadcast on the station?

RAJAR explained the changes to its data: “Campaigns transferred from Q3 2010 to Q4 2010 will contain the old station definitions and they will be visible Q4, however the data will not be accurate. Please re-plan the campaign using the new regional definitions available in Q4.” In plain English – audience data for local stations have been removed and merged into regional groupings from last quarter.

So, it would seem that the ‘nationalisation’ of the content on Global Radio’s Heart and Capital brands has been accompanied by ‘nationalisation’ of advertising sales. If ever there seemed like a wrong time to be pursuing national advertisers for commercial radio, surely it must be now [see
blog]. In real terms, national advertisers spent no more on commercial radio in 2010 than they had in 1997. However, in 1997, there were only 200 commercial radio stations, whereas now there are 300.

I am reminded of a meeting in 2007, just weeks before EMAP was sold, with its chief executive when I asked him if he felt there was anything that the group’s radio division should have done differently. Local advertisers, he told me. We neglected local advertisers in pursuit of the larger amounts we could earn from potential national advertisers. But we turned our backs on previously loyal local advertisers who quickly lost interest in our stations without regular contact from our salespersons.

Here is a lesson to be learnt from the UK’s second largest commercial radio group. Don’t look your local cash cow in the mouth.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

GERMANY: government drops FM radio switch-off 2015 date from new legislation

VPRT, the German trade association for commercial media, has welcomed the government’s decision not to include clauses in its new Telecommunications Bill that would have switched off FM radio broadcasts in 2015. In its 9 March 2011 press release, VPRT stated: “FM is and remains the basis for the development of new radio services.”

VPRT described the earlier federal plan to switch off FM radio on 31 December 2015 as a “completely unrealistic statutory requirement” which would have made redundant 300 million FM radio receivers.

Germany is making a second attempt to launch DAB radio with ten national services scheduled to start in August 2011. US broadcaster Radio Disney had been an initial applicant for one of the national commercial DAB radio channels, but subsequently
withdrew its proposal in January 2011. Some of the other commercial stations had been offered a financial subsidy by DAB chip manufacturer Frontier Silicon in December 2010 [see blog].

However, as one German publication commented: “So far, consumer interest in digital radio has been extremely low.” Pit Klein from the magazine ‘Sat+Kabel’ explained: “We have estimated from the regional media authorities that only about 500,000 DAB radio devices are in circulation.” Christoph de Leuw from the magazine ‘Audio Video Foto Bild’ said: “In some areas, [DAB radio] receives only two or three stations. No one buys a new radio receiver for €100 to receive two stations … People are satisfied with FM quality. The real, practical benefits to consumers [of DAB] are yet to be determined.”

Experts in Germany agree that the future of radio is digital. “Whether the digitalisation of radio will take place on DAB is questionable,”
said Sven Hansen, editor of the computer magazine ‘c’t’.


[with thanks to
Follow The Media]

Saturday, 12 March 2011

DAB radio take-up in the UK: the 2010 year-end scorecard

“I think that there is great potential for digital radio, as the UK and Danish experiences demonstrate.”
Neelie Kroes, vice president for the digital agenda, European Commission, 3 March 2011

“This milestone is part of building momentum for the transition to digital radio in the UK …”
Digital Radio UK, December 2010

“I think that there has been a transformation in the last twelve months.”
Ford Ennals, chief executive, Digital Radio UK, February 2011

“2010 was a fantastic year for the DAB family, with much encouraging news and positive activity from individual markets …”
Jørn Jensen, president, World DMB, March 2011

“We are seeing increased momentum and activity as digital radio switchover moves from debate to reality …”
Bernie O’Neil, project director, World DMB, March 2011

“2010 had a real sense of forward momentum and activity …”
Caroline Brindle, project office manager, World DMB, March 2011

“Building momentum”? “Transformation”? “Fantastic year”? “Increased momentum”? “Forward momentum”?

Is this DAB radio that we are talking about? In the UK, at year-end 2010, the picture looked like this:

DAB radio receiver penetration:
· 2010 year-end forecast: 53.4% (Digital Radio Development Bureau, 2007)
· 2010 year-end actual: 35.8%

Cumulative DAB radio receiver sales:
· 2010 year-end forecast: 24.5 million (Digital Radio Development Bureau, 2006)
· 2010 year-end actual: 12.5 million

DAB radio receiver sales as % total receiver sales:
· Q1 2011 forecast: 50% (Digital Radio Working Group, 2009)
· Q1 2010 actual: 21%

Radio listening via digital platforms:
2010 year-end forecast: 50% (Ofcom, 2006)
2010 year-end actual: 25%

Radio listening via digital platforms:
2015 year-end forecast: 50% (Digital Radio Working Group, 2009)
2010 year-end actual: 25%

Radio listening via digital platforms:
2010 year-end forecast: 31% (Digital Britain: drive to digital, 2009)
2010 year-end actual: 25%

Commercial radio listening via digital platforms:
2010 year-end forecast: 40% (RadioCentre, 2007)
2010 year-end actual: 24%

None of the stakeholder forecasts of DAB take-up in the UK have come to pass. In this respect, 2010 was no better a year than any other.

Neelie Kroes is mistaken. Evidence from the UK experience certainly does not demonstrate the “great potential” for DAB radio.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Public spending cuts impacted commercial radio 2010 revenues by £24m

Who was UK commercial radio’s biggest advertiser in 2010? British Gas? No, it was second. Autoglass? No, it came third. Volkswagen? No, it was fourth. Unilever? No, it came fifth.

Radio’s biggest advertiser in 2010 was the government (in the guise of the Orwellian-sounding Central Office of Information [COI]). Not only was the government the biggest advertiser on radio, but it was far and away the biggest advertiser by miles. The government’s £30m expenditure on radio in 2010 exceeded the sum total of British Gas, Autoglass, Volkswagen and Unilever.

After the coalition government was formed in May 2010, it immediately executed Conservative Party strategy to cut public expenditure on commercial advertising by 50%. Before the election, I had predicted that this Conservative policy would have a disastrous impact on commercial radio revenues [see May 2010
blog]. It did.

Although the coalition had been in power for little more than seven months by year-end, COI expenditure on radio was quickly slashed from £50m in 2009 to £30m in 2010. Additional (non-COI) public expenditure cuts reduced radio’s revenues by a further £4m in 2010. This £24m total was a significant loss to commercial radio, and represented 9% of national revenues, or 5% of total revenues.

Did radio suffer greater cuts from the COI than other media? Seemingly not. Radio’s share of COI ad spend was 27% in 2010, slightly higher than the previous year. The reason the impact was so great for radio was the sector’s much greater dependency upon public money than competing media (television, the press, billboards).

In June 2010, the Radio Advertising Bureau had
said bravely: “We are optimistic that radio’s strengths will be recognised as COI budgets come under ever greater scrutiny.” Evidently, radio strength’s were not.

By September 2010, the Radio Advertising Bureau
said that it was “working with a wide range of advertisers to bridge the gap” left by public expenditure cuts. What was the outcome?

There were some impressive gains for radio from other clients in 2010:
· British Gas increased its expenditure on radio from £5m to £9m year-on-year (particularly impressive since it had only spent £2m on radio in 2007)
· Autoglass increased its expenditure on radio from £5m to £9m year-on-year (50% of its ad budget)
· Gocompare.com increased its expenditure on radio from £1m to £5m year-on-year
· More Than increased its expenditure on radio from £2m to £4m year-on-year
· Mars increased its expenditure on radio from £1m to £4m year-on-year
· Asda multiplied its expenditure on radio eight-fold to £3m year-on-year

The problem was that even these gains combined did not match the loss from government spending cuts. The huge challenge the commercial radio industry still faces is its history of increasing dependency upon one very large advertiser.

Additionally, there were other clients that either spent less in 2010, or might in 2011:
· Blockbuster Entertainment was radio’s sixth biggest advertiser in 2010 (spending 50% of its ad budget on radio), but filed for bankruptcy in the US in September 2010
· Sky TV reduced its expenditure on radio to £4m in 2010 from £7m the previous year
· BT reduced its expenditure on radio to £4m in 2010 from £7m the previous year
· Proctor & Gamble reduced its expenditure on radio to £4m in 2010 from £6m the previous year
· Specsavers had been the second biggest spender on radio in 2009, spending £8m, but dropped out of the top 20 in 2010

However, these single-digit losses were dwarfed by the £24m reduction in public expenditure on radio advertising in 2010.

In terms of product sectors, motor vehicles rebounded from the recession and led the field in 2010 with £90m expenditure on radio. The finance sector similarly rebounded to £52m in 2010. On the other hand, the property sector did not rebound and its spending on radio of £8m in 2010 was down 42% compared to two years earlier. Likewise, online retailers spent only £2m on radio in 2010, down 55% from two years earlier.

Public expenditure on radio fell from the number one product sector in 2007, 2008 and 2009 to fourth place in 2010. Inevitably, given that the coalition was only elected mid-2010, the cuts to public expenditure are likely to have as much impact on radio in 2011 as they had in 2010. Neither is there any prospect of these cuts being restored under the present government.

Total radio sector revenues for 2010 are likely to be up slightly year-on-year [see Oct 2010
blog]. This is not something to shout about, given that Q2 and Q3 in 2009 had produced commercial radio’s lowest recorded revenues this millennium. However, it is an achievement in an environment where expenditure by commercial radio’s biggest advertising client fell off a cliff (as the graphs above demonstrate visually).

Unfortunately, in the longer term, unless commercial radio succeeds in improving its performance with listeners, both in absolute terms and in comparison with BBC radio, it cannot expect its revenues to return to levels recorded a decade ago. By 2009, UK commercial radio revenues had fallen by 32% since 2000 in real terms. Radio's revenues from national advertisers had fallen by 47% during that period. That will be an almost impossible expanse of ground to regain.


[data source: Nielsen Media Research]