Consumer body report critical of the rush to DAB

By | Published on Wednesday 15 September 2010

The government instigated Consumer Expert Group has published a report on previously reported plans to push forward with the move from FM to DAB digital radio, and is critical of various elements of those plans, and of Digital Radio UK, the body that has been charged with the task of turning British radio listeners digital.

As previously reported, the broadcasting section of the Digital Economy Act stuck with the target date of 2015 for turning us all into digital radio listeners, and for the phasing out of FM as the primary network for British radio to begin. The BBC and the bigger commercial radio companies support that target date, and have been lobbying for government initiatives to speed up the move to digital, but some smaller radio firms argue that the 2015 target is totally unrealistic, and ignores consumer resistance so far to digital audio broadcasting.

The CEG report shared some of those concerns. It pointed out that bodies like Digital Radio UK have a habit of bundling all digital radio listening figures into their stats – so listening through digital TV or the internet as well as via DAB – in order to make it sound like digital audio broadcasting has been more successful than it really has. As a significant portion of radio listening takes place on the move, and in particular in the car, the uptake of DAB needs to be distinguished from radio listening via TV sets and PCs, as it is the only really portable digital radio option (until net-connected dashboards take off that is).

The report also said that government targets should ensure that only 30% of listeners are still using analogue and car radios have come with DAB as standard for at least two years before any downgrading of the FM network (the government’s plans currently say 50% of listeners). It also proposes a basic ‘cost benefit analysis’ be done on the value of DAB, and that any work to speed up the uptake of the digital radio system should focus on the superior DAB+ technology.

The government’s culture man Ed Vaizey welcomed the report, though mainly with some “it’s important this is driven by the listeners” waffle rather than addressing the specific concerns raised. Meanwhile the owner of one of the UK’s smaller radio firms, UKRD’s William Rogers, a well known opponent of the 2015 deadline, welcomed the report.

He told Radio Today: “Item after item in this report highlights the mess we’ve been going on about for years and it represents a great opportunity for the government to take a fresh look at this and start to bring some sanity and common sense to the DAB debate”.