FM Could be here for a little longer – hooray!

Media Guardian report that a government advisory body has cast doubt on the
prospects for digital radio switchover by 2015 and warned the industry not to
bully or scare consumers into taking up the new technology.

The Consumer Expert Group, which was set up to advise the government on digital
TV switchover and has had its remit extended to radio, said the target
switchover date of 2015 was “far too early”.

Raising the possibility that digital radio switchover might not be feasible or
even desirable, the report said a “full cost-benefit analysis from a user
perspective must be carried out as a matter of urgency”.

The group includes representatives from organisations such as Age UK, the Royal
National Institute for the Blind, the Voice of the Listener and Viewer, Citizens
Advice and Which.

It’s report has been described as pretty devastating by Media Guardian’s John
Plunkett.

The CEG said there were a “range of consumer barriers which require further
research and a more proactive approach from government to ensure they are
addressed, including coverage and reception issues and finding a solution to
in-car [digital radio] vehicle conversions”.

The group said the lack of research into consumers’ willingness and ability to
pay for digital radio was “concerning” and warned that takeup of the new
technology was slow.

No digital switchover date should be set by the government until less than 30%
of radio listening was via analogue platforms, the CEG recommends and not until
digital radio has been standard in cars for at least two years. Under current
plans a switchover date would be put in place when analogue listening was still
as high as 50%.

It says that Digital Radio UK has caused misunderstanding and confusion with its
marketing campaigns.

It criticises the commercial radio trade body The Radio Centre which it says was
which it says was wrong to propose that the BBC should put its more popular
content on digital-only platforms to encourage takeup stating that:

“Listeners should be convinced to adopt digital radio through compelling
content, not bullied to do so to maintain access to the programmes they enjoy on
analogue,”

Digital radio needs compelling content to encourage listeners to dump their
analogue sets, it says. The problem is that digital radio  unlike digital TV
doesn’t have it, with just a handful of digital-only services such as BBC 6
Music and Planet Rock. In the words of today’s report, the consumer proposition
has “stagnated”.

Digital takeup has been slower than predicted, and it warns that cheap digital
radios  trumpeted by the industry as a key factor in prompting listeners to
switch  may not be the answer, offering poor functionality and sound quality.

The report also raises questions about in-car digital radio listening, signal
strength, the need to include DAB+ in the digital roadmap, the problem of
disposing and recycling analogue radios and the danger that older and disabled
people will be left behind.

The Consumer Expert Group said the report was “not requested by government” but
undertaken to attain a “thorough understanding of the consumer issues
surrounding digital radio and bring them to the government’s attention as
preliminary policy decisions”.

The report is now available as a pdf or in rich text form at the Department of
Culture, Media and Sport website at;
http://www.culture.gov.uk/publications/7410.aspx

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