DAB Radio Switchover: Dead As The Dodo

In 2004, I wrote my first article predicting that the UK’s implementation of DAB digital radio was headed for failure. It was not guesswork. I had analysed radio industry data since 1980. I had worked  at The Radio Authority when it implemented DAB. I had worked  in Ofcom’s radio division. I had seen DAB from inside and outside the regulator and the commercial radio industry. Only five years after its launch, the available evidence demonstrated that DAB was headed for disaster in the UK.

I continued to write about DAB  –  in press articles, in analyst reports, in my blog, in my book ‘DAB Digital Radio: Licensed To Fail’  –  and to talk about DAB in radio and TV interviews. I did this not because I was ‘anti-DAB’ or a ‘campaigner’ (as some described me), but because my work as a media analyst requires me to carefully examine the facts and figures and to document their consequences. I had nothing to gain personally from stating evident truths.

Between 2004 and today, the UK radio industry could have scrutinised the growing collection of analyses that demonstrated DAB consumer take-up was failing. It could have taken firm, decisive action to transform DAB radio from failure to success. It chose not to. Instead, I found myself on the receiving end of abuse, slander and libel.

Two years ago, I stopped writing about UK radio in this blog because ‘Jimmy’s and ‘John’s were pasting my analyses into their press articles, blogs and corporate statements, uncredited and without permission. Those same people then e-mailed me to ask why I was no longer updating my blog!

I write today only to bookend this blog. In recent months, it has been interesting to witness some of my ‘critics’ make a 180-degree turn and suddenly herald the imminent non-event of DAB radio switchover, whilst citing my analyses (uncredited) in support of their newly adopted viewpoint.

I wrote about DAB because I consider that this single issue has contributed more to the decline of the UK radio industry than all other sector issues combined. Thousands of experienced radio professionals have lost their jobs. Hundreds of genuinely local radio stations have disappeared. Much radio in the UK has become a shadow of its former self. The medium is suffering rapidly declining appeal to those aged under 30. The industry that I have worked in since 1972 is on the rocks. Most of the blame for this sorry state of affairs can be laid directly at the UK radio industry’s single-minded pursuit of DAB since the 1990s, at the expense of all other objectives and at a cost of more than £1bn.

 

In 2011, I had been invited by the government’s Department of Culture, Media & Sport [DCMS] to participate in a consumer panel as part of its consultations about DAB switchover. Addressing an audience of industry stakeholders, I predicted that the government would kick the DAB radio switchover decision into the long grass in 2013. I made the same prediction in my presentation to the board of one of the UK’s largest commercial radio companies [see above].

After the close of the DCMS stakeholder session, its chairperson, a civil servant in the DAB radio switchover section, leaned over to me and said something along the lines of: “You really shouldn’t be writing the things you do. People don’t like it, you know, and it is making them angry.”

She is one of a select group of people in DCMS, Ofcom, Digital Radio UK, the BBC and RadioCentre who have earned their livings by pumping out factually incorrect reports supporting their fiction that DAB radio is a massive UK success story and that DAB switchover is inevitable. Public money and BBC Licence Fees have paid many of these people for years to mislead the public and the media about DAB radio.

Anyone with knowledge of the UK radio industry and training in statistics could have concluded from available data during the last decade that the implementation of DAB radio in the UK was headed for disaster. My analyses were not ‘rocket science’. What riled the army of DAB propagandists was that my published analyses directly contradicted their bullshit. The final e-mail sent to me by the chief executive of the Digital Radio Development Bureau (forerunner of Digital Radio UK) said:

“If you are going to deliberately mis-use the information we provide to you to construct as negative a view as possible with cheap shots like those below then we just won’t co-operate with you in the future.”

He saw only “cheap shots”, rather than evidential analysis, in my 2008 Q2 commercial radio sector report published by Enders Analysis, which had said:

“Although it remains the most popular platform for digital radio, ‘DAB’ usage seems to be steadfastly stuck at 9.0% of total commercial radio listening, dwarfed by the continued dominance of analogue radio (69.2%). Whilst 87% of households now have access to digital TV, and 67% have access to the internet, DAB penetration remained static at 27.3% in Q2 2008. Sales of DAB receivers have failed to continue the momentum demonstrated in Q1 2008, unit sales having slowed to 108,000 in June 2008, their lowest monthly level since June 2007. With sales of DAB receivers still concentrated mainly in the Christmas period, the imminent danger is that the hardware’s relatively high average ticket price, combined with the effects of the consumer ‘squeeze’, could impact the much needed winter 2008 sales peak (552,000 units sold in December 2007).

Despite the sterling efforts of the Digital Radio Working Group (convened by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport) over the past eight months, the radio industry, as yet, seems no closer to finding an immediate solution to the problem of slow DAB take-up than it was a year ago. Although all parties agree that it is ’content’ that will drive consumers to purchase DAB radios, the major radio groups have still not unveiled any plans to stimulate the consumer market with new digital radio brands.”

Five years on, the numbers may have changed but the unresolved problems with DAB radio remain exactly the same. My analyses and predictions during the last decade have proven correct … while a small army of DAB propagandists have been paid handsomely during that time to produce a massive volume of ‘South Sea bubble’ hot air about DAB radio, partly paid for from public funds. Doubtless they will be rewarded for their failure.

Footnote: find out more in these selected writings on DAB radio:
Channel 4: Radio Ambitions Aim Too HighEnders Analysis, July 2007
The Future Of Digital Radio: Is It DAB?Enders Analysis, January 2008 
Tuned Into The Future Of Radio, Broadcast, June 2008
Channel 4 Radio: Six Feet UnderEnders Analysis, October 2008 
In The Ditch With DAB Radio, The Register, December 2008
Digital Radio In The UK: Progress And ChallengesEBU 3rd Digital Radio Conference, June 2009
Germans And Swiss Snub DAB, The Register, London, July 2009
‘Digital Britain’ And The Radio Sectoregta Radio Newsletter no.16, November 2009
DAB Is Dead, Index On Censorship, June 2010
DAB Digital Radio: Licensed To Fail, Radio Books, October 2010

UK DAB radio receiver sales fell in 2009 and 2010, but “digital radio sales have held up – they are flat” insists Mr Switchover

For an organisation that has been charged with marketing DAB radio to the British public, Digital Radio UK has managed to remain remarkably invisible during 2011. This alone made the appearance of Digital Radio UK’s chief executive on BBC Radio 4’s ‘You & Yours’ show notable. The fact that nothing new was said was hardly surprising – there is nothing new to say about DAB.

Out in the real world, as opposed to the imaginary world inhabited by Digital Radio UK, the notion that ‘DAB radio’ will replace AM/FM radio is already a dead duck. The only believers still worshipping ‘DAB’ seem to be Digital Radio UK, RadioCentre, Ofcom and government civil servants.

The evidence is transparent. The number of DAB radio receivers sold in the UK fell year-on-year in both 2009 and 2010 (by 6% and 2% respectively). These data are collected by GfK and supplied to Digital Radio UK. These numbers, together with a nice colour graph, were distributed at last month’s RadioCentre members’ get-together. These are industry data of which Digital Radio UK is perfectly aware.

Yet, Digital Radio UK’s chief executive insisted in this interview on national radio that “digital radio sales have actually held up – they are flat year-on-year.” This is untrue. ‘Down’ is not ‘flat.’ ‘Down’ is ‘down.’ DAB radio receiver sales peaked in 2008 and have been falling since. DAB receiver sales in 2010 were 8% below that 2008 peak. That is clearly not ‘flat.’

I wonder how it is that:
• The chief executive of a high-profile marketing organisation can appear on Radio 4 (audience: 11m adults per week) and flatly state something that he must know not to be true?
• The board of Digital Radio UK does not haul him in and remind him that his job description is to ‘persuade’ consumers of the value of DAB, not deceive them?
• A substantial proportion of this organisation’s funding is derived from the BBC Licence Fee, so the public is effectively paying for an executive to tell them untruths about consumer take-up of DAB radio?

You & Yours
BBC Radio 4
29 July 2011 @ 1200

Ford Ennals, chief executive, Digital Radio UK [FE]
Wiiliam Rogers, chief executive, UKRD [WR]

Q: Are you not disappointed with the lack of a rise in [DAB] radio sales?

FE: No, I think what the Ofcom report confirms is the solid progress that is being made. We see growth in overall digital listening, we see growth in terms of the number of homes that have a digital radio receiver in there. So, 40% of all homes now have a DAB receiver in them, we know that 47% of all listeners are listening to digital radio every week, and we have seen growth in digital listening. So I think progress is being made. I think we are in a difficult sales period for overall retailers and we have seen a decline in overall consumer electronics sales. Digital radio sales have actually held up – they are flat year-on-year. We have now sold 13 million DAB digital radios, but the key thing, just lastly, to remember is that you can receive digital radio via digital television, via a computer or, indeed, via a smartphone and many, many households and consumers have those.

Q: William Rogers, are you surprised by the lack of increase in interest in digital radio?

WR: No, not in the least. And I think we have to remember that Ford, with respect to him, is being a little disingenuous because, of course, the switchover is about people being forced to move way from analogue and onto DAB. So that’s the issue we need to focus on. And what this report highlights, and I’m personally delighted to see it, is it really does shine a light on the shambles that is this proposed DAB migration.

Q: But things aren’t that bad. There are increases in radio usage, as Ford has just indicated.

WR: Well, hang on a minute. The whole premise behind the switchover is that it will be, quote, consumer led. And the one thing we know from these statistics is that, whatever else it is, it’s not being consumer led. As your reporter quite rightly said earlier, of the eight-and-half million radio devices sold in the twelve-month period we are talking about, four out of five of them did not have a DAB receiver capacity. And, more interestingly, of those people who were asked whether they were likely to buy a DAB set at any time in the next twelve months, four out of five of them said they were not likely to. So the consumer is making it very clear what they want and, after eleven years, it’s time this thing was put to bed.

Q: Ford Ennals, one of the things that we constantly hear from listeners is the whole issue of reception. That’s really what, I think, the message is that we get from people. That is what they are worried about. Whether they approve or not [of DAB], what they say is an awful lot of people can’t get them [DAB radio signals] and, if they can get them, they can’t get them consistently.

FE: Well, I think, where the industry and the broadcasters are absolutely unified and agreed is that digital is the future of radio in the UK. And I think it’s just a matter of the timetable and the transition path for that. One of the big issues is, as you have said, is about coverage and about the ability of everyone to get a strong [DAB] signal. Now, what Ofcom have done is developed a plan to extend coverage, both of the local services and the national services, so that people can receive those services and get more confidence. But there is a direct parallel here with TV and digital television – I ran the TV switchover programme – and, back in 2006, the majority of TV sales were analogue and only 75% of the population could get digital television. Now, what happened over the next few years is we saw a very swift transition and we saw transmitters built out that so everyone could get digital TV. We’ll see the same on radio.

Q: What about that, William? We don’t jump ‘til we have to. We don’t buy ‘til we have to.

WR: Look, look. Let’s be clear about this. Ford Ennals is paid to market the DAB switchover, so I understand why he has to say what he has to say, because the message from this report is clearly embarrassing for him to make a case which clearly doesn’t exist. There are a number of points we have to remember. First of all, the comparison with TV switchover is plainly an absurd point to make. They are not remotely, in any way shape or form, similar. And people are choosing not to endorse DAB as an alternative [to FM/AM]. The critical thing we have to understand here is three elements. First of all, ….

Q: You’ll have to confine yourself to one because we are really tight for time.

WR: Okay, the fundamental problem with this whole process is that you cannot migrate an entire sector if the [DAB] platform you have chosen does not have the capacity to allow you to do so. And there are scores of radio stations in this country who will be denied the opportunity to move to a DAB platform, because the choice was wrong in the first place.

Q: A ten-second response.

FE: Just finally. People love digital radio. We’ve seen it with [BBC] 6 Music and we saw the campaign to save 6 Music. We’ve seen it with the response to Radio 4 Extra. And they’ll continue to enjoy it in the future.

Q: I’m sure our postbag and our e-mails will be as big as usual. William Rogers and Ford Ennals, thank you both very much indeed.

……………………………..
Point of information:
Ford Ennals was chief executive of Digital UK, the TV switchover marketing organisation, from April 2005. He announced his departure in November 2007, the same month that the first UK region entirely switched off analogue television broadcasts.

FRANCE: government report recommends 2-3 year “moratorium” before launch of digital radio

A new report on the introduction of digital terrestrial radio (‘DAB radio’ in the UK) in France has recommended to the government that the launch should be delayed by two to three years. In the interim, the French media regulator CSA would be asked to establish a project to investigate the “overseas experiences” of digital radio, according to the government press release.

David Kessler, former head of state radio station France Culture, was commissioned in June 2010 by the government to produce a strategic analysis of the launch of digital radio in France. His interim report, published in November 2010 [see blog], identified the “paradox of DAB radio – it is a sufficiently attractive technology to be launched successfully, but it is insufficiently attractive to successfully allow FM broadcasts to cease.”

In the final report, published this week, Kessler said that not all the conditions had been met from an economic standpoint to permit the widespread launch of digital terrestrial radio. His report identified the significantly different challenges between digital radio switchover and digital television switchover:

“An error in logic has probably contributed greatly to making the debate [about digital radio] opaque rather than transparent. The error came from having planned digital radio switchover with reference to digital television switchover, which started in 2005 and the success of which has been staggering and immediate, so that the changeover from analogue to digital TV will be completed throughout the land by 2012. Many parties imagined that the route to digital opened up by television would be followed by radio. But this plan was wrong for three reasons.

Firstly, the television market was dominated in 2005 by five channels (TF1, France 2, France 3, France 5/Arte and M6) that attracted 75% of television viewing. The transition to a score of free channels was obviously very attractive. However, as will be discussed later, the situation in radio is quite different – the current choice of stations is one of the richest that exists in the world, after the landscape opened up in the 80s. Even if the choice is not the same in every region, none of them – some near – are in a situation where only five major stations dominate the choice.

Second is the difference in receivers. Even if digital radio switchover had been launched simultaneously with that of television, where the evolution of televisions (flat screen, HD and now 3D) resulted in a faster replacement of equipment than anticipated, digital television was accessible without changing the set through the purchase of a single adaptor at a moderate price. Digital radio switchover requires the replacement of all receivers, and households have multiple radios and the market is sluggish. Without doubt, digital radio switchover could re-invigorate the market with a simple, inexpensive high-end (with screen) radio. At this point, no one can say how quickly take-up of replacement receivers will happen. Examples overseas – particularly Britain – demonstrate a relatively slow rate of replacement, and the different situation in countries where take-up is faster – Korea, Australia – make comparisons difficult.

The third reason is that the history of television demonstrates that it works through ‘exclusive changes’ where one technology replaces another quickly. Colour television pushed out black and white television. Digital television is about to push out analogue television. But experience shows that far from all media work this way. On the contrary, some go through ‘cumulative change’. Over a short or long period of time, different technologies co-exist and content is distributed through several technologies. As Robert Darnton noted about the book, we often forget that the printed word has long co-existed with the manuscript. From this perspective, the history of radio is the opposite of television: different transmission systems are cumulative rather than exclusive. This does not exclude the possibility that, in the long run, some transmission systems will decline and no longer be used, just as printing marginalised the manuscript. But what it means is that one cannot plan the launch of digital radio by imagining that all other transmission systems will be switched off, particularly FM. Even today, despite the success of FM, Long Wave and Medium Wave transmissions are still used because they reach a sufficient number of listeners not be switched off by broadcasters.

In fact, a careful examination of the launch of digital radio in other European countries shows that a ‘cumulative change’ scenario exists that we must anticipate in France too. Indeed, the launch of digital radio in other European countries had been presented as a quick substitute for analogue radio, even though the existing choice of analogue stations was less than in France, and the choice of digital stations seemed more attractive and content-rich than offered by analogue. Even if a proportion of listeners are quickly adopting digital radio, a greater proportion are still sticking with their traditional radios, with the possible exception of Norway, where analogue switch-off seems to be seriously considered at present. This leads to a situation in which the government initially adopts a goal of analogue switch-off but then, given the impossibility of switch-off, drops or postpones the switch-off date by several years. As the choice of existing radio stations is particularly substantial in France, it would appear that this situation is most likely to be repeated if digital radio were to be launched. Radio station owners are not mistaken. Very few want a quick switch-off of FM, and some do not want any switch-off.”

These points echo evidence on digital radio switchover in the UK that I had presented to the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications in January 2010:

“With television, there existed consumer dissatisfaction with the limited choice of content available from the four or five available analogue terrestrial channels. This was evidenced by consumer willingness to pay subscriptions for exclusive content delivered by satellite. Consumer choice has been extended greatly by the Freeview digital terrestrial channels, many of which are available free, and the required hardware is low-cost.

Ofcom research demonstrates that there is little dissatisfaction with the choice of radio content available from analogue terrestrial channels, and there is no evidence of consumer willingness to pay for exclusive radio content. Consequently, the radio industry has proven unable to offer content on DAB of sufficient appeal to persuade consumers to purchase relatively high-cost DAB hardware in anywhere near as substantial numbers as they have purchased Freeview digital television boxes.”

The Kessler document should offer significant food for thought to the British government for its unworkable plans for DAB radio switchover. Whereas Kessler correctly identified that TV and radio digital switchover are two very different undertakings, our public servants working on digital radio policy in the government and in Ofcom have long failed to understand these differences. The appointment of Ford Ennals as chief executive of Digital Radio UK in 2009, on the back of his work between 2005 and 2008 managing digital television switchover, should have been viewed as barely relevant experience to achieve successful digital radio switchover.

Have any of the people managing digital radio switchover for the UK ever actually worked in the radio industry? At DCMS? No. At Ofcom? No. At Digital Radio UK? No. If, like Kessler, they had radio sector experience, they would realise that all their speeches and presentations that repeatedly cite digital TV switchover as the precedent for radio are completely off-target.

Is there any wonder that failure of DAB public policy was inevitable?

Digital Radio UK on DAB radio switchover: talkin’ loud and saying nothin’

DAB radio receiver sales

“Ford Ennals, Digital Radio UK’s chief executive, remains optimistic and says that the DAB [receiver] market will grow by 8-10% this year [2011].” [source]

FACTS: DAB/digital radio receiver sales volumes in 2010 were down on 2009, and in 2009 were down on 2008, although stakeholders disagree about the precise volumes and the percentage change:
“2010 was slightly down in digital radio sales volumes (-2.3%) compared to 2009” [Digital Radio UK update]
“’[DAB] volume sales were only marginally lower than the previous year (-0.7%) at 1.92 million units,’ explains Simon Foy, GfK senior account manager, CE.” [source]
• “DAB sales for 2010 were 1.91 million pieces” [source]

Digital radio listening reaching the 50% criterion

Ford Ennals: “I think you can see the listening criteria’s certainly being met in the next five years.” [WMF]

“Despite two thirds of listeners still using analogue radio, Ennals believes that, if you extrapolate digital radio’s recent growth pattern, the 50% target could be achieved by the end of 2014.” [source]

Ford Ennals: “We are likely to hit 50%, you know, in the next five years, I would say.” [DRS]

FACTS: When you extrapolate the radio industry’s RAJAR dataset, the 50% criterion is reached:
• Not by the government’s target of year-end 2013
• Not by Ford Ennals’ new, seemingly variable, targets of “the end of 2014” or “in the next five years”
• By year-end 2018, IF growth in digital listening is maintained at the current rate

Growth in DAB/digital radio listening

Ford Ennals: “We’ve seen overall in this year, in the last 12 months, each quarter, we’ve seen a 20% year-on-year growth of digital listening.” [WMF]

Ford Ennals: “We’ve seen 19 to 20 per cent listening growth in the year [2010].” [DRS]

Ford Ennals: “We see about 20% growth in 19 … sorry, in 2010, it was 14% growth in 2009 and there was about 10% growth the previous year. So, you know, we see solid growth.” [WMF]

FACTS: According to the radio industry’s RAJAR dataset:
• 20%+ growth in digital listening was only evident in the last two quarters of 2010, not in “each quarter”
• Part of this apparent growth spurt in digital listening was the result of a sudden 5% to 6% increase in TOTAL radio listening recorded in the last two quarters of 2010

Consumer satisfaction with analogue radio

“DRUK’s Ennals is not convinced by the argument that most consumers are more than satisfied with analogue radio.” [source]

Ford Ennals: “FM is full and I think almost half of the FM spectrum is taken by 5 national services, there’s only 1 national commercial service, so it’s, you know, in terms of the ability to give consumers more choice, it is somewhat limited …” [WMF]

FACTS: Ofcom research has consistently demonstrated the high level of consumer satisfaction with existing radio services:
• Around 90% of consumers were ‘satisfied’ with the choice of radio stations in their area in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009

The 2015 digital radio switchover date

Ford Ennals: “I’m confident [digital radio switchover] is going to happen in the near future but I don’t think there’s a need to have a date and certainly we won’t be communicating a date.” [WMF]

FACTS: Ennals and Digital Radio UK have been busy “communicating a date” for digital radio switchover to anyone who would listen. Just a few of many examples:
• Ford Ennals: “We are confident digital listening can reach 50 per cent by 2013.” [source]
• Ford Ennals: “We have set a course to double listening and expand coverage by 2013, and to switchover by the end of 2015.” [source]
• Ennals stressed that a target date of 2015 was “challenging but achievable” [source]
“Ford Ennals CEO of Digital Radio UK had positive comments for the 2015 switchover date set by government and told guests to Radio Festival that plans were already in motion to meet the ambitious date.” [source]
• Ford Ennals: “The radio industry believes that these two criteria can be met at the end of 2013, for a proposed switchover to take place in 2015.” [source]
“2015 is ‘achievable’ for an analogue-to-digital switchover, according to industry body Digital Radio UK.” [source]

[sources: WMF = Westminster Media Forum, 11 April 2011; DRS = Digital Radio Stakeholders, 3 February 2011] [thanks to Darryl Pomicter]

DAB Radio Downgrade? The new masterplan to deliver DAB radio reception worse than FM

When something works well, it just works. You do not need to analyse why it works. It just works. And nobody asks questions as to why or how. That is the case with FM radio. During half a century of development, more and more FM transmitters have been built across the UK (2,100 currently in operation) so as to reach the point now where almost the entire population receives an FM signal (maybe not always perfect, but some reception rather than none at all).

DAB radio was intended to replace FM radio. However, it must only be worth replacing FM with DAB if DAB is actually better than FM. Why replace a transmission system that has taken 50 years to perfect with something that is going to be worse? Unfortunately, nobody thought to conduct a cost/benefit analysis during the last two decades to determine what the cost would be of making DAB radio reception as good as FM radio, let alone better. As a result, DAB radio was foisted upon the public in 1999 without a roadmap to ensure that reception was even as good as FM radio for consumers.

Twelve years later, DAB reception remains worse than FM reception in many places, or is non-existent. Whereas poor FM reception gives the consumer a poor quality listening experience, poor DAB reception provides no listening experience whatsoever. With DAB, a poor signal is the same as no signal.

Instead of Ofcom valiantly admitting defeat over DAB radio – which might infer that the regulator and its predecessor, the Radio Authority, had screwed up the implementation of DAB in the UK – Ofcom presses ahead with increasingly desperate attempts to try and salvage this technological and regulatory disaster.

Ofcom’s latest ‘project’ is to try and understand why FM radio, more than half a century after its introduction, gives consumers acceptable radio reception. Intrinsically, the work is redundant. If FM works well, why bother to analyse why it works? The answer is: because DAB radio does not work. In order to make DAB work, an understanding is deemed necessary of why the system it was intended to replace – FM radio – does work.

Belatedly, it has been understood by the bureaucrats that the expense of making DAB as good as FM will prove too costly. It requires too many DAB transmitters, too many DAB power increases, at too great a cost for the radio industry. Might this not be a good time for them to back away from the notion of DAB radio REPLACING FM radio because it is simply too costly, even just to make it AS GOOD?

Not for the bureaucrats involved. Instead, the philosophy within Ofcom and the government is a new plan to deliberately make DAB radio NOT AS GOOD as FM radio. But still to persuade consumers that DAB is intended to replace FM radio for national and large local radio stations. Madness? Yes. Self-defeating? Yes. Contempt for radio listeners? Totally.

Peter Davies, who is responsible for radio at Ofcom, explained part of this 1984-style philosophy to replace ‘good’ FM with ‘worse’ DAB to the Digital Radio Stakeholders Group meeting in the calmest of tones on 3 February 2011. Although his presentation is lengthy, I have included Davies’ words in full below so that you too can try and decipher the logic of a solution for DAB radio that is purposefully sub-par.

Perhaps the Digital Radio UK marketing slogan next winter will be: ‘Buy a DAB radio! Worse reception than FM guaranteed. But better than no radio at all.’

Peter Davies, Ofcom: “The Coverage Planning Working Group is chaired by Ofcom, but we have effectively two groups that are feeding into this. There is the actual Working Group that is doing all the sort of hard grind of doing the planning work, and that consists of Ofcom, Arqiva and the BBC. There is also a Planning Advisory Group which consists of all the [DAB] multiplex operators, with Digital Radio UK and RadioCentre as well. So what I’m going to run you through this afternoon, quite quickly because of the time, is just what we’re doing in terms of FM. What is it we are trying to match? Secondly, how you then do that with DAB. Thirdly, looking at what we need to do to the frequency plan in the UK to achieve that. And then just onto the next steps.

So, FM coverage. I should say we are doing this for national services as well as local. So it’s both BBC and commercial national services, as well as the local. But I’m going to focus this afternoon on the local because that’s, in a way, where some of the more difficult issues are. This is a map of Manchester. I know you won’t be able to see the detail on that, but it gives you an impression, at least. So what we’ve done in each part – in fact, in the whole country – is define a set of ‘editorial areas.’ So that’s shown on this map by that dotted line – you can see around the edge, a sort of dark purple dotted line – so that everywhere in the country is covered by one or more areas – there are some overlaps – but at least everywhere is covered by one area. So the editorial areas are areas that have been agreed by the BBC and by the [DAB] multiplex operator and commercial radio operators as being the sort of area that they would, in an ideal world, like to cover. It’s also based on [DAB] multiplex areas, so it’s a bit of a compromise.

So, if you look at the actual coverage of BBC Radio Manchester [GMR] within this, that’s shown in the sort of standard way of measuring – 54 db – is shown in green but, actually, editorially BBC Radio Manchester would like to cover the bits within the dotted line. So there is coverage beyond the editorial area where people can pick up the service, but it’s not really intended for them. And, equally, there are bits within the existing editorial area which aren’t covered terribly well on FM but which, nevertheless, the station would like to think it serves.

In terms of the actual [FM] coverage, it’s been quite difficult to determine what that is. The ‘54db’ is the standard internationally agreed planning measure. So that’s 54db per μv per metre, but I’m not an engineer so don’t ask me any more detail than that. But it’s a definition that was drawn up back in the 1950s and is really about reception 10m above the ground, using a rooftop aerial and it sort of tells you whether you can get a signal on your radiogram, which is not terribly useful [now]. So we know that people use radios in very different ways, but we sort of know that this works, but it has never actually been tested. So it’s a planning definition, which is very old and slightly messy.

So what we’ve been doing as part of this work is drawing up what’s known as a ‘link budget ‘, which is effectively taking the signal strength as it leaves the transmitter and then adjusting it all the way along until it actually gets to the receiver. So, in other words, you adjust it because it’s a distance from the transmitter going over some hilly ground, going down into buildings, loss within the receiver itself and so on. So that you can work out what signal strength you will need to work to get decent FM coverage. So we’ve looked at three different strengths because we know that the 54db is probably a little bit conservative, so we also looked at 48db and 42db, again because conditions vary between what you can receive on a portable kitchen radio and what you can get in your car. We are also looking at coverage not only of households, but also of major roads as well, so it’s not just an indoor measurement we’re looking at.

What we have seen so far is actually that the link budget we have developed is that these numbers are probably about right. So 42db is probably about right for cars. But you can see that there’s not actually very much yellow on that map, so that most places either get a good solid indoor signal, or the signal’s not good at all, basically. So, for each area, we have looked at both the BBC local service – so that’s BBC Manchester – and also the commercial coverage, and we’ve taken the largest commercial station in each area. So, for Manchester, this is ‘Key 103.’ As you can see, the coverage is very different, mainly because they are using different transmitter sites and different powers on FM. But, of course, both of those services and others are on the same multiplex for DAB, so you have to think ‘what exactly is it on FM that we are trying to match?’ It’s no good just matching Key 103, you can’t just match to Key 103 because then you would be missing out BBC Manchester and other services. In this case, commercial [radio coverage] is smaller. In other cases that we have looked at, the commercial [stations] cover one part of the county but not another, but the BBC [station] will do the opposite.

So, what we’ve then done is to look at the composite coverage of both BBC local [radio] and the largest commercial station. So this is what we think people in the area would expect to be able to hear as a local service on FM. So you get either the BBC or the commercial radio [station] or both. So that’s the basis of what we think we should be trying to match. So it would be sort of green or blue for indoor, and the yellow bits for road coverage. As I say, we’ve done that for basically every area in the country, including the Nations services – so Radio Scotland, Radio Wales, etc for the BBC – and for the national services as well.

The question then is ‘how do we match DAB [to FM]?’ So the approach to that again has been to build up a link budget for DAB, starting with the transmitter and going right the way through to the receiver. And we’ve been doing receiver tests as part of that. And what we tried to do – because that sort of coverage is slightly debatable on FM – is [identify] where exactly is that band, and where exactly is that field strength? The approach we have taken is, first of all, to say that, within the editorial area, let’s plan for absolutely universal coverage. So how many transmitters – if you wanted to cover it as near as possible to 100% – how many transmitters would you need, both to get indoor coverage and road coverage as well? And we’ve tried to do that in a sort of commonsense way by starting with where the existing FM transmitters are. So rather than just look for new sites, because actually if coverage from FM is good from that site, so you should get decent coverage from DAB from that site as well. And then we’ve added on transmitters at decreasing levels of coverage until you get as close as we can to 100%.

Then, once we’ve done that, we’ve said ‘okay, actually some of those are now covering areas which aren’t covered by FM’ so actually you might not need them. So then you can then sort of roll back from that full universal coverage. The question then is ‘where do you draw the line?’ So, if you look at Manchester. Again, you’ve got the editorial area, which is a bit hard to see on this, but is the solid purple line around the edge. That is the existing local DAB coverage in Manchester, so you see 66.4% of households at the moment. In terms of households [for FM coverage], we have got 96.2% indoor at the moment, 98.2% (that’s a slightly sort of spurious measurement because it’s not actually a road measurement, but it’s households), so 96.2% for FM. So 66.4% existing [DAB] coverage from the two transmitters which are currently operating from the Manchester multiplex. It is one in central Manchester – sort of there – and there is one at Winter Hill at the top in the northwest corner.

We then looked at ‘okay, what would you do if you just increased the power of the existing transmitters and moved them up the mast a bit?’ And, actually, that gets you, as you can see, quite significantly increased coverage. In order to do that, we need to change the frequency plan, and I’ll come back to that in a minute. So that gets you up to 82% [DAB coverage] and then we keep adding on transmitters until we get as close as we can to 100%. This goes to 99% and that means 15 transmitters which are shown by the crosses dotted all over that map.

But then, as I say, you look at it and you say ‘well, actually, the two smallest of these – which are these two up here – actually have no household coverage at all, and the smallest one only adds 8km of road coverage.’ Now, obviously, if you’re driving and you lose your radio reception, then that’s a problem. But there’s a question as to whether that is essential for local coverage – it might be for national, but is it for local? So the question is ‘where do you draw that line in terms of a sort of cost/benefit analysis,’ if you like? You might decide, actually, you wouldn’t bother with those, but the question is ‘how far down the list of 15 [transmitters] do you go,’ as to what’s commercial viable and what provides an acceptable level of service to consumers?

So that’s the approach that we’ve taken. As I say, in order to do that, we need to change the frequency plan. Those are the big [frequency] blocks we use for DAB at the moment, dotted around the country. And you can see that they – the colours represent frequencies – so you can see that we have to reuse the same frequencies over and over again around the country. And that does cause interference so, at the moment, Manchester uses the same frequency as Birmingham. And, because of that, we can’t increase the power of the Manchester transmitters to get beyond that 66% to the 82% [coverage]. And that problem is repeated around the country. So what we’d like to do is re-draw the frequency map, which means that, as far as consumers are concerned, means doing a re-scan of their radio but does then allow us to boost the coverage quite significantly from existing transmitters and reduces that problem of interference which, in same places, can be quite significant. In order to that, it’s quite a long process – we need international co-ordination – but that part of the planning process we are going through at the moment.

So, the next steps are to finalise that frequency plan and begin the international co-ordination. We’ve got to complete the FM coverage maps and just check that link budget for FM, both for local and national [stations]. And then, for each of the local DAB areas and for the BBC national multiplex and for Digital One, the commercial multiplex, to produce the coverage maps and the household count and the road count as well for all of these existing multiplexes. Once we have done all of that, we plan to publish the whole thing later in the spring or early summer in a consultation so that we can then begin a debate as to whether this approach is actually right or not, and where it gets us.

Obviously, one of the big questions in all of that is actually ‘how much does it cost the broadcasters?’ I should say that that’s not something the Coverage Planning Group is looking at. It’s not something that we’ve been asked to look at, so it’s purely a technical approach at this stage but we think, sort of by the end of April, we should have the answers of how many extra transmitters you would need in order to achieve switchover.”

So the overarching question posed by the forthcoming Ofcom consultation seems to be: how poor can DAB coverage be made but still be accepted by consumers? If Peter Davies’ workplan, as explained here in February 2011, sounds vaguely familiar, it might be because he had addressed the Radio Festival in July 2008 and promised:

“Once we have defined what existing DAB coverage is, we then have to work out what it would take to get existing DAB coverage up to the level of existing FM coverage. Now, we have already done a lot of work on this, and certainly enough to inform the interim report, and the whole thing will be finalised in time for the Digital Radio Working Group final report later this year.” [see my Dec 2008 blog]

Incredibly, three years late[r], the promised work is only just being completed. An amazing lack of urgency has been demonstrated by Ofcom, despite DAB radio resulting in more correspondence from angry consumers to the broadcasting minister Ed Vaizey than any other issue.

What most astonishes me is that the digital radio sector is still trying to persuade people living in Manchester to purchase a DAB radio, just as it has for the last twelve years, when it knows that there is a one-in-three chance that a Manchester household will be unable to receive ANY local stations via DAB, according to Davies. I assume a similar situation prevails in other cities.

Time for a class action by disappointed DAB radio receiver buyers?

[no accompanying graphics because DCMS explained: “Peter Davies’ Ofcom presentation is not attached as the content is still work in progress. Ofcom plan to publish all of the data later in the year.”]

DAB radio sector rubbishes its own digital radio receiver sales figures

When UK companies that had once anticipated they were poised to make a mint out of ‘DAB radio’ realise that things are not going the way they had wanted, they lash out. That seems to be what happened yesterday. ‘Shoot the messenger’ appeared to be the digital radio industry’s reflex response when backed against a wall of facts that tell an unpalatable story.

At the Westminster Media Forum conference on digital radio, a graph of DAB/digital radio receiver sales was displayed in a presentation by The Guardian’s Jack Schofield (see below):

The graph clearly showed that 2010 unit sales were down on 2009, and that 2009 unit sales were down on 2008. This data was collected by GfK.

Anthony Sethill, founder and chief executive of Frontier Silicon, took exception to this graph’s narrative of declining consumer interest in DAB radio receivers. He commented:

“My company supplies the chipsets that drive about 80% of digital radios on the market today. So, I think the panel today, with the exception of Andrew [Harrison, RadioCentre chief executive] is a wonderful example of how the minority seem to take the stage and voice the negativity and things. And, if we were to re-run Jack’s presentation again, put some facts in the correct order, and the correct facts, I think we would have a very different read. You know, it’s very difficult, when you have people like Jack that have a national platform in terms of a national newspaper, to voice these views.

So we’ll start with the GfK data. Now, GfK is actually a retail audit and, over the years, has been used by the consumer electronics and the retail trade in the UK to measure the sales of consumer electronic devices. In the last few years, GfK has been dying. The reason it has been dying is that it relies on the data – sales out data – from national retailers such as Dixons and John Lewis and Tesco and so on. Last year, Dixons pulled the plug on supplying data to GfK. That meant the largest retailer in the UK, which accounts for 25% of all sales, actually stopped giving them data. To carry on selling that data, [GfK] then had to formulate panels and most people in the industry know that, statistically, it’s not valid and that, basically, it’s falling apart. Now, you’ve quoted GfK [DAB/digital radio receiver] sales falling and I’ve given you the reasons why that data is not accurate. […]

This is a practical example of discrediting the data, which a number of people use to bash DAB. So this is one small example of how you’re misinterpreting and you’re misleading people. I don’t know if you understand what GfK is, or what it has done, or why it has fallen apart but, if you do, then that’s really poor. And if you don’t, before you quote it, you should learn the facts.”

The graph to which Sethill was referring was created by me and published in this blog last weekend (Jack Schofield had asked before the conference if he could use it in his presentation). I had first published these DAB/digital radio receiver sales data in a blog in January 2011, in which I wrote:

“1.94m digital radios were sold in 2010, compared to 1.99m in 2009 and 2.08m in 2008. Increase? No. Growth? No. Over 2m in 2010? No.”

In March 2011, these same sales figures were reprinted in The Telegraph newspaper, which wrote that “new figures showed that sales of digital radio equipment actually fell last year.”

It should be noted:
• The sales data in my graph were distributed by Digital Radio UK, the radio industry organisation marketing DAB radio in the UK
• Digital Radio UK purchases these data concerning DAB/digital radio receiver sales from GfK
• Digital Radio UK has regularly quoted these GfK data in its press releases (most recently on 23 Dec 2010 and 21 Dec 2010) and in its newsletters
• Digital Radio UK has never publicly challenged the validity of the GfK sales data that it is distributing and using in its marketing campaigns
• Until now, these data on DAB/digital radio receiver sales have been widely reported in the public domain without challenge from the wider digital radio sector.

So what is eating Frontier Silicon? It seemed wholly inappropriate for Anthony Sethill to beat up panellist Jack Schofield in public for using the digital radio industry’s OWN DATA in his presentation. If Frontier Silicon has an issue with the digital radio industry’s sales data, it should take that up with Digital Radio UK, which purchased the data from GfK and distributed them.

Perhaps the real issue is that the rewards from DAB radio have evidently still not materialised for the digital radio industry. By year-end 2009, Frontier Silicon Limited had an accumulated loss of £28m. In financial year 2009, it generated an operating loss of £536,000 on turnover of £22m. Its shareholders include Digital One (owned by Arqiva) and Imagination Technologies (which owns Pure Digital). Imagination owns 9.3% of Frontier Silicon, a stake that it wrote down by £3.4m in 2008, and then finally wrote down by a further £3.6m in 2010. As Imagination’s accounts explained:

“Due to the lower resulting valuation of the business and the impact of Frontier’s capital structure, the Group’s investment [in Frontier Silicon] has been revalued to £nil.”

I guess it must be tough for Frontier Silicon to see a shareholder value its business at “£nil.” That is no reason for its unprovoked attack on Jack Schofield’s presentation which had merely used the industry’s own data.

…………….
 
I contacted GfK for its response to the comments from Frontier Silicon. Its response was (in full):

Date: 6th April 2011

GfK Retail and Technology UK response:

GfK Retail and Technology UK currently track over 100 individual technology product categories and partner with major UK multiple retailers within every single audited channel they report on, to complement this research and to ensure GfK cover the overall market they also have a representative sample of independent retailers working with them. This means GfK are receiving weekly data from over 24,000 individual stores within the UK. The majority of these retailers deliver weekly EPOS data on their complete sales and this allows GfK to report to a detailed level on the performance of all the leading technology categories. If faced with a retailer who is not willing to participate GfK employ a widely used global research methodology to ensure they are representing the overall market.

When challenged on the GfK reported performance of the DAB market Commercial Director Anthony Norman commented “the overall technology markets have all come under increasing pressure in the last 12 months, the austerity measures announced and now being implemented by the coalition government have had a major impact on consumer confidence which has in turn impacted on retail sales of technology areas”. Norman continued in specific reference to the DAB market “the reported data by GfK is based on over 70% live reported sales by retailers, rather than focussing on the downturn of this market it would be more beneficial to put the whole picture in perspective. The overall technology market has experienced only 4 months of growth in the last 33 months. The average decline in this area is 6%, for DAB the market in 2010 declined by only 2%. Given the overall sector performance this is something that should be recognised. As a business GfK are committed to delivering actionable insight to the industries they operate within”

The GfK Group

The GfK Group offers the fundamental knowledge that industry, retailers, services companies and the media need to make market decisions. It offers a comprehensive range of information and consultancy services in the three business sectors of Custom Research, Retail and Technology and Media. The no. 4 market research organization worldwide operates in more than 100 countries and employs over 10,000 staff. In 2009, the GfK Group’s sales amounted to EUR 1.16 billion. For further information visit www.gfkrt.com or www.gfkrt.com/uk

David Blunkett’s opinion of DAB radio: BBC is “defending the indefensible”

‘You & Yours’
BBC Radio 4
28 March 2011 @ 1200 [FM only]

Julian Worricker, presenter [JW]
Paul Everitt, chief executive, Society of Motoring Manufacturers & Traders [PE]
Laurence Harrison, technology & market director, Digital Radio UK [LH]

JW: Now, car manufacturers have long prided themselves on arming their vehicles with the latest groundbreaking technology, but there’s one in-car gadget which has remained stuck in the twentieth century. Radios in cars, generally speaking, are FM/AM analogue, and not digital. Around 20% of all radio listening takes place in the car, that’s according to RAJAR, the organisation which counts these things. So, if the UK is to go all-digital and the analogue signal switch is turned off – and that, of course, is the plan – cars need to be equipped with digital radios.

JW: Well, car manufacturers are planning that all new vehicles will have digital radios fitted from 2013. And, now, Ford says it will make digital radios available in its cars a year earlier than that. This will all help achieve the target that 50% of all radio listening should be digital, which is one of the pre-conditions for turning off the analogue signal. We can explore this with Paul Everitt, who is the chief executive of the Society of Motoring Manufacturers & Traders, and with Laurence Harrison, the technology & market director from Digital Radio UK, which is the company set up by broadcasters to help with the switchover. Gentlemen, good afternoon. Paul Everitt, why is the car industry pushing ahead with installing digital radios by 2013?

PE: Well, I think there are two key reasons. The first is because that’s the agreement we had with government as part of the Digital [Radio] Action Plan. They recognised that listening in-car was a key part of radio listenership and, therefore, early introduction of vehicles with digital radio was a key part of the package that needed to be achieved. But, I think, increasingly, what we are seeing, and certainly the announcement from Ford that you mentioned slightly earlier, is actually about the consumer saying that this is something that we want. The consumer now has an increasing opportunity to experience both the listening quality of digital in-car, but also the content, the increasing content, and desirability of the content on digital, as well as gradually and increasingly improving coverage. So, it’s a combination here of ….

JW: [interrupts]: Right, right, I just want to ….

PE: …. both something that we have to do, or we have agreed to do. But I think, increasingly, this is a push that is now coming from consumers.

JW: Okay, I just want to scrutinise that a little, because I don’t doubt that Laurence Harrison will say the same thing because we are told this is consumer led. But, surely, the truth of the matter is that the consumer has been led because of what the government requires you and others to do, so consumer choice only goes so far here.

PE: Well, I think we can argue the finer points of this, if you like. But, from an industry point of view, we began to be involved in this discussion during the course of 2008, obviously the conditions during 2009 with the development of the Digital Britain report brought that forward, or conclusions from that report have been built into vehicle manufacturers’ plans. But, as I say, what we are actually seeing today is, you know, increasing interest in digital from consumers.

JW: Okay. Let me bring Laurence Harrison in on coverage because, as I understand it, at least 90% [population] coverage is a target. That’s part of the targets that will only allow the switchover to take place. Now, 90% sounds positive until you then think about the 10% who can no longer hear what they are listening to now.

LH: Well, I think the key thing on coverage is to become the equivalent of FM coverage. So the 90% figure you refer to is around local coverage. Actually, on the coverage of national services, we are already at just over 90%, and the BBC has just recently committed to build that out to 93% by the end of this year. And the target thereafter is to get to FM equivalence as soon as we can, so that programme is well underway.

LH: And, if we are driving from A to B a significant distance, can we be sure that that coverage will remain consistent over that distance?

PE: So, you’re absolutely right. Of course, for the car market, geographical coverage is vitally important. What we do know now is that the vast majority of motorways and A roads have got good coverage, and significant coverage on B roads and smaller roads. But we are working with broadcasters to try and prioritise the road network going forward.

JW: Paul Everett, what about those who can’t afford to buy a new car after 2013 with a smart digital radio inside it? When that switchover eventually happens, what happens to them?

PE: Well, this has always been our biggest – or one of our biggest – concerns, which is that how do we retro-fit the entire vehicle parc? We are currently looking at something between 25 and 30 million vehicles all up, so it’s quite a challenge. What we have seen over the course of the last year – 18 months – is relatively low-cost adaptors. I think now … I mean the prices vary, but certainly less than £100 to adapt your vehicle, and these are sort of a relatively basic unit, so not desirable for everybody …

JW: What does ‘relatively basic’ mean in terms of what it will actually do?

PE: Well, it means you get a digital reception but you have to kind of plug it into the cigarette lighter and have a bit of an aerial up and …

JW: It’s a bit Heath Robinson, isn’t it?

PE: We would agree with that. From our perspective, we’ve been very much focusing on what we would see as an integrated unit. So, something that you can put into your car or have installed in your car which would effectively mean that you could just use your standard radio to receive digital broadcasts. Now, we’ve seen … I’ve seen first kind of trials of that technology. We hope that that’s going to be available from sort of around the end of this year – the beginning of next year – so we’re already seeing a market begin to develop and, as I say, I think we … well, there are two ways of looking at the problem. One is that we must all prepare because this switchover is going to happen. Or the one which we are focused on is: the more consumers have experience of digital, the more they like it and want it and therefore that’s a market driver, rather than sort of an administrative pull.

JW: No, and that’s a fair point because I read some surveys, Laurence Harrison, that I know you were quoted in in recent weeks. But the point that has just emerged from the last comment, surely, to put to you are that whatever we do here, it is going to cost us and we do not have any choice over that.

LH: Well, I think the stage we are at at the moment, as Paul said, is that we have not got a confirmed switchover date now, so what we are trying to do is build momentum.

JW: But it will happen one day.

LH: It will happen one day, but what’s going to drive people towards digital radio is the great content we’ve got. The same happened on TV. So if you look at the offering now on digital radio, you’ve got the soon to be launched BBC Radio 4 Extra on Saturday, 5 Live Sports Extra, 6 Music, Absolute 80s [and] 90s, Planet Rock, Jazz FM has just announced it is going onto the digital network, so the content offering has frankly never been better and what we do know about people that have digital radio is that once they’ve tried it, they love it.

[The programme was followed with a Yours & Yours blog which invited comments from listeners on their experiences with DAB radio in cars. David Blunkett MP submitted a comment to the programme about his experiences with DAB, upon which listeners made further comments.]

……………………………

‘You & Yours’
BBC Radio 4
1 April 2011 @ 1200 [FM only]

Peter White, presenter [PW]
David Blunkett MP [DB]
Lindsey Mack, senior project manager of digital radio, BBC [LM]

PW: Now, you’ve all been writing in, telling us about your frustrations with digital radios, after Monday’s report on how Ford is planning to install DAB radios as standard in some new cars from next year. Steve told us about his A370 journey between Cardiff and North Wales: perfect listening for 30 miles outside the Welsh capital, then nothing for 150 miles. By contrast, over on Anglesey, Steve tells us the only place that silences his DAB car radio is the Conwy Tunnel. Another correspondent was former Home Secretary, David Blunkett. He’s had trouble getting a DAB signal at his home in Derbyshire. So we brought him together with a senior digital manager for the BBC, Lindsey Mack, and David started by challenging the main claim of digital supporters that DAB achieves 90% coverage.

DB: My thrust was that there are not 90% of the population with access to digital [radio], and many of those who claim to have access have intermittent or interference with the access. And I’m a classic [case] because I can just about get digital radio in North Derbyshire, where I rent a cottage, if I hold the radio up to the roof, or I find one particular spot on the kitchen window sill. Get it out of kilter and either the signal goes or, as quite often I get, even in London, it breaks up.

PW: Right, let me at this point bring in Lindsey Mack. A lot of our e-mails mirrored what David had to say, and particularly this point: that the quality isn’t adequate for many people, even if they’re … it’s said they have reception, and in that so to talk of [FM radio] switch-off at this stage, you know, seems wrong.

LM: Over the last sort of two years, the BBC has been very committed to building out its DAB coverage. We actually are at 90% of the UK population, but that doesn’t mean that everyone’s going to always get a very good reception. A lot of it does depend on the device you have, as well. There are some receivers that are a little bit more sensitive than others. And, in fact, we’ve actually just been doing some tests on the last sort of bestselling sort of ten or dozen receivers in the market.

PW: But what a lot of people said to us, and I suspect David will reiterate this, is that FM, which digital is going to replace, that has a much more stable signal and that, even if you start to lose that signal, you don’t lose it altogether in the way you often lose the digital [signal] or it just goes into sort of burble.

LM: Yes, and with DAB, you usually either get it or you don’t. I mean, looking in Derbyshire, we’ve actually got very good coverage, especially North Derbyshire, so perhaps after this we could actually talk to David about the device he’s actually got, as well, just to see which one he’s actually using. Whilst the BBC has been very committed to DAB and extending the coverage, we are now actually having to make the existing coverage more robust, and that’s actually what we haven’t been doing as much before. What we’ve done before, we’ve concentrated on just rolling out DAB. Now we know we’ve got to really look at the whole way we’re measuring DAB. We’re looking at indoor coverage in particular. You know, originally, when we launched DAB, we actually based all our coverage on car listening and then, obviously, car listening didn’t take off the same way as people are actually listening indoors.

PW: Well, it couldn’t because there weren’t [DAB] radios in cars.

DB [laughs]: Absolutely.

LM [laughs]

DB: It is a problem, Peter, actually, that if you can’t get it and you can’t hear it, you can’t appreciate it. I’ve got no problem with the extra reach and the way in which [BBC] Radio 7 is now going to become Radio 4 Plus or, whatever, Extra. My problem is that there’s a big over-claim for this. Let’s take it steadily, let’s try and get it right, let’s not claim that people have got a service when they haven’t and, particularly, let’s not say – which was what the sell for DAB was – that this is going to be higher quality when, as you’ve just described, the burble, the break-up, the lack of a good sound… I have three DAB radios up north. I’ve tried them all in different places, so it’s: please don’t do to me and to the audience what always happens, which is: it is not the fault of the deliverer, it’s the piece of equipment you’ve got, and they’re pretty good pieces of equipment.

PW: But, David, it was your own government who published Digital Britain and it was your own government that set the 2015 date.

DB: Yeah, and I criticised them at the time. Everybody wants everything now. They want it faster, they want to claim it as the greatest quality. I mean, everything is always ‘the best ever.’ And, frankly, it isn’t and if we just accept that and say ‘lets take it steady and lets try and get it right,’ we’ll all be on the same page.

PW: So it isn’t the principle that you’re against. It’s the practice, really.

DB: Yes, it is. I mean, if FM is better than DAB, let us continue for the time being with FM and, in many parts of this country, it is.

PW: Lindsey Mack, 2015 is supposed to be dependent on, you know, the state of digital [radio listening] and the public’s attitude to it. There’s a report in the papers this week that, in fact, digital sales of digital radio have actually fallen, and fallen for the second year running.

LM: They did fall slightly down last year, compared to the year before but, to be very honest, over the last sort of quarter, the consumer electronic market has been hit very badly. Not just in terms of radio sales, but other consumer electronics as well. You know, the BBC is working very closely with commercial radio and doing a lot of sort of joint promotions. We have to get our messaging right on this.

PW: A lot of our listeners said ‘if it ain’t broke,’ you know, ‘don’t fix it.’ In other words, okay, people quite accept that you’ve got, that you should move on, and that digital probably is the next thing, but why get rid of FM before … in some ways, some people said ‘why get rid of it at all’? Why can’t they exist side by side?

LM: But we’re not getting rid of FM totally. What we’re saying is that the BBC services – the national services – are on FM and DAB, and also we have our digital-only stations on DAB. By 2015, we have to … hopefully, we will have reached 50% digital listening. That’s not [just] DAB. It’s digital listening across all platforms. But there’s a lot that has to be done by, you know, at 2015, and beyond that.

PW: Are you happy about that 2015 date?

LM: 2015 is just … is a date that the industry can focus on. It is not a switchover date. What we have to achieve by then, though, if we can, is obviously digital listening up, we have to have good coverage rollout which has to be robust. People have to be able to turn on their radio and it has to work.

DB: Well, just one final message, Peter, which is that Lindsey’s done a pretty good job at defending the indefensible …

LM: [scoffs]

DB: … and I commend her on it, but don’t get carried away by the anoraks. They’ll tell you anything is working, even if it isn’t.

PW: So what would be your … what’s your solution? What would you want the BBC to do, David?

DB: I’d want them to be absolutely clear and honest and to say: there are problems with this, we’re resolving them, we want people to buy the [DAB] radios because they’ll get the extra coverage of different channels, and we want to keep FM as long as it’s necessary for people to be able to listen to Radio 4 properly.

[thanks to Darryl Pomicter & Luke Shasha]

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.

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.

DAB radio numbers: why do they keep making them up?

I’m a numbers man. I can tolerate a little numerical exaggeration, a few rounding ups, or even the odd ‘nearly x million’. But when people invent numbers and stick them in their press releases, I reach for my calculator. Not for the first time, today Digital Radio UK advanced the concept of ‘mind over mathematics’ to a new level.

In its press release of 21 December 2010, Digital Radio UK estimated “that due to strong Christmas sales, over two million digital radios will be sold in 2010.” I questioned how this could be true in my blog. Turns out that it wasn’t.

In today’s update, Digital Radio UK admitted that the “increase in digital radio sales” it had heralded in December was, in fact, a decrease because “2010 was slightly down in digital radio sales volumes (-2.3%) compared to 2009.”

In plain English, 1.94 million digital radios were sold in 2010, compared to 1.99 million in 2009 and 2.08 million in 2008. Increase? No. Growth? No. Over 2 million in 2010? No. Were these sales figures in the Digital Radio UK update? No.

In another numerical nonsense, today’s Digital Radio UK update said:

“If this annual growth rate [in digital radio listening] is sustained, then the Government criterion of 50% of digital listening will be achieved in 2014.”

This is mumbo jumbo rubbish from people who like to use numbers to baffle the public and to obscure the truth. The 50% threshold is no more likely to be reached in 2014 than it is in 2013, which had been the original government target. A trendline* through six years of quarterly data (see graph above) shows that the 50% criterion will not be reached until year-end 2018.

So what happened to the original 2013 target for 50% that had been set by the government’s 2009 Digital Britain report? It now seems to have been completely forgotten. No explanation, no apology – just ignored (in June 2009, I had predicted that the 2013 target would prove “impossible”).

So how confident is Digital Radio UK that its new 2014 target is attainable? Enter stage left its CEO, standing next to a PowerPoint chart last week:

“This next chart is the most risky one I have in the pack. I hesitate showing you, particularly given the most recent conversations. But, I think, rather than just looking at a moment in time, there is a value in extrapolating. And all sorts of health warnings around this, you know, you’ve got government economists, you’ve got analysts in the stock market, you know, you can’t ever predict these things correctly. But, just taking the trends of the last three years and of the last year and running them forward – and life won’t be that simple but – just to understand from a mathematical calculation, where would that take you? Well, if we took the three-year compound growth rate, of the last three years, it would run us through to achieving 50% by the end of 2015, if we take the three-year curve. If we took the one-year curve that we’ve seen in 2010, it would take us to the end of 2014. To get to the end of 2013, which was an aspiration of Digital Britain, would require the compound growth rate to rise to 26%. So it needs to take a step change. You could put an argument forward that there are step changes coming, in content, in coverage, in cars, in communications and in consumer electronics. But I think it would be a brave man, or a brave woman, to say that, you know, you are definitely going to hit that grey line, and I wouldn’t say that. What I would say is that, on current trends over the last three or four years, we are likely to hit 50%, you know, in the next five years, I would say.”

So, February 2011 plus five years equals 2016. Well, this does not match the forecast in the ‘real world’ graph above of 50% being attained by year-end 2018. But neither does it match the 2014 date in today’s Digital Radio UK update.

Exactly where that leaves us is unclear. Is it 2014? 2016? Another year? Any old year?

DAB and realism and numbers seem to mix as well as oil and water and … er, more oil.

“Quite where the maths comes from to deliver 2014 is beyond me!” one senior radio executive said to me today. “Why do they put this out when it will surely mean another stick to beat them when it doesn’t happen?”

[ENDNOTE: * = there is no statistical evidence from historical data to demonstrate that the automated Microsoft Excel trendline is anything other than straight line.]

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 2 million 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 8 million digital radios will have been sold. Whether or not 2 million units were actually sold in 2010, we do know that just under 2 million units had been sold in 2009, and just over 2 million 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 ‘20 million 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 24.5 million digital radios would have been sold by now. Whereas, the actual figure is 12 million, less than half the forecast for 2010 that 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.

Digital Radio UK meets BBC Radio Northampton listeners in a DAB black hole

In October 2007, Ofcom had awarded the DAB local multiplex licence for Northamptonshire to NOWdigital Ltd and had required “implementation by September 2008” to put it on-air. The multiplex was to carry BBC Radio Northampton along with commercial stations. More than three years after this licence award, the DAB service has still not launched. As a result, BBC Radio Northampton is not yet available on DAB.

NOWdigital Ltd had been owned by GCap Media, the UK’s largest commercial radio group, which was acquired by Global Radio in 2008. In 2009, NOWdigital Ltd was sold to Arqiva, the transmission specialist which owns the lion’s share of DAB commercial infrastructure in the UK. In its application for the Northamptonshire licence in 2007, NOWdigital had boasted:

“GCap … has invested more into digital radio than any other UK operator. This investment has driven the industry forward and is helping build radio’s digital future … Having launched and operated multiplexes since 2001, NOWdigital is in an excellent position to successfully launch and operate the Northamptonshire multiplex.”

So what has Ofcom done to make this licensee comply with the stipulation that the Northampton DAB multiplex had to be launched by September 2008? Nothing. Does the commercial radio industry have a masterplan that includes a specific date for the launch of the Northamptonshire DAB multiplex? No. NOWdigital states disingenuously that its on-air date for Northamptonshire is “awaiting launch”.

Northamptonshire is one of 13 local DAB multiplex licences that Ofcom
awarded in 2007 and 2008 that have failed to materialise by their required launch dates. In 2007, Ofcom also awarded a national DAB multiplex licence to a consortium, led by Channel 4 television, that similarly failed to launch (all trace of which has been erased from the Ofcom web site).

Despite three years of broken promises to the people of Northamptonshire by Ofcom, NOWdigital, GCap Media, Global Radio and Arqiva that a local DAB radio multiplex will be launched for their area, they were not excused from this year’s Christmas radio industry campaign to sell more DAB receivers. DAB marketing organisation Digital Radio UK was interviewed by BBC Radio Northampton last week, though it was unable to offer even a vague date when either the local DAB multiplex for Northamptonshire will be launched, or when the signal of the existing DAB national multiplexes will be improved.

Although Digital Radio UK is funded jointly by the BBC, commercial radio and Arqiva, these heavyweight stakeholders could offer nothing more concrete to the people of Northamptonshire than platitudes and more promises about DAB … always in the future tense.


BBC Radio Northampton,
lunchtime show
15 December 2010 @ 1223 [excerpts]

Stuart Linnell, presenter [SL]
Jane Ostler, director of communications, Digital Radio UK [JO]

SL: You said, Jane, that the coverage and the reception is pretty good in most parts of the country. From my experience, and from what I hear people saying, where it’s good, it’s great. Where it’s not so good, it’s blooming awful.

JO: Yes. That is absolutely right, and we know that organisations like the BBC actually have a plan in place to make sure that coverage improves. And that’s not only building more transmitters, but it’s also increasing the power on transmitters, so that you don’t get the drop-out of signal that you will get in some areas. However, we know that when people do have a good signal, they absolutely love digital radio and everything that it brings …

[…]

SL: Rod in Daventry has got a question about the DAB signal in Northampton. It’s not specific to any one radio station, this question, I don’t think. It’s come in on a text. He just says: why is the DAB signal in Northampton so weak?

JO: Yeah, there are variances around the country in the signal. And, as I say, you know, there are plans in place, over the course of the next few years, to improve coverage for national radio stations and local radio stations as well. It’s one of these things that we are used to with other electronic devices like mobile phones and even Freeview signals. You know, there’s a course – an engineering programme – that’s taking place over time that will allow the signal to improve. So, if it is weak at the moment, it will get better.

[…]

JO: We believe that DAB will … is the broadcast backbone for the country. It’s free to air, it’s becoming increasingly available, and the signal is getting better all the time…

[…]

John in Corby [caller]: My question is that I watch this, I’ve been doing radio for sixty years, I’ve watched this very, very carefully, and the thing is that there are some very attractive radios which carry DAB which are available now. I take all the magazines, every magazine that’s related to radio and high fidelity in this country. And the point is this. What the $64,000 question is, dear Stuart, is: when shall DAB radio be available on Radio Northampton? Can the lady guesstimate that? That’s what’s important – all the things that have been broadcast about it – I won’t buy a DAB radio until I can get it in my locality, my local station, which makes commonsense to me.

SL: Okay. We get the point. Jane, do you know the answer to that?

JO: That is a very good question from John because I know that BBC Radio Northampton is not available on a local digital multiplex. Obviously, around the Northampton area, you can get – and Corby, you can get – the national stations but not the local ones. There are plans in place to build local coverage, and that includes BBC services by the time …

John [interrupts]: This is what will be needed and this is what will sell the radio … this is what will sell the radios, in my view. [When] this fine station in this fine county has its own DAB service.

JO: Yeah, we completely support that and we understand that. What’s happening is: there is a plan in place to develop local coverage in time for the digital radio switchover, and these plans are being worked on right now. So I can’t give you an exact date, but it will be over the next few years that local radio will be more available on digital.

SL: Because we must make it clear that John’s question is a valid one, but it’s not just BBC Radio Northampton that’s not on DAB. There are other stations as well who have not yet migrated to that platform.

JO: That’s right. The local stations in your area aren’t available. They are in some, but not in your particular area. But you can, subject to doing a postcode check, you can still get all the national services that are available …

[…]

Peter [caller]: What exactly is going to happen to existing car radios and also hi-fi stereos at home and also alarm clock radios? Is there going to be an adapter?

JO: If I deal with the car question first. That is also a very good question. There are lots of cars, there are lots of lorries and vehicles on the road, and only a small percentage of them today can actually receive digital radio. But you will start to see – and it’s starting already, and over the next few years – an increasing number of adapters coming onto the market, which you can either fit yourself or which you can get fitted by stores such as Halfords, for example. And then that’s with existing vehicles. With new cars, the motor manufacturers who import and make vehicles in the UK have committed that all new cars will have digital radio as standard by the end of the year 2013. So more and more adapters will come onto the market that are available …

SL [interrupts]: Can I just push you on that a little bit, Jane, because I heard – this is going back probably about 18 months now – that one of the largest motor manufacturers in the world, manufacturing two major brands – luxury brands – in this country, had actually withdrawn their DAB digital radios from their cars, as an optional extra even, because they said it just wasn’t working – the technology wasn’t good enough. Have all the manufacturers now signed up?

JO: They have, into the UK, of getting DAB as standard in cars – in new cars – by the end of 2013. And part of this target date that we talked about earlier on has got the motor manufacturers moving, and it’s also got other manufacturers coming up with new devices which you can fit into your existing car alongside your FM radio.

SL: And that really answers Peter’s point that, whether he has got his clock radio, his hi-fi in his lounge or the car radio, there are going to be adapters that will covert them to take DAB as well.

JO: Not, not the alarm clock. No, the alarm clock example is one where … I think, if you did want an alarm clock that had DAB radio built in, you’d have to get a new alarm clock.

SL: Buy a specific one, okay?

JO: Exactly, exactly. They are increasingly available in stores and they are becoming more affordable all the time.

SL: But for the hi-fi and for the car radio, there should be an adaptor at some stage.

JO: The hi-fi is an interesting question actually because obviously you can get digital radio tuners for hi-fi’s now which can plug in as a separate device. Quite often, a radio might be built into something like a large amplifier where the primary use is actually the amplifier rather than the radio. Ultimately, it would be down to the listener. But these devices are becoming available all the time and, if you go into any electrical store, you’ll start to see more digital radio devices.

SL: Okay, does that answer your question, Peter?

Peter: Yes, it does. I just hope that … I think it’s going to be a big sledgehammer to get a DAB adapter to fit in an existing car. There’s not a lot of room underneath dashboards.

JO: That’s absolutely fair. You can get some now which actually fit onto your windscreen and plug in around the dashboard. But soon, towards the end pf next year, when we anticipate that digital radios in cars will double during the course of next year, you will start to see these devices more hidden away in the glove compartment and that sort of thing.

[…]

SL: It’s Mike in Northants who says: digital reception on Radio Five Live for me, he says, was dreadful, so I just switched back to AM and FM and rejected DAB. No more problems.

JO: Right, well that’s … I don’t know precisely where he lives but, obviously, doing a postcode check would tell him whether he should be able to receive a good signal or not. And there are currently … until the transmitter improvements happen, there are other ways of listening to Radio Five Live, for example on the internet, and on digital television platforms as well, in fact. But, as I say, these coverage improvements are happening all the time. He should check his postcode at our web site.

[…]

Graham from Whitehills [caller]: I’m a communications buff so, as soon as DAB came out, I went and bought myself a mains portable one before I found out I couldn’t get Radio Northampton on it. The big, big problem is that it roars through batteries. It uses batteries at twice the rate of anything else I’ve ever owned.

SL: And I had a letter about this from somebody a while ago, Jane, asking why … is digital radio really environmentally friendly, because it uses up so much power?

JO: Yeah, you will find this is absolutely true for older radio sets that, you know, have been bought a few years ago, that they were quite power hungry and used a lot of batteries all the time and many people chose to operate them from the mains. But there’s been a report out in the last few months that government’s done about the battery consumption and the energy consumption of digital radios. And you’ll find that all the main manufacturers now are making really amazing claims about the battery life of the radios, that they will last for, you know, in some cases, hundreds of hours and use less power than an energy efficient lightbulb and that sort of thing. So, as technology progresses, the energy consumption gets better as well. So I’m afraid that some of those older radios do use quite a lot of energy and the new ones don’t.

SL: You need a new one for Christmas, Graham.

Graham: Yeah, eighty quid down the drain, that was. Thank you.

JO [laughs]: You can get them … you can get them from around £25 now, so you needn’t spend that much.

Graham: Yeah, but I paid eighty. Bye.

[…]

SL: Somebody’s asking: why is it that, when you’re listening to DAB, sometimes it can suddenly cut out altogether or just go to an absolutely garbled signal that sounds like it is underwater?

JO: Yeah, that’s … that’s something that happens when you’re on the edges – or on the fringes – of a reception area and, like other digital media, it can also happen during periods of high weather pressure. So you will find that, if you’re on the edges of a reception area, the signal does cut out rather than degrade gently, which is what it does with FM. So, again, as the coverage improves and the signal strength improves, that should stop happening.