AUSTRIA: media regulator puts DAB radio on hold

On 3 November 2009, the Austrian media regulator RTR presented the results of a study that had been commissioned in December 2008 on the potential for digital radio in Austria. Dr Alfred Grinschgl, managing director of RTR, commented: “The reason we in Austria are not presently digitising radio is that, in neighbouring Germany, there is no unanimous agreement on adopting DAB or DAB+ and therefore no successful large-scale launch.”

ORF, Austrian state radio, technical director Peter Moosmann commented that the time was not yet “ripe” for the introduction of digital radio and he rejected the notion of planned FM switch-off. “In every Austrian household, there are four or five radio sets that would need to be replaced with one blow,” he said. “We do not want to force the listener to switch, but want to entice them to digital radio with the appeal of new radio formats”.

The chairman of the association of Austrian private broadcasters, Christian Stogmuller, said that the successful launch of digital radio in Austria could only happen under a single European-wide technical standard, the existence of sufficient digital radio devices in the market and a significant financial commitment from public funds to launch digital radio.

The Austrian Association of Free Radios, VFRO, said it was sceptical because DAB/DAB+ is designed for large-scale radio services, whereas it suggested alternative technologies such as the DRM+ system be used for expanding local radio.

Michael Wagenhofer, managing director of transmission company ORS (60% owned by ORF), said: “The introduction of a digital radio transmission standard will require simulcasting [broadcasting content on both analogue and digital] for about 15 years because the car industry alone has a six-year implementation cycle”. He estimated the cost of building DAB multiplex infrastructure in Austria would be around 8m Euros.

Dr Grinschgl of RTR said that the anticipated carriage cost of DAB transmission for a local station would be around 100,000 Euros per annum, and that nationwide coverage on DAB would cost 800,000 Euros per annum. He warned that, if individual stations had to bear the costs of broadcasting on both FM and DAB, then DAB would develop only “very slowly”.

Back in June 2008, an ORF article on digital radio had noted: “The reason for the lack of consumer interest in digital radio is that RTR [the regulator] licenses a good range of conventional analogue radio services. The consumer is more than satisfied with the existing diversity of content and the quality of reception”.

Meanwhile, at the Media Days event in Munich this week, Jurgen Doetz, president of VPRT, the German association of private broadcasters, was reported to have proclaimed: “Digital radio is dead, dead, dead”.