AM/FM switch-off of national radio stations? An empty threat whose expiry date has long passed

Some of Digital Britain’s radio recommendations were unworkable. However, the notion has remained that FM and AM analogue transmitters of the UK’s national radio stations will be switched off once digital radio listening passes the 50% threshold. This was never practical. It was a ‘threat’ propagated by government to the public in the hope of forcing them into buying more DAB radios, instilling fear that they would otherwise lose their favourite stations. The threat failed.

The problem with any threat is that, once it has failed, it remains difficult for the protagonist to climb down. So the threat continues to be propagated. For what reason now? So as not to make those who issued the threat look completely foolish. The need to save face has locked the government apparatus into a fiction that BBC and commercial radio will willingly throw away half their audiences by closing their FM/AM transmitters. This was never true.

THE BBC

‘Universal’ reception of the BBC’s core public services is mandatory. It would prove impossible to levy the BBC Licence Fee on every UK household if (almost) the entire population could not receive the BBC services for which they pay.

The BBC Charter & Agreement requires:

“12. Making the UK Public Services widely available
(1) The BBC must do all that is reasonably practicable to ensure that viewers, listeners and other users (as the case may be) are able to access the UK Public Services that are intended for them, or elements of their content, in a range of convenient and cost effective ways which are available or might become available in the future.”

Would the BBC switch off analogue transmissions of its national networks once more than 50% of listening was attributed to digital platforms? Of course not. You would be a complete fool to slash your radio audience by half, particularly as such an action would contradict the BBC Charter & Agreement.

Could the government insist that the BBC switched off the analogue transmissions of its national networks? Only if it wanted a revolution on its hands. It would be difficult to think of a policy more likely to lose it the next General Election.

COMMERCIAL RADIO

The revenues of commercial radio are directly related to the sector’s volume of listening. If commercial radio switched off its analogue transmitters once digital listening had passed the 50% threshold, at a stroke it would risk losing 50% of its volume of listening and, subsequently, 50% of its revenues. Would it do that? No, of course not.

RadioCentre’s self-interested ‘policy’ has been to argue that the BBC national networks should turn off their analogue transmitters first, years in advance of commercial radio stations. Radio Chicken, anyone? Naturally, RadioCentre failed to mention that the outcome of this proposal would be likely to significantly increase its member commercial radio stations’ analogue audiences and revenues. There is nothing quite like trying to persuade your competitor to commit joint suicide … first.

Additionally, the value of commercial radio companies is vested in the scarcity of their analogue FM/AM licences. Because no new analogue licences are awarded by the regulator, each existing licence has a significant intrinsic value, even if the business using it is not profitable. The same is not true of DAB licences. Anybody can apply to Ofcom for a DAB licence by filling in a form and paying a relatively small fee.

An example of the value of analogue licences to commercial radio owners is Absolute Radio. In 2008, Times of India paid £53.2m for Virgin Radio, comprising one national AM licence and one London FM licence. Having re-launched the station as Absolute Radio, the company lost £4.3m in 2009, but its balance sheet still retains considerable value because of the scarcity of its two analogue radio licences. If Absolute Radio were put up for sale, someone would be interested in buying it because of that scarcity.

By contrast, when DAB commercial radio services such as Zee Radio, Islam Radio, Muslim Radio, Flaunt and Eurolatina no longer wanted their digital radio licences in 2010, there was no queue of potential buyers. They simply handed their licences back to Ofcom because those licences were not scarce.

This is why it would prove financially suicidal for commercial radio to switch off its FM/AM transmitters. It would have to write down the value of those scarce analogue licences to zero in its balance sheets which, at a stroke, would negate almost the entire value of the licence owners. Not a good company strategy.

So, when headlines such as ‘Absolute Radio mulls AM switch-off’ appear in the trade press, they should be read with a bucket of salt. The headline might as well say: ’Absolute Radio mulls destruction of shareholder value.’

And, when yet another DAB proponent appears on radio or television to persuade you, in all seriousness, that the UK’s most listened to national radio services – both BBC and commercial – will imminently be switching off their AM/FM transmitters, please feel justified to laugh in their face.

This is about as likely to happen as Tesco putting security guards at their store entrances to tell the public to shop elsewhere because they want fewer customers.

FOOTNOTE:

It emerged last week that, after the Norwegian state classical music station ‘Alltid Klassisk’ abandoned FM transmission on 1 July 2009 for DAB transmission, its audience contracted from 25,000 to 10,000 per day.

Now, consider that only 20% of listening to BBC Radio 2 is via digital platforms (in Q1 2010), lower than the 24% average for all stations [see Sep 2010 blog]. If that average ever managed to reach the 50% threshold, it might leave 60% of Radio 2’s audience still listening via analogue. That’s 8m listeners that Radio 2 would have to turn its back on as a result of FM switch-off. Time for the BBC to start erecting barricades outside Broadcasting House.

[thanks to Eivind Engberg]

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The milestones anticipated by the government are:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Minister responded:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[thanks to Bjarne Boen, Darryl Pomicter + others]

NORWAY: digital radio switchover “postponed indefinitely”

In November 2010, a daily newspaper in Denmark reported that the government’s plan for digital radio switchover had been postponed indefinitely [see earlier blog]. Now, the same is reported to have happened in Norway.

“The transition from analogue to digital radio began more than ten years ago. At the end of 2010, we still have no idea what is going on,” said the headline in Norwegian daily newspaper Aftenposten.

In 2009, then culture minister Trond Giske had promised that the Norwegian government would publish a white paper in 2010 on digital radio switchover [see earlier blog]. It has failed to appear. “Recently, it has become clear that the strategy had to be postponed indefinitely,” said Aftenposten.

Ib Thomsen, cultural affairs spokesman for the Progress party, said: “This is undoubtedly a hot political potato and DAB is, in many ways, a risky sport.” He believes that it is wrong to compare the migration of digital radio with digital television switchover, as many do, because the number of radios in use is much greater. “Nevertheless, we should not set a [switchover] date in order to go out and force people to buy new radios,” Thomsen said.

Olemic Thommsessen, cultural policy spokesman for the Conservative party, said: “I am more concerned with getting the policy on the table so that we can advance work on planning a digital radio future.” He noted that it had been a long time since the government’s last review of digital radio strategy, and that subsequent development of DAB and DAB receiver sales had not lived up to expectations.

Trine Schei Grande, leader of the Liberal party, said: “The time is over when politicians can decide how people will listen to the radio.” She believes that the only way to get listeners to invest in digital radio is to make digital content and stations sufficiently attractive. Until then, she said, FM transmissions must be continued.

Øyvind Vasaasen, distribution manager of state broadcaster NRK, said it would not be a very costly issue for NRK to broadcast DAB+ transmissions, should it be required by the government. He emphasised that NRK had a continuing obligation to serve those who had already bought DAB radios that do not support the newer DAB+ standard. “These can be addressed by broadcasting in both DAB and DAB+ for a period,” he said.

The possibility of the government switching from the DAB to the DAB+ standard was taken up by a commentary in Aftenposten, whose headline asked: “Your new, expensive DAB radio may be useless in a few years. What is really happening?” It explained:

“The problem is that there are already more than 300,000 DAB radios in the country. NRK distribution manager Øyvind Vasaasen had said that NRK has a contract with listeners who have already bought a DAB radio, and which makes it difficult to switch [to DAB+]. What about all those who listen on one of the country’s 15+ million FM radios? Does NRK not have a contract with them? And what of DAB users who feel they had signed the contract without full disclosure?”

The commentary continued: ”When [state broadcaster] NRK had argued for a transition from FM to DAB, it had said that the DAB system would give us CD-quality audio from the radio. It has not. DAB technology does allow very high sound quality, but most stations use lower sound quality than FM, according to University of Oslo professor Sverre Holm. Many people find the [DAB] sound clearer and less harsh, but many also complain of less detail and poorer stereo image. Moreover, no local radio station can afford the investment of over half a million kroner to broadcast on DAB, so that the diversity we were promised has not become a reality.”

Even DAB lobbyists are acknowledging the slow take-up achieved to date. Jørn Jensen, president of World DMB, the international marketing organisation for DAB, told Germany’s Digitalmagazin recently:

“Digital radio is still in its infancy. If we compare the situation to the computer market, we are still in the time of MS-DOS!”

NORWAY: “Yes to radio!” But no to DAB?

In July 2010, a marketing campaign was launched in Norway with the tagline “Yes to radio!” It used 18 celebrities to promote awareness of DAB radio through advertisements in radio, TV, newspapers and social media. The campaign was funded by Digitalradio Norge AS, the lobby group (owned by broadcasters NRK, P4 and SBS) working for a transition from FM to DAB radio in Norway.
Dagsavisen newspaper
commented: “For many years, the major radio companies have attempted to get Norwegians to replace FM radios with digital ones. It has been slow work so far. During the last decade, about 8 million radio sets were sold. Of these, between 300,000 and 400,000 were digital radios, according to figures from the Electronics Industry.”

Rainer Frost of Radio Nero
commented: “’Yes to radio!’ is totally misleading. It gives the impression that the entire radio industry is behind the campaign. In reality, it is only the major players who broadcast on DAB and who are engaged in fierce lobbying. They want to impact public opinion in connection with the white paper on the future of radio published by the Ministry of Culture this autumn. This campaign is the latest initiative from the embattled NRK, P4 and SBS in an attempt to gain support for the Norwegian DAB project, which has been running for 29 years.”

Andreas Reitan, chairman of the Norwegian Association of Local Radio (Norsk Lokalradioforbund),
said: “The Association has not taken a formal position but, as chairman, I am sceptical of the campaign. I am somewhat surprised. I understand the criticisms. The key question for us is the cost issue. The majority of our members are small stations. They have said ‘no’ to digital because of their finances. None of the small stations have the funds to finance a digital radio launch.”

Per Morten Hoff, general secretary of of IKT-Norge,
said: “It’s a vague attempt at lobbying from NRK, P4 and SBS in anticipation of the white paper, it wants people to say ‘yes’ to radio, without saying what it is all about. It is trying to lead the audience towards the light.”

Kristian Aartun, chairman of Radio 3,
said: “We believe the campaign is misleading as it is not clear what the ‘yes to radio!’ really means. In our opinion, this is deliberate deception to further their own interests, not the radio industry’s or society’s interest.”

Rainer Frost
again: “Digital radio’s future as a whole is in the balance. The biggest problem is the costs associated with the DAB radio network. A new DAB network for local radio would have to be financed by us. That is something we cannot afford. The DAB network will not be built. A decision on digital switchover has not been taken. The money is not there. People increasingly prefer FM radio over DAB at home. But this campaign argues, however, that everything will be fine with DAB. The reality is much more complicated than that.”

Ole Jørgen Torvmark, head of Digitalradio Norge,
responded to criticisms of its campaign: “[We] believe it is important for all parties concerned to put in place a clear plan for the transition to digital radio, particularly for listeners who buy new radio receivers. Such a plan, which we believe will be 6 to 7 years, must lead to the shutdown of analogue radio broadcasts, perhaps with exceptions for smaller stations in the least populated areas, such as in the UK.”

Online news source Nettavisen commented: “IKT-Norge has been one of the strongest critics of the DAB initiative in Norway. They believe that Norway is now struggling to implement DAB, because NRK [the state broadcaster] has invested too much money in an outdated technology that more and more European countries are walking away from.”

Per Morten Hoff, general secretary of IKT-Norge,
added: “NRK refuses to state how much money they have spent on DAB but, based on figures from Sweden, I have assumed that they have spent around 400 million [krone] on that system in Norway.”

Writing in daily newspaper Dagbladet, one commentator
said:

“Does this summer’s ‘Yes to radio!’ campaign, organised by lobbying group Digitalradio Norge, really want us to believe that anything other than a wholehearted embrace of digital radio is a kind of betrayal of radio? And that a ‘no’ to the introduction of DAB technology and the closure of FM networks is also a ‘no’ to all the voices, moments, images and insight that radio gives us?

Dear Digitalradio Norge and the owners of NRK, P4, Radio 1, The Voice and Radio Norge. Do not insult us. We love radio. We say ‘yes’ to radio. It is DAB that we are lukewarm to.

Yes, we know that digital radio also includes internet radio and radio delivered by digital TV, but the political battle is about the closure of FM radio and DAB. Fifteen years after trial broadcasts began, more than ten times as many FM radios are still sold as DAB radios. There are probably between 20m and 25m FM radio receivers in Norwegian homes, compared to a few hundred thousand DAB receivers.”

[with thanks to Eivind Engberg]

NORWAY: every fifth radio sold is an internet radio, every eleventh is DAB

In Norway, sales of internet radio receivers are booming. During the final quarter of 2009, 22% of radios sold were internet radios, up from only 1% a year earlier, according to Norwegian website Sandnesavisen. By comparison, only 66,000 DAB radios were sold in 2009, 9% of the total 729,000 radios sold during the period, according to data from the Electronics Industry Foundation. Additionally, 200,000 mobile phones were sold in Norway during 2009, none with DAB capability but many with integrated FM radios.

Erik Andersen, information officer for the Electronics Industry Foundation, said: “We estimate that there are somewhere between 12 and 15 million FM radios that are in regular use around the country while, in comparison, only approximately 290,000 DAB radios have been sold in recent years.”

Andersen is not surprised by the rather low DAB radio sales, and finds it problematic that a date for FM band switch-off has not been announced which could be referred to. “We have no desire to mislead customers so, as long as politicians do not give us a switch-off plan, we advise enquiring customers to buy an FM radio,” said Andersen.

Jarle Ruud, acting general manager of Digitalradio Norge, the organisation charged with ensuring a speedy and smooth transition from analogue to digital radio in Norway, said: “This is a classic ‘chicken and egg’ situation, both in terms of sales volumes versus a switch-off date, and the channel selection on DAB.” Just as consumers are hesitating to buy a DAB radio before the government announces a switch-off date, Ruud thinks there are many radio stations that refuse to invest in digital transmission equipment because of the potentially lengthy and costly period of dual distribution.

The sales trend came as no surprise to Øyvind Vasaasen, media manager at NRK (state broadcasting) and chairman of Digitalradio Norge, who said: “This is what we predicted. We have remarked to the authorities that sales appears to have stabilised at around 60,000 DAB radios sold per year, and this is also the result for 2009. It shows that the sales trend is far too slow.”

Geir Friberg is managing director of Norway’s largest local radio group, Jærradiogruppen, which owns more than 20 of the approximately 150 local stations in Norway. He said: “There is really no great difference between FM and DAB. There are too few radio stations that broadcast on DAB today, and listeners cannot hear the difference between FM and DAB.” Friberg believes that adding more FM stations may even be a better policy than DAB.

Per Morten Hoff, general secretary of IKT Norge (Norway’s IT industry interest group), queried the accuracy of the published sales figures: “More and more consumers have eyes for internet radios, and the Norwegian company TT-Micro has alone sold 20,000 web radios. Since these radios can also receive FM, DAB and 13,000 internet stations, they are strangely classified as ‘DAB radios’ in the statistics. This is apparently to show that DAB is not a total failure. The true DAB sales are probably no higher than 40,000 units, and that figure is getting smaller. There is also the riddle that sales of mini-TV’s are included in the sales statistics of DAB radios.”

Jørn Jensen, president of World DMB Forum, responded: “Hoff does not know what he’s talking about. Radio broadcasting on DAB and DAB+, as well as mini-TV’s in DMB, all use DAB technology.”

At the beginning of February 2010, the Norwegian media regulator, Medietilsynet, submitted a 145-page document to the government on the digitisation of radio broadcasting. This is in preparation for a White Paper on digital radio that will be published by the government during 2010. The report was commissioned to map the Norwegian local radio industry’s opinions on the migration to digital radio and how it could be achieved. It collated responses from 55 parties and it concluded:

“The results of the survey reveal that virtually all local radio licensees believe that the digitisation of local radio will have economic consequences for them as businesses. The players fear that a transition will be so costly that only a few of the current licensees will survive digitisation. The consequence may be that ownership diversity disappears and that the market is left with big group operators. Besides mentioning competence-building, information and predictability, the majority of licensees believe that the most important measure the government can contribute to the digitising process is financial support in one form or another.

Local radio licensees who participated in the survey are roughly evenly split down the middle on their view of whether local radio should be digitised or not. Those who are negative to digitisation weigh the economic aspect heavily. When asked what distribution platform they see for themselves as the primary platform for local radio in the future, 52 percent responded analogue broadcasting via the FM band, 33 percent broadcasting via a digital platform such as DAB, DRM, etc and 9 percent broadcasting via the internet……”

“Amongst local radio licensees, 78 percent are negative about a switch-off date for analogue local radio broadcasting. 18 percent are positive about a switch-off date.”

Vigleik Brekke, chairman of the Norwegian Association of Local Radio (NLR) said that there was no economic reason for many of his 150 member stations to migrate to digital transmission. “Closing FM radio will create problems for stations,” he said. “They will not be able to survive.”

Professor Lars Nyre of the University of Bergen’s Institute of Media Studies said he was sceptical about DAB, especially as FM radio seemed to be perfect for listeners.

Asked whether the government’s White Paper will include a switchover date, Norwegian Culture Minister Roger Solheim said: “This is an important issue, and we aim to present the facts in 2010. One of the key questions we want to work with in the White Paper is whether we should fix a switch-off date.” Asked if his predecessor Trond Giske’s policy still held sway that half of Norway’s households should own a digital radio before a switch-off date is announced, Solheim said: “It is certain that digital radio will come, we see that too, in the developments. The question of the timing, and the state’s role in it, we must come back to in the White Paper.”

According to industry data, one in three households in Norway buy a new radio each year. Each household owns between 6 and 7 radios.

NORWAY: Government commissions cost analysis of FM switch-off

In April 2009, NRK [state radio] chief Hans-Rore Bjerkaas had written to the Culture Minister asking if the government could persuade consumers to purchase DAB radios rather than analogue radios. He wrote: “In order to reduce consumer disappointment in the final stages of digital migration, a clear political signal must be given that, when choosing a radio, an FM/DAB radio should be selected rather than a pure FM radio.”

Culture Minister Trond Giske responded: “My responsibility lies with radio listeners. There are two reasons why I think we should progress more slowly than with the introduction of digital TV. It will be more costly for consumers to switch to DAB because most people have multiple radio receivers. In addition, there is no significant improvement in audio quality. When half the population has purchased a digital radio, we would be willing to discuss a specific date for switching off the FM network.” At present, 17% of the population in Norway has a DAB radio.

This month, the Culture Minister reiterated that the government will not consider switching off FM until half the population has purchased a DAB radio. Both NRK and P4 [commercial network owned by MTG] have told the minister that their existing FM networks are expensive to maintain and that they want to move to DAB as quickly as possible. NRK spends NRK120m per annum on FM radio transmission. Transmission provider Norkring [owned by Telenor] says it will need to make a major upgrade to the FM network in 2014 to keep it in service. So the government has tendered for an “independent and expert” assessment of the costs associated with switching off FM broadcasts in either 2014 or 2020. The analysis will be part of the White Paper on digital radio to be published by the government next year.