The House of Commons Culture, Media & Sport Committee
20 October 2009 @ 1100 in the Thatcher Room, Portcullis House
John Whittingdale MP, Chairman [JW]
Ben Bradshaw MP, Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media & Sport [BB]
JW: You have announced very ambitious plans to deliver the Digital Radio Upgrade programme by 2015 and have most of the national stations to move off analogue to digital by then. That will require extensive investment in the digital transmission network. What estimate do you have of what it is going to cost to do that?
BB: The current estimate that we are working on is about, I think I’m right in saying, is it £10m per year to build out the DAB multiplexes? Is that the figure that you were interested in?
JW: Actually, the one I’ve heard is rather more than that. Where is that money going to come from?
BB: It will come from a mixture of sources. We expect the BBC to play a significant role in this, commercial radio, and there may be public funds as well.
JW: I think the current state of commercial radio means that their ability to invest any more is almost zero. Do you foresee, therefore, further government investment, maybe from the Licence Fee?
BB: We are not currently intending to spend …. [laughs] That’s one of the things we are not intending to spend a share of the Licence Fee on, but if there is an even bigger underspend in the Digital Switchover Programme than we are currently expecting, who knows, Mr Chairman?
JW: The Digital Switchover Programme appears to be earmarked for quite a large number of purposes.
BB: [laughs] Well, there is quite a significant underspend.
JW: But you are confident that it can be delivered. And what are you going to say to all the people that haven’t bought a new car in the last two years by 2015?
BB: We are working with the motor manufacturers, both to ensure that future new cars do [have DAB radio], but also to ensure that there is this – I can’t remember what it is called – but it is some sort of gadget that you will be able to use in your existing car to make sure that you can pick up digital radio. One of the things we say quite clearly is that we won’t go ahead with this unless, by 2013, certain conditions are reached ie: we have more than 50% digital radio ownership and that [DAB] reception on all of our main roads is not going to be a problem. So we have put conditions down but, at the same time, we felt that it was important to provide market certainty that we specified an end-date by which time this should happen.
[A further meeting of the Culture, Media & Sport Committee will be held in the same room on Tue 27 October from 1030 to discuss “The future for local and regional media”. Andrew Harrison of RadioCentre, Travis Baxter of Bauer Radio and Steve Fountain of KM Radio will give evidence.]