The UK association of car makers, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders [SMMT], has cautiously welcomed the Digital Britain report but has expressed “reservations about the ambitious timetable” to ensure that DAB radios are available in all new cars by 2013. It has also expressed concern about the 32 million vehicles already on the road, of which it says “only a small percentage” already have DAB radios fitted, noting that the timetable to fit them with “aftermarket devices” is “extremely challenging”.
SMMT has emphasised that the government’s ambition to accelerate the take-up of DAB radio will be “contingent on all national and commercial broadcasters investing in content”. Its Chief Executive Paul Everitt said: “The long-term challenge will be for the broadcasters to invest in content and coverage to create demand for these [DAB radio] products to be provided as standard”. The commercial radio industry has yet to make explicit statements, in the wake of the Digital Britain report, as to how it plans to enhance its exclusive digital radio content to accelerate consumer interest in the platform, or how it plans to finance the build-out of necessary DAB infrastructure upgrades to improve UK coverage.
The Digital Britain report had set out a five-point plan to encourage take-up of DAB radio receivers in cars:
· to work with car manufacturers so that vehicles sold with a DAB radio are available by the end of 2013
· to support a common logo for DAB car radios
· to encourage the development of portable analogue-to-digital radio converters
· to promote the introduction of more sophisticated traffic information within DAB broadcasts
· to work with European partners to develop a common European approach to DAB radio in cars
The last of these points has already received a setback, following the decision last week of commercial radio in Germany and Switzerland not to commit investment to the development of DAB as a replacement platform for their existing FM/AM services. An announcement from Austria is anticipated soon.
Asked about the DAB situation with cars, Tony Moretta, Chief Executive of the Digital Radio Development Bureau [DRDB], the agency charged with marketing DAB in the UK, had said on BBC Radio 4’s ‘You & Yours’ show last week:
“One of the things that has held back the car industry slightly with DAB in the UK is that the UK has been ahead of the rest of the world in going to digital radio. Now if you’re a mainstream car manufacturer, you want to be able to manufacture a car with a radio that will work all around Europe. It’s only been relatively recently that you’ve seen France and Germany and other countries commit fully to digital radio. And so the car manufacturers now have a common standard they can build a radio into their car and it can work across the whole of Europe. So you’re starting to see a big change now. Most car manufacturers now offer DAB as standard in a car or as a factory-fitted option starting for as little as £55. So that’s for new cars, and we saw the other day Ford and Vauxhall announce their support for Digital Britain’s recommendations. What we are going to have to do is look at adapting those cars that haven’t been changed by that point.”
The DRDB has cited the more enthusiastic Ford and Vauxhall responses to Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report, but has not yet mentioned the considerably more “cautious” SMMT response. It should be noted that Ford has been a long time minority shareholder in the MXR regional DAB multiplexes, and thus would benefit financially from improved uptake of the DAB platform in the UK, whether in-car or otherwise.
In-car DAB radios are still a rarity in the UK:
· Out of 2.4m new vehicles registered in the UK in 2007, only 20,000 buyers chose to install a DAB radio
· Out of 34m cars on the road in the UK in 2007, it is estimated that between 170,000 to 200,000 had DAB radios fitted.