DENMARK: government contemplates DAB radio’s future

Politicians in Denmark are presently considering what to do about digital terrestrial radio. The next funding period for state radio runs from the beginning of 2011 to the end of 2014 and will have to take into consideration a political decision taken in June 2009 to forge ahead with the migration from analogue radio to the DAB platform. Presently, only state radio stations are available on DAB.

The governing Liberal Party says it “wants to create real competition in the radio market” because state broadcaster Danmarks Radio has “a de facto monopoly over radio in Denmark and so the diversity and choice in radio remains limited.” The party decided in 2009 that it would support FM switch-off as a means to create a “new start” for radio in Denmark. To ensure that DAB will prove an attractive investment proposition for commercial radio, FM would be switched off between 2016 and 2018. The Liberal policy document states:

“An expansion of DAB radio allows for a potentially very large number of different radio channels. This expansion is in full swing in all major European countries, several of which already offer between 60 and 100 digital radio channels, while Denmark currently only offers 20 channels in total. The technological opportunities need to be exploited for the benefit of listeners. And development of DAB also provides the opportunity to create a balanced radio market, where there are real opportunities for development of commercial radio, which has proven not to be possible on the FM band. We should therefore concentrate on the offensive deployment of DAB. England has the full support of all radio operators in the country who decided to work for the switch to DAB in 2015. Recently, France decided that DAB radios must be in all French cars from 2014 and, in March 2009, the German Broadcasting Commission decided to roll out DAB+ in Germany. Although progress has been slow, and in some places has become completely stagnant, there is no longer the same uncertainty that DAB (Eureka147 standard) is the future of radio.”

The Liberal Party document goes on to cite the ‘success’ of DAB in the UK and mistakenly believes that UK government policy is to switch off FM (a fallacy shared by many):

“Today, around 8% of total radio listening [in Denmark] is on DAB. In England, that figure is 12.7% and soaring. To ensure that DAB is an attractive platform for both listeners and investors, it is important that DAB radios are made attractive by adding more unique content. This is the same set of conditions which must be present in other countries that anticipate the same trends. For example, Norway has estimated that at least half of the population must have a DAB radio before [analogue] switch-off can be announced. England will switch to DAB in 2015. Moreover, it is recommended that all cars sold in England from 2013 must be equipped with DAB radios. This decision is backed by both the public service and commercial radio stations. The assumption is that DAB listening will reach 50% in 2015 and coverage will reach 90% of the country and all main roads. Lord Carter’s report ‘Digital Britain’ in January 2009 also defined a set of criteria that must be met in order to close [analogue radio] permanently.”

Ellen Trane Nørby, media spokesperson for the Liberals, said: “Danmarks Radio is proposing that we switch off analogue radio in 2015, but they offer no viable way to get Danes to listen more to DAB.” Nørby believes that the biggest driver for DAB take-up will be when state radio channels are progressively removed from FM: “The people who listen to DAB are heavy listeners to the channels they cannot find anywhere else. If the offerings on DAB are not unique, why would you buy a DAB radio?”

Nørby said that the transition to DAB needs to adopt a realistic timescale: “Today, we are in a situation where most listening takes place on FM and each of us has about five FM radio receivers, compared to only 1.5 million DAB radios [sold in total]. Therefore, it is important that we have a real debate over the future of digital radio, and how we progress safely from FM to DAB. The honest discussion we propose is in contrast to others who say simply that we must switch off [analogue radio] but do not explain how.”

Although the Liberal policy document is resolute about digital radio switchover, Nørby appears more circumspect in interviews. In December 2009, she said: “It is not enough simply to say that FM will be switched off in 2015 without considering a discussion on content. …. Driving the take-up of digital television was the Danish desire to have a flat-screen TV. I have seen no Christmas boom – and we have not seen this for many years – in the sales of DAB radios. That’s why we Liberals have been so critical of the migration plan, because DAB has not won as much grassroots support as you could ask for.”

The government proposals drew a critical response from Michael Christiansen, chairman of Danmarks Radio. He said: “The Liberal Party proposal is a barely disguised attempt to destroy Danmarks Radio’s stations. … The proposal totally disregards modern Danish music by moving the P3 channel over to DAB at a time when it its coverage is not enough. … Replacing P3 [on FM] with a more or less indifferent foreign [commercial] radio channel, I cannot take seriously. We want to help the drive towards DAB, just as we have driven the migration to digital TV. But no one thought of closing down DR1 or DR2 [TV stations] on analogue until digital TV signals were available [to all]. The notion is so far out that I find it hard to relate to.”