Does the nation love its digital radio stations? 86% of UK adults say ‘no’

In his perceptive commentary on last quarter’s RAJAR radio audience figures, IPSOS’ research manager Andy Haylett noted:

“18.5 million adults are DAB owners, yet only an estimated 12.6 million are confirmed listeners. What are the other 6 million doing with their DAB sets? Further investigation shows that there are only 7.4 million listeners to digital-only stations, of which under half (3.3m) comes from DAB listening. This suggests that around three quarters of all DAB listeners are tuning to stations readily available on a traditional analogue transistor.”

This reiterates a point I have made previously in this blog [Feb 2009, Aug 2009, Feb 2010]. After more than a decade, it is a sad fact of life that digital radio stations on broadcast platforms have not succeeded in setting listeners’ hearts on fire:
* Only 4.6% of all radio listening is to digital radio stations
* 18.2% of all radio listening via digital platforms is to digital radio stations
* 7.4m adults per week listen to digital radio stations (14.3% of adults)
* 3.3m adults per week listen to digital radio stations via DAB (6.4% of adults).

Of course, the corollary is that digital platforms are being used predominantly for listening to radio stations that are already available to consumers on the analogue platform:
* 95.4% of all radio listening is to analogue radio stations
* 81.8% of all radio listening via digital platforms is to analogue radio stations
* 44.2m adults per week do NOT listen to digital radio stations (85.7% of adults).

These figures might have been understandable during the early years of DAB radio. But now? After more than a decade? Planet Rock launched in 1999; the BBC digital stations in 2002. Compared to the influence that digital terrestrial television stations have had in the UK over a shorter period, digital radio stations have had very little impact on radio listening patterns to date.

The overwhelming use of digital platforms to listen to analogue radio stations begs the question: so what is the point of DAB? There was never anything wrong with FM radio anyway, and there is no proposed alternate use for FM spectrum, so why is the government insisting that consumers and the radio industry both spend huge sums of money to enable the public to listen (on DAB) to exactly what is available already (on FM/AM)?

In the graph above, the listening to digital radio stations is shown in red (analogue stations in grey). It remains tiny. Despite BBC Radio 6 Music’s uplift after last year’s consumer campaign, it still languishes as the UK’s 18th most listened to national radio station. Fortunately for the BBC, the funding for its digital radio stations continues to come (for now) from the public purse.

For commercial radio, the funding for digital radio stations has to come from deep pockets. Not one digital radio station has yet made an operating profit. History is littered with commercial digital radio stations that used to be on the national DAB platform: ITN News, Talkmoney, The Storm, PrimeTime Radio, 3C, Capital Disney, Core, Virgin Radio Groove, Oneword, Capital Life, TheJazz, Fun Radio, Virgin Radio Xtreme and Panjab Radio.

Some of these digital radio stations had offered fantastic content unavailable elsewhere (PrimeTime, OneWord). Other digital stations had had very little thought put into their creation. Former GWR staffer Steve Orchard boasted that his company’s strategy for Planet Rock had been conceived in The Lamb Inn, Marlborough: “Going into a pub with Ralph Bernard, my boss, listening to the classic rock jukebox and coming out, several pints later, with Planet Rock sketched out on the back of an envelope.”

GCap Media sold Planet Rock in 2008 to an ‘outsider’ and it has been the commercial radio industry’s most listened to digital radio station since 2009. It speaks volumes that the entire UK commercial radio sector’s efforts at digital radio stations over more than a decade have been trumped by a music enthusiast with no previous radio sector experience.

However excellent it is, Planet Rock alone cannot save the DAB platform from continuing consumer disinterest. It would require a dozen stations of this calibre to create a portfolio of sufficient interest to stir consumers. Worse, for those consumers who have tried DAB and given up due to the platform’s other issues (poor reception, lack of mobility, lo-fi audio, expensive hardware), even a dozen stations might not tempt them back.

It is understandable, therefore, that Planet Rock’s owner, Malcolm Bluemel, should be frustrated with the rest of the radio industry for not following in his wake. This month, he said:

“I’ve only been in the radio industry about two and a half years now and I’ve never actually come across an industry that has such a collection of self-interest in discussing this matter [digital switchover]. I’m quite amazed at this need for certainty around the future of business. I came from an era where, to get a decent radio [station], I had to stick my AM transistor under the bedclothes and listen to Kid Jensen from Luxembourg at night. Well, now we’ve got people saying ‘Well, I want to know this, I want to know that, I want to know that my radio stations will be this, and I can have that, and I want it all, and I want it all now.’

It’s fairly obvious to me that, as an industry, we should be all sticking together. Digital is here. It’s not a question of a switchover date. Digital is out there. It’s being listened to. There’s 1.1 million people listening to 6 Music, there’s 827,000 people listening to Planet Rock on digital radio NOW. So why don’t we just accept the fact that digital is here and all get together and say ‘Right, how are we going to make this work for the industry?’ For all those people with their self-interest and their stupid press statements over ‘20 years [until digital switchover]’ or whatever it is (how ridiculous is that?), and just get together and have a consensus of opinion about how we are best going to do this, but collectively for the radio industry, and stop fighting amongst ourselves because of our own petty little grievances.”

Planet Rock’s 827,000 weekly reach last quarter is a remarkable achievement. Compare this to the dismal performances of some analogue commercial radio stations. Absolute Radio, with the benefit of a national AM licence and a London FM licence, reached only 1,375,000 adults per week. Xfm reached 938,000 adults nationally with the benefit of a London FM licence. Choice FM reached 734,000 adults nationally with the benefit of a London FM licence.

By comparison, Planet Rock has performed miracles, given that the only broadcast platform it has access to is DAB. As Bluemel identified, paradoxically, the thing that is stopping him from turning Planet Rock into the profitable radio station that it should be is the very industry in which he is working. Whilst (post-GCap Media) Planet Rock is doing all the right things for all the right reasons, the rest of the industry, where DAB is concerned, continues to do all the wrong things for all the wrong reasons.

Unfortunately, the barriers to Planet Rock’s commercial success are the outcomes of the sad history of the DAB platform:
* The commercial radio sector initially invested in DAB to control the platform, not to create successful digital radio stations
* The BBC decided to launch minority interest digital radio stations that would not cannibalise its existing national analogue networks
* The commercial DAB multiplex owners (aka the largest commercial radio groups) did not want upstart independents creating successful digital radio stations on their DAB platform
* The industry’s ‘build it and they will come’ strategy for DAB failed because consumers are driven by content, not by platforms
* If you wanted to persuade consumers to buy relatively expensive DAB radios, you should have inspired them with new content rather than have threatened them with FM switch-off
* Radio listeners are loyal and do not like losing access to content they once enjoyed (the closure of digital radio stations)
* DAB radio reception, for many, is still not as robust as FM or AM.

The best solution for Planet Rock would be a national analogue licence. Or, at least, a London FM licence. However, the radio regulatory system we have in the UK militates against that possibility. Why? Because politicians, civil servants and regulators have ensured that those who already own (what were once) commercial radio ‘licences to print money’ get to keep them, seemingly in perpetuity.

It is the existing radio industry itself which is limiting Planet Rock’s opportunities for greater success. We do not enjoy an openly competitive radio market that allows new entrants such as Bluemel to shake up our stagnant radio industry with new, exciting ideas. Instead, ‘outsiders’ have to stand around on the sidelines while the owners of stations such as Absolute Radio, Xfm and Choice FM continue to run them into the ground. So why don’t they just sell them?

Sell their stations? Of course not! When you are part of a commercial radio oligopoly, why would you want to encourage an insurgent, who might actually understand how to create a successful radio station, to camp right on your analogue doorstep? Not only might he show you up, but he might even steal listeners from your other stations. Instead, the current philosophy is to let ‘outsiders’ bleed to death financially on the DAB platform, while the incumbents continue to divide up (what is left of) the spoils of FM/AM radio between them.

So we listeners get the (analogue) mediocrity they think we deserve.

[blog headline adapted from Andy Haylett’s of IPSOS]

DAB radio lies: lobbyist claims 40% of listening to Radio 4’s ‘Today’ show is via DAB

The Today Programme, BBC Radio 4, 22 November 2010 @ 0735
Ford Ennals, chief executive, Digital Radio UK [FE]

Q: Doubts persist over this particular digital standard [DAB], don’t they? Let’s just go through some. First of all: that it’s a stop-gap and that we’d all be better off with internet radio, which will become possible in cars and all over the place, and that there will really be no need for DAB at all.

FE: Well, look, what is certain is that the future of radio in the UK, and right across Europe, is digital. And what that’s going to bring is more choice, more competition, and more innovation …

Q: [interrupts] But your particular ‘digital’ is DAB digital, isn’t it …

FE: [interrupts] Well, no. It’s …

Q: … and there are other technologies available?

FE: No, not at all. We’re here to support and promote the transition to digital radio in all its forms, whether it be online, whether it be on TV, or whether it be DAB. DAB is one of those platforms. But, what we do see is great certainty that DAB is, if you like, the broadcast transmission backbone of radio, not just in the UK, but in Europe. There are 40% of all your listeners this morning listen to this programme, are listening on a DAB radio. And, I think, the simple fact is that, if they were all listening online, it couldn’t be supported and the internet would crash. So, right now, IP, as you call it, or online, just isn’t the right technology. It can’t sustain broadcast transmission of radio, and it’s not cost-effective, and it isn’t an option in the short or medium term.

Q: [incredulous] 40% of our listeners are listening on digital? Does that include listeners in cars, because I don’t know a single person who has got a digital radio in their car, I don’t think?

FE: Well, I think you have highlighted the real opportunity here. Car manufacturers have been slow to put digital radios in cars but, since the passage of the Digital Economy Act and the launch of the Digital Radio Action Programme [sic], they’ve now committed to having all new cars with digital radios in by 2013, and we’ve started to see Ford and Vauxhall and Mini putting them in. And I think that’s very important because …

Q: [interrupts] The ‘40%.’ Sorry, though. The ‘40%’ figure – did that include people in cars?

FE: Yes, urm. The 40% does include people in cars …

Q: Really?

FE: … and the targets that government have set also includes people in cars. So, what government is saying is, and I think supported by industry, is that we want to see 50% of listening to a digital platform, including DAB, before we take a firm decision about a switchover date.

Q: Mmm. Last quarter, digital listening was actually down, wasn’t it? It sort of implies that the message isn’t getting through.

FE: Well, actually, as I said, 40% of listeners are listening on digital. That’s over 20 million people every week listening to digital. This year, we’ve seen it grow by 20%. So, typically, what we see is growth in the first half-year, it slows down in the second half, and then steps up again in the second half [sic]. So, actually, quarter-on-quarter, we’ve seen moderate growth, but 20% growth year-on-year, and we’re looking for a major step at the beginning of next year. And, what I would say to people, if you’re buying a radio for a present this Christmas, make sure it’s a digital radio.


Dear ‘Today’

I was shocked to hear Ford Ennals, chief executive of lobby group Digital Radio UK, proclaim on your programme that:

“there are 40% of all your listeners this morning listen to this programme, are listening on a DAB radio.”

This statement is not merely an exaggeration, it is wholly untrue. The radio industry’s audience data (produced by RAJAR, published by Ofcom for Q1 2010) show that 27% of listening to Radio 4 is via all digital platforms, which include digital television, the internet … and DAB. See graph below.

In-car listening accounts for 19% of total radio usage, but this proportion is likely to be considerably higher during the morning commute period. Because DAB radios are installed in less than 1% of cars, it is probable that much, much less than 27% of listening to the ‘Today’ programme is via DAB.

Ford Ennals’ untruthful statement is only the latest in a long line of disinformation perpetuated by commercial forces that will gain financially from DAB take-up, and which are designed to mislead the public into buying DAB radios.


Grant Goddard

Lobby the EU to mandate Europe-wide digital radio switchover? No chance!

The European Union [EU] has always made its position perfectly clear on radio broadcasting policy for its member states. It will not adopt an EU-wide digital radio strategy. A year ago, Viviane Reding, then EU commissioner for information society & media, reiterated the policy in an interview:

“This issue of EU-wide radio standardisation is still in its infancy. The main reason is that radio, from a political, business and consumer standpoint, is organised primarily as a regional or even local product. This is, in principle, rightly so. The reason the radio landscape in Europe is so fascinating is because it is so diverse and highly innovative. Therefore, EU-wide radio legislation is not advocated.”

“I believe the time is not ripe for a single EU-wide radio FM switch-off, such as we are doing for analogue TV in 2012. I can also well imagine that the 27 EU Member States, given their different levels of development, will want to take their own innovative approaches to digital radio switchover.”

Given this clearly stated EU policy, it was a surprise when World DMB, the lobbying organisation for DAB radio,
announced on 10 November 2010 that one of its three objectives for the coming year was:

“To persuade the European Union to champion switch-over policies at European level …”

Using the forum of the European Broadcasting Union [EBU] Digital Radio Conference 2010 held in Belfast the previous week, World DMB seemed to have persuaded the EBU to endorse a no-hope strategy of challenging existing EU strategy in order that digital switchover be mandated through diktat. This follows the evident failure of World DMB’s bottom-up approach to convince consumers in many EU countries to replace their satisfactorily working FM/AM radios with DAB receivers.

World DMB president Jørn Jensen said in the press release:

“If digital radio is to succeed, then the EBU must show their support for the DAB family, the only technology platform chosen by Germany, UK, France, Italy, Spain and the Nordic countries as the future of digital radio.”

The EBU obliged by issuing its own statement which stressed that its conference had “achieved a significant breakthrough in efforts to accelerate moves towards securing a digital future for radio.” The EBU wording is significant – its public statement talked about ‘digital’ radio but never mentioned the ‘DAB’ platform specifically. Whereas, the World DMB press release went out of its way to interpret ‘digital’ radio narrowly as ‘DAB’, almost to the point of obsession, when Jensen said:

“It’s time to stop talking about less mature standards, EBU needs to promote the Eureka 147 [DAB] family of standards.”

And what exactly did Jensen mean by “less mature standards”? Could he be referring to the platform whose name dare not be spoken amongst DAB lobbyists – THE INTERNET? Coincidentally, five days prior to the World DMB press release, Neelie Kroes, the current EU commissioner for the digital agenda, had admonished content producers who do not adapt their businesses to the internet age in a speech:

“Like it or not, content gatekeepers risk being sidelined if they do not adapt to the needs of both creators and consumers of cultural goods. So who will win the heart of the creators and of the public? It is still too soon to say. Of course, some of the new giants of internet come from another continent. I would wish that more of them were European, but when I see the wealth of creativity gathered in this room, I am optimistic for the future.

I believe that those who will prosper in the digital age are those who understand that convergence is one of the keys. The convergence of media provides an incredible opportunity for the artists and creators of our times, and also for their public – you and me. Just like cinema did not kill theatre, nor did television kill radio. The internet won’t kill any other media either.”

Despite the EU’s enthusiasm for convergence, the internet is still perceived as a competitive threat by some European radio broadcasters, who fear attrition to their audiences from an influx of online audio content from beyond their borders. To them,, Spotify and We7 are the antichrists, and they hope that DAB’s walled garden will banish these insurgents from their kingdom. But, although Jensen wants to paint the internet as a “less mature standard”, history books show that it was around long before DAB (I was sending e-mails, before they had that name, across the Atlantic in 1978).

Also, when World DMB promised in its 10 November press release that it would “foster effective partnerships between broadcasters and the automotive sector” over the next year to get DAB radio into cars, it was advocating actions it could and should have taken more than a decade ago. It has long missed the boat. EU commissioner Neelie Kroes had announced on 8 November that IP-connected cars were the current European policy objective:

“Europe leads in wireless communication to and from vehicles. That is critical to improve both safety and efficiency. And to convert this into global market success global cooperation and standardisation will be required. This is where the EU’s Future Internet Public Private Partnership comes in. We need the automotive and ICT communities side-by-side. That way we can seize the opportunities of the next generation of wireless broadband, beyond 3G, to meet the growing demand for connectivity in cars.”

So what chance does World DMB have of achieving these two stated objectives for EU policy during the next year (compulsory digital radio switchover, DAB in cars)? None whatsoever. So why would it set itself objectives that are bound to fail? It can only be sheer desperation at this rapidly deteriorating stage in DAB’s lifecycle.

The third of World DMB’s stated objectives for the next year – “to advance partnerships between public and broadcasters” to make DAB happen – must have been drafted by someone with a wry sense of irony. Such ‘partnerships’ appear to be going nowhere in DAB:
* In the UK, RadioCentre, the commercial radio trade body, has failed in its insistence that publicly funded BBC should pay for the upgrade of commercial radio’s local DAB transmitters;
* In Germany, commercial radio has failed to agree with public radio to a new plan to re-launch national DAB radio;
* In Spain, commercial radio called DAB “a road to nowhere” despite public radio’s insistence on persevering;
* In France, national commercial radio networks have refused to support public radio’s plan to launch digital terrestrial radio;
* In Denmark, only one commercial station is broadcasting on DAB, alongside 17 state radio stations (many of which are about to be axed);
* In the Netherlands, national commercial radio stations have had to be forced to broadcast on DAB by the government inserting new clauses in their licence renewals.

World DMB’s rallying call of “let’s just get on with it!” might make more sense if its proposed solutions were practical in any way. Its press release was headlined ‘European Broadcasting Union backs digital radio switch over across Europe.’ Given that all three of its objectives for the next 12 months fly in the face of realpolitik, it would have been more accurate to entitle the press release ‘Three impossible European things before breakfast.’

[with thanks to Michael Hedges at Follow The Media]

SPAIN: DAB enters the last chance saloon

DAB radio in Spain has been a disaster, not least for those commercial broadcasters who invested in new technology and distribution contracts, but who have generated no additional listeners or revenues. “Zero,” said Agustin Ruiz de Aguirre, technical director of Cadena SER. “The audience is zero.” He explained that a non-existent audience generates no revenues or profits because “who would want to advertise on a medium that does not deliver any consumers?”

Spanish broadcasting law requires stations that embarked upon DAB to continue broadcasting for the duration of their licences, regardless of whether anyone is listening or not. Ruiz de Aguirre said that all the commercial broadcasters are united with a single goal: to stop having to broadcast on DAB. To date, the government has not relented, though the current licences end in 2010 and 2011.

“I do not think analogue radio switch-off will happen in either the short or medium term,” said Xosé Ramón Pousa, professor in the Faculty of Communication Sciences at the University de Santiago de Compostela. “In this scenario, DAB is at a dead end.”

“We are a rarity”,
said Pere Vilas, who heads Spain’s drive for digital radio (and is the managing director of technology at state broadcaster RTVE). State radio has been simulcasting on DAB since 1998. Spanish broadcasting law has required a technical plan for DAB radio to be in place for the last year and a half, though nothing exists as yet. Such a plan is seen as DAB’s last chance to redeem itself in Spain.

“Work began a long time ago, even before digital television switchover,” admitted Xavier Redón, product marketing manager of transmission infrastructure provider Abertis Telecom. “But it is about to begin again.” Like DAB lobbyists elsewhere, Redón was quick to claim that the rest of Europe was already well down the road to DAB radio switchover. He asserted that, in France, all radios would have to be digital by 2013, and that Germany was creating a national DAB+ network in 2011.

Redón predicted that 2011 would be “key” to laying the groundwork for the re-launch of DAB in Spain. A glance at the website for DAB radio in Spain elicits a similarly optimistic stance. It states boldly: “Digital radio is a fact. It is not the future. It is the present.”

Until you realise that this latest news item was posted in April 2008.

The Digital Radio Stakeholders Group: another ‘faux consultation’

Did you hear about the inaugural Digital Radio Stakeholders Group meeting held on 1 November 2010 at the government’s DCMS [Department for Culture, Media & Sport] office? Probably not, unless you were one of the couple of dozen people who were in attendance. Otherwise, you were in the majority who were unaware of the event. There was no public pre-announcement of this meeting. Afterwards, there was only one article about it in the media trade press. Google returns ‘no results’ from an internet search for ‘Digital Radio Stakeholders Group’, even though this is the title writ across the top of the agenda circulated for the event.

You have to look in the new government’s Digital Radio Action Plan, published in July 2010, to discover:

“The Government will chair a Stakeholder Group which will be open to a wide range on industry and related stakeholders. The principle purpose of this Group will be to inform external stakeholders of progress against the Action Plan and gather views on emerging findings. We expect that the Group will meet quarterly.”

The government’s project management plan anticipated that, by Q2 2010, it would be able to:

“secure commitment from the Government Digital Radio Group and the Stakeholders Groups to the Action Plan.” [Task 5.1]

This pre-determined outcome was justified on the grounds that:

“Successful implementation of the Digital Radio Switchover programme will only be achieved through close Government-Industry co-operation. […] This will include commissioning and delivery of reports, reviewing progress against key milestones and disseminating information to key stakeholders.”

So, essentially, the Digital Radio Stakeholders Group seems to be an almost non-existent forum that has only been convened to secure some kind of external ‘rubber stamp’ for the government’s proposals on DAB radio. It will allow the government, when challenged as to the democratic basis of its DAB radio policy, to assert confidently: “We convened a stakeholders group and it endorsed our proposals.”

This is cynical government at its worst. A ‘faux consultation’ that pretends to have asked a group of somebodies to endorse a government policy for which no mandate has ever been given by the electorate. It is similar to the manipulation practised by Ofcom in its radio policymaking (viz. Ofcom’s recent decision to permit Smooth Radio to dump its commitment to broadcast 45 hours per week of jazz music, after having acknowledged that 13 of the 15 responses submitted to its public consultation were opposed to this loss of jazz).

According to a government document, the Terms of Reference for the Digital Radio Stakeholders Group are as follows:

To enable a wide range of organisations to contribute to the process of delivering the Digital Radio Action Plan.

* To inform all stakeholders of progress with the Action Plan;
* To seek the views of stakeholders on future progress of the Action Plan;
* To provide an opportunity for all stakeholders to share news, views and concerns relevant to the Digital Radio Action Plan.

Any organisation with a valid interest in the objectives of the Digital Radio Action Plan may be a member. Members will include consumer representative bodies, broadcasters, manufacturers, retailers, vehicle manufacturers, transmission network operators, content providers. The Group will be chaired by BIS in the first instance, though in principle the Chair could be any person acceptable to the majority of stakeholders and able to represent the collective views of the stakeholders to the Steering Board.

Mode of operation:
The Digital Radio Stakeholders Group will meet quarterly.
The Chair will report the views of the stakeholders, as expressed through the meetings of the Stakeholders Group, to the Steering Board.”

So what happened at the first meeting? Very little, according to some of those who were present. It was a game of two halves. In the first half, the bureaucrats put their case. From the government, Jane Humphreys, head of digital broadcasting & content policy, BIS [Department for Business Innovation & Skills]; John Mottram, head of radio & media markets, DCMS; and Jonny Martin, digital radio programme director, BIS/DCMS. From Digital Radio UK, Ford Ennals, chief executive; Jane Ostler, communications director; and Laurence Harrison, technology & market development director. Then, in the second half, representatives from Age UK, the Consumer Expert Group, Voice of the Listener & Viewer and W4B raised issues on behalf of the consumer.

At the end of it, I guess the government-appointed chairman could return to her government office, tick the box on the government wall planner that says ‘stakeholder commitment’ and be pleased that this ‘rubber stamp’ had cost the taxpayer only an afternoon’s salary plus some tea and biscuits for the ‘stakeholders’. Well worth it!

More interesting than noting those who attended is identifying who was not there:
* No presentation by Ofcom, whose longstanding ‘Future of Radio’ policy has forced the DAB platform upon the public for almost the last decade;
* Nobody from the largest commercial radio owners – Global Radio, Bauer Radio and Guardian Media Group – that have considerable investments in DAB multiplex licences.

After the meeting, under the headline ‘RadioCentre quits digital radio meeting’, Campaign reported:

“RadioCentre, the commercial radio trade body, has walked out of discussions over the future of digital radio after the BBC licence-fee settlement did not commit BBC funds to roll out DAB radio. The body refused to attend a [Digital Radio Stakeholders] meeting on 1 November after the [BBC Licence Fee] settlement, published last week, included provision only for [BBC] national DAB [upgrade].” [I noted this development in my blog last month]

Whatever RadioCentre’s reason for non-attendance (and the story in Campaign has not been refuted), this kind of stance is a disgrace. Raising two fingers to the people you are supposed to be persuading of your DAB policy is not a clever PR strategy for the commercial radio industry. But I am not surprised. All the organisations pushing for DAB radio have increasingly adopted a ‘bunker’ mentality that precludes any direct contact with the public. What we appear to have now is:
* Ofcom refusing to engage in public discussion about its DAB ‘Future of Radio’ policy;
* The government organising a Stakeholder Group to rubber stamp its unrealistic, dictatorial policy on DAB radio;
* Digital Radio UK refusing to engage in public explanation of its DAB campaign work, as illustrated by its non-existent web site;
* RadioCentre and its members now refusing to attend a meeting to explain just how/why DAB is still being pursued.

At the same time, the public – the consumers, the 46,762,000 adults who spend 22.6 hours per week listening to radio – have been omitted altogether from these manoeuvrings that are still focused upon trying desperately to force them to purchase DAB radio receivers. The public had been omitted from the proposals at the very beginning of DAB more than a decade ago, which is precisely why it failed, and they are still being omitted today.

This is not the first time that government ‘stakeholder’ meetings about DAB radio have been organised simply to tick a box. As part of the previous government’s attempts to solve the DAB problem, in 2008 it convened a Digital Radio Working Group with two similar ‘stakeholder meetings’ held at DCMS. I attended and felt they existed purely for the bureaucrats to report back to their superiors that they had done something to ‘disseminate’ their policies. DCMS’ own write-up of the first meeting recounted bluntly:

“A stakeholders meeting was held on 10 March and offered opportunities for a wide range of views to be heard.”

A place where “views” were merely “heard”. The ineffectiveness of these earlier stakeholder meetings is demonstrated by re-visiting the agenda for the first of them. The issues tabled for discussion nearly three years ago (“How to make digital radio the predominant platform for listening to radio in the UK? What are the barriers to this? How can these barriers be overcome?”) still remained the same at this month’s meeting. Worse, none of the DAB technical problems identified then have been solved in the interim. And guess what? All trace of these 2008 meetings ever having happened has been erased from the DCMS website (in 2008, I had had to write to DCMS to get them to add the meeting details to their website).

The next meeting of the Digital Radio Stakeholders Group will be held on 3 February 2011 at DCMS/BSI, 1 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0ET. If you belong to any kind of community group or organisation (even if it is your neighbourhood watch) whose members are likely to be impacted by the government’s policy on digital radio switchover, I suggest you write to Jane Humphreys (e-mail to [first name][dot][second name] and ask for an invitation to this next meeting.

‘Stakeholder’ radio listeners should turn up to the February meeting and shout: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more!” … or maybe the DAB plug will already have been pulled by then.

BBC head of radio: DAB not “a clear enough offer to listeners”

The Tony Livesey Show, BBC Radio 5 Live, 28 October 2010 [excerpt]
Stephen Nolan, interviewer (presenter, BBC Radio Ulster) [SN]
Tim Davie, Director, BBC Audio & Music [TD]

SN: There are big problems with the digital spectrum, aren’t there, because we cannot seem to hit any target that we are given for people switching to digital?

TD: I don’t think we’ve had many targets … Let’s be honest, I don’t think we’ve had many targets in the past. Digital stations are doing well. Digital listening – we’ve got to be careful – includes online, which is doing pretty well, there’s more we can do. Then also you’ve got DAB. Now DAB, you’re right, it’s been marginally growing for a while …

SN: Why?

TD: I just don’t think it’s been a clear enough offer, in my language, to listeners. I mean, people love radio. They are very happy with their FM radio. Why on earth would you change? And I think the radio industry has to say: ‘the reason you will change is – here’s a load of content’. And there’s clues like 6 Music, or other …. you know, that people love. And here’s a load of stuff that people love, and here’s a better … this device does something better than the other one.

SN: Or, Tim, it’s for the BBC to take a huge risk, and a controversial risk at that, and to withdraw mainstream programming from the FM spectrum and put it onto DAB. Imagine how the numbers would soar if it had [BBC Radio 1 breakfast DJ Chris] Moyles or …

TD: [interrupts] Imagine my inbox!

SN: Exactly, exactly. It’s a serious point.

TD: Sure.

SN: Imagine if you had Moyles or [BBC Radio 2 breakfast DJ Chris] Evans exclusively on DAB, or a massive programme.

TD: Right! And … we could do that. The issue would be that, with current coverage levels and with the amount of devices – particularly in Northern Ireland – I would basically be saying that you can’t listen to it in your kitchen, and everyone pays the Licence Fee. So I think the strategy for digital, where we are taking things away, is not going to work. My approach would very much be that I do want you to feel a bit of pain for not having a digital radio, but that pain is not about not getting The Archers, or not getting Chris Moyles. It’s about: ‘you could get a bit more over here’, or ‘there’s a bit of [Radio] 4 Extra over here that you could really do with’, and that’s what television did with some of those channels.

SN: Do you think, in terms of the internet, that radio is going to fundamentally change?

TD: I think there will be a lot more on-demand, obviously, so people will expect to be able to call up a programme and …

SN: I’m talking about the [UK] Radioplayer, obviously, which people are describing as the new YouView for radio.

TD: Well, er, yeah. Basically, the Radioplayer is … we’ve got the whole industry together. Only about 3% of listening is online and I can’t understand that, as head of radio. I know I’m biased but, at the end of the day, when I’m shopping and doing my Tesco shop or wherever online, why aren’t I listening to the radio? [to SN] Well, you would relate to this because it means more listeners. I think that one of the things is that I think it’s a bit confusing. You’ve got the BBC on the iPlayer, which is pretty good, and we’ve got other bits and … So we’ve put it all together and there will be a thing called the Radioplayer. Now, it gets a bit complex, but I think the YouView thing that you refer to is when you’ve got an internet connection to your television. Now, when you click your television on, I want one Radioplayer icon where you can go in and listen to all the radio. Now, the …

SN: On the TV?

TD: Yeah. On any screen – sorry to sound ‘new age’ – any screen anywhere, whether it’s a … whatever the size of it, you can go and get all your radio services. We don’t currently have that.

DAB radio usage: going nowhere slowly

Sometimes it seems as if the UK radio industry operates in two parallel universes. On the one hand, there is the virtual world of the DAB radio lobbyists, a reality that only seems to exist within the confines of their Soho office and its funders. On the other hand, there is the real world of the 47 million people in the UK who listen to the industry’s radio stations each week, spread far and wide across this green and still largely analogue land.

It was only last week that Ford Ennals, chief executive of Digital Radio UK, was telling anybody who would listen that:

* “There is now real momentum in the transition to digital radio…”;
* “… significant progress towards building momentum for digital radio…”;
* Digital radio switchover is a “matter of when, not if”;
* “We have set a course to double listening and expand coverage by 2013, and to switchover by the end of 2015”;
* “We do believe it is possible to get there in the four- to five-year time period…”.

Yet, today, RAJAR published the latest listening figures for UK radio. None of Ennals’ statements are in any way supported by the official radio listening data. “Momentum”? No. “Real momentum”? No. “To double [digital] listening by 2013”? You have to be joking.

The headlines for all radio listening via platforms in Q3 2010 were:
* Analogue radio’s share of listening up from 67.0% to 67.6% quarter-on quarter;
* Digital radio’s share of listening up from 24.6% to 24.8% quarter-on-quarter;
* DAB radio’s share of listening down from 15.8% to 15.3% quarter-on-quarter.

At its current long-term growth rate, the government criterion of 50% of radio listening via digital platforms would not be achieved until year-end 2018. The statistical probability of that 50% threshold being reached by 2013, the achievement of which Ennals is supremely confident, is zero. Even Derren Brown could not pull off that stunt.

And so these two radio worlds continue on their parallel paths. Digital Radio UK continues to insist that everything in the digital radio switchover garden is sweetness and light, whilst wilfully oblivious to the fact that the majority of radio listeners simply could not care less about DAB – even after more than a decade of being told by the government, Ofcom and the largest broadcasters that DAB is ‘the future of radio’.

The verdict of UK radio listeners on DAB seems perfectly transparent in the RAJAR data, though many in the radio industry still refuse to listen. On the other hand, the activities of Digital Radio UK, still trying to persuade us of DAB’s virtues, are anything but transparent. After 10 months of existence, its web site remains empty. And the web site of its forerunner, the Digital Radio Development Bureau, has been conveniently deleted so that all the empty promises, inaccurate forecasts and ridiculous propaganda that were generated about DAB over the last eight years are no longer publicly available.

Those with experience in the radio industry understand perfectly what happens to radio stations that refuse to listen to their listeners, radio stations that refuse to engage in truthful dialogue with their audience, and radio stations that are still broadcasting exactly the same tired messages as they did a decade ago. They die … and nobody misses them when they are gone.

David vs Goliath: commercial radio spends £27 per hour on programmes, BBC Radio 2 spends £4,578

There has been an abundance of fighting talk from the commercial radio sector in the press in recent weeks. Commercial radio seems determined to pick another fight with BBC Radios 1 and 2, two of the three most listened to radio stations in the UK.

Guardian Media Group Radio announced that “by broadcasting on National DAB, Sky, Freeview and Freesat, Smooth Radio will provide a strong commercial alternative to BBC Radio 2.” Chief executive Stuart Taylor said:

“We are still at war with the BBC and we still compete for listeners tooth and nail, as we always will.”

The press headlines affirmed:
* “New national network makes a Smooth attack on Radio 2” (Telegraph);
* “Forget Radio 2: in five years’ time, we’ll all be going Smooth” (
* “Smooth Radio takes on Radio 2 in national rollout” (
Marketing Week);
* “Radio Two faces fight, warns new Smooth news chief” (
Press Gazette).

Then, Global Radio announced that its local FM stations will be re-branded ‘Capital Radio’ in 2011. Chief executive Ashley Tabor said:

“With the launch of the Capital network, there will now be a big national commercial brand seriously competing with Radio 1.”

The press headlines responded:
* “Capital Radio will go national in bid to challenge Radio 1” (Evening Standard);
* “Capital Radio set to rival BBC Radio 1 in move to broadcast nationally” (
Daily Mail);
* “Global to take on Radio 1 with Capital Network” (
Marketing Week);
* “Capital Radio to form first national commercial radio station” (

Both the GMG and Global Radio statements achieved the intended sabre-rattling headlines in the press though, for me, these sentiments are remarkably hollow. This ongoing phoney war between the BBC and commercial radio is like a war between a one-eyed giant and an over-exuberant mobile phone salesman. The giant will win every time. Commercial radio can huff and puff all it wants, but the BBC knows it is perfectly safe in its house built from Licence Fees. It can afford to chuckle loudly at every challenge like this lobbed at it by commercial radio. Why?

Firstly, you could only ever hope to seriously compete with the existing formats of BBC Network radio stations if you had access to their same abundance of resources. This is something that Channel 4 belatedly realised after having promised for two years that it would invent a new commercial radio station to compete with BBC Radio 4. Then it scrapped its radio plans altogether.

The huge gulf between the funding of commercial radio content and BBC Network Radio content makes direct competition simply pointless. In a recent report for the BBC Trust, I noted that commercial radio spends an average £27 per hour on its content, while BBC Radio spends an average £1,255 per hour. There is no way that commercial radio can make programmes that will sound like Radio 2 on a budget that is 170th of the latter’s £4,578 per hour.

Secondly, what sort of message do these press headlines send to consumers? To me, they say ‘we realise that Radios 1 and 2 are fantastically successful, so we want a slice of their action’. Or maybe even ‘you really like Radios 1 and 2, don’t you? Try us, because we want to be just like them.’ So where is the Unique Selling Point [USP] for your own product? Don’t you have enough faith in it to tell us why it is so good, rather than comparing it to your much bigger, much more successful rival? Or is this the Dannii Minogue method of marketing?

I had always been taught that the cardinal sin of radio was to mention your competitors to your audience. Every reference to your competitor tells the audience how much you respect them and their success. Ignore them! Pretend your competitor does not even exist! Plough your own furrow and concentrate on making a radio station that is genuinely unique. Then you will create a brand that has a genuine USP, rather than being merely a pale imitation of Radio 1 or 2 without their big budgets. ‘I can’t believe it’s not Radio 2’ is not a tagline to which to aspire.

Thirdly, neither Capital Radio nor Smooth will be genuinely ‘national’ stations, as in capable of being received on an analogue FM/AM radio from one end of the country to the other. So why pretend to consumers and advertisers that they are ‘national’? In the case of Capital, its proposed FM network presently covers 57% of the UK adult population. In the case of Smooth, RAJAR tells us that DAB receiver penetration is presently 35%. Just how little of the UK population can you cover and yet still describe yourself as ‘national’?

Fourthly, don’t keep looking at Radio 1 and 2’s huge audience figures and dreaming of how much money you could make if only you could monetise their listenership. Part of the reason older listeners probably like Radio 2 is because there are no advertisements. Accept the fact that Radios 1 and 2 together account for a quarter of all radio listening in the UK. Compared to those mammoths of radio, both Capital and Smooth are mere termites. Live with that fact and, instead, seek out commercial clients who are not merely frustrated because they cannot advertise on BBC Radio, but who actively want to use your radio station because your audience is intrinsically valuable to them.

Finally, invest the time and money to develop your own on-air talent rather than simply hanging on the coattails of others’ successes. Whatever his next gig might be, Chris Moyles will forever be remembered as ‘the saviour of Radio 1’, just as Chris Evans will always be remembered for his Radio 1 breakfast show, not for his subsequent time at Virgin Radio. Find new people who are good at radio and put your faith in them. Why does Smooth’s schedule have to resemble Frankenstein’s monster, stitched together with a bit here from Radio 1 in the 80s, and a bit there from Radio 2 last month?

What your radio station should be doing is not competing with Radio This or Radio That for listeners, but competing directly for consumers to spend time with you because you are ‘you’. Radio is not like selling soap powder or yoghurt pots, where your business model can be built upon undercutting the price of a competitor’s product, however low-quality your own cheapo version might be. There is no price of admission in radio. Your content needs to be ‘different’ rather than ‘the same’ and it needs to create its own unique place in the market.

You should not think of your market competitors as radio stations, but as each and every opportunity a consumer is presented with to pass their leisure time. A winning station must be able to convince a consumer to listen to it, rather than watch television, read a book or simply sit in silence. Because radio is ‘free’, the competition for radio is everything else that is also free to consumers at the point-of-use.

To offer a practical example, when I worked on the launch of India’s first commercial radio network, Radio City, the advertising agency produced an excellent marketing campaign that extolled the virtues of the station over other radio stations. But the campaign had to be rejected and the agency briefed in more detail. Why? Because we were launching the very first radio station on the FM dial in a city such as Bangalore, so the overriding challenge was to persuade people to use ‘radio’ at all, or to persuade people to buy an FM radio for the first time, or to persuade people to switch off their television and turn to radio instead.

This philosophy seems to be a million miles away from the current UK commercial radio strategy which seems to focus on berating BBC radio for being too successful, whilst wanting to somehow achieve part of that success through osmosis. If only half this war effort was put into developing policies to make the commercial sector’s stations successful on their own account, the BBC would soon cease to matter.

Instead, RadioCentre is now demanding that commercial radio be allowed to re-broadcast old Proms concerts recorded by BBC Radio 3. But how many of our 300 commercial radio stations play classical music? One. And which Proms concert do you recall that would fit into Classic FM’s playlist of short musical extracts? What next? Will Capital FM be asking the BBC for the rights to re-broadcast some old Zoe Ball Radio 1 breakfast shows?

In September 2010, the government’s Consumer Expert Group criticised RadioCentre for having proposed a policy for the BBC’s Strategy Review that, it felt, would have “bullied” listeners.

Trying to bully listeners? Trying to bully the BBC? This is the war of the playground, not of a mature media industry that has a strategy of its own making, a plan, a roadmap for its future success. “It’s not fair. Your willy is bigger than mine.” No, it probably isn’t fair, but life deals you a hand, you have to stop whining, get on with it and make the best of what you’ve got.

Just accept this reality: commercial radio’s willy is never going to be as big as the BBC’s. So competing directly on size alone is a complete waste of time when, instead, you should be developing your own individual ‘technique’.