Friday 29 November 2013

No U.K. Switch-Over Date To Be Announced

Government 'won't be pushed' into digital radio switchover date
Ed Vaizey
Communications minister Ed Vaizey has indicated he will not announce a switchover date for digital radio next month after MPs from Tories and Labour warned that smaller stations "faced extinction" if the majority of broadcasters abandoned analogue in order to go exclusively on DAB.
Vaizey said he believed digital radio was the future, but said he would "not be pushed into a switchover date. We will not get ahead of listeners." He was speaking at a House of Commons debate on Thursday in which the government faced a backlash from MPs over the prospect of a premature switchover.

Cheryl Gillan, a Conservative MP, said digital audio broadcasting (DAB) radio was "fundamentally the wrong platform for genuinely local stations" because it was too expensive and not local enough. For a small local station, the cost of broadcasting on a local [DAB] multiplex could well be unaffordable, said Gillan. A cost-effective digital solution for small stations needs to be identified, otherwise those stations may face extinction if advertisers do not think it is worth paying to reach those listeners who are still listening on FM.

Vaizey will confirm the government's policy on digital radio switchover on 16 December. With digital takeup falling short of expectations, there was little or no prospect of a switchover date. But the Commons debate gives the clearest indication yet of Vaizey's thinking, with the industry split over switchover.

Vaizey said roughly half of all new cars had DAB fitted as standard, but Sharon Hodgson, Labour MP, said only 5% of cars on the road had DAB. Vaizey said he had never said small stations had to go onto DAB and said FM could work "in tandem" with DAB as AM has with FM. Vaizey said he had sympathy for smaller commercial stations which are incredibly difficult to run. They are not rolling in money, they are almost running a community service. It's tough going.

Highlighting her own local station, UKRD-owned Mix 96, Gillan said the costs of broadcasting on DAB were prohibitive for smaller stations, between two and 10 times what they pay for FM and said stations were suffering a "worrying lack of certainty" over the length of their analogue licences with the digital timetable unresolved.