Monday 27 January 2014

Lobbying Might Be Suicidal for DAB

WorldDMB activities may indicate a losing battle
Since the first launch of the DAB system 1995 there has been an intense lobbying effort by large scale broadcasting operators mostly public service companies, transmission companies and electronic manufacturers. For some public service companies being involved with the lobby organization WorldDMB this is a growing credibility burden. In this article the reader will learn about activities, which may surprise many. 

During the last years it is reported that the DAB system is increasingly questioned as a solution for future radio. The most crucial factors are  
1) the explosive growth of fixed and mobile broadband leaving any benefits with DAB behind, 
2) analogue FM has a strong position as an established world standard 
3) there are three other standards as DRM+ for terrestrial broadcasting (DRM, HD Radio and ISDB-T).
4) the resistance from small-scale radio (commercial or community radio) for technical and economical reasons.
5) the high costs of building completely new transmission and receiver infrastructures in a very tight economical climate in most European countries

Public service broadcasting companies like "Sveriges Radio" in Sweden is paying an annual membership fee of 11.000 euro to WorldDMB besides putting in its own administrative resources (manpower and travels) for the lobbying.

This lobbying against the politicians is financed by the same politicians who control the TV license fee and are the formal owners of public service. There is no commercial financing of public service in Sweden (and the same situation you will find in Norway and the UK).

In contrary to television the European Union has not taken any position regarding audio broadcasting standards - and probably will not. In spite of this the WorldDMB has for over one year been listing on its web site the European Commission as a member. The Commission in Brussels has denied that it is a member and this listing was removed in December. Of course, an EU institution cannot be member of a lobby organization.
Neither have the other three digital radio standards any official EU support. 

WorldDMB is promoting the advantages of DAB/DAB+, but also via its members spreading slanted information. A widely spread disinformation for several years has been that the FM radio will soon be switched-off in Europe. However, there has not yet been any such decision by any country in the world. 

Another exaggeration is that DAB is successfully established in many countries. But besides four countries (UK, Denmark, Norway and Australia) the DAB listening on weekly basis is just not more than a few percent. For example in Germany with a geo coverage of 92 % the listening is estimated to 2-3 %. On its web site WorldDMB is listing Sweden as a DAB country with "regular services", but it is not. The final political decisions will be taken in 2015.

Another disinformation is that radio listeners will pay a lot more for online radio than via wireless broadcasting. The consumers are indeed paying for data streams to the broadband operators while broadcasting is “free” (notwithstanding public service TV license fees and/or taxes). But consumers are already very keen to receive video on their smartphones and on fixed broadband. This is in fact the major driving force for expanding the frequency spectrum for mobile broadband. Compared to this audio will represent a tiny part of the broadband usage. Radio is more of a bonus service for smartphone users all over the world.

At the Radiodays Europe conference in Berlin 2012 the DRM Consortium was jockeyed out of the digital radio seminar, which then became an exclusive arena for promoters of DAB. 

Smallscale radio (local commercial and community radio) has become a problem for the DAB lobby as the DAB multiplex system is constructed for big scale broadcasting as public service. This has been known for years, but now as an FM switch-off seems increasingly unlikely great efforts are made to get small-scale broadcasters on the DAB bandwagon. If FM will be retained there will be a steep uphill struggle for DAB on a market, which has not yet developed in Europe. 

EBU - the organization for public service companies - has recently promised WorldDMB to convince the national governments to go DAB. EBU is also promoting the multistandard receiver chip, which will include both DAB/DAB+ and FM but still not DRM+. However, the mobile/ smartphone manufacturers have not yet showed any interest to include this chip in their devices.

WorldDMB has its headquarter in Geneva (in the EBU Building) and London.