Thursday 20 March 2014

Listeners and Consumers Against Digital Radio Switch-Over Criteria

In 2010 a Digital Radio Action Plan for UK was launched to plan a Digital Switch-Over (DSO). The Minister was clear that the needs and concerns of radio listeners will be absolutely central to our approach to DSO. Two criteria were set that would trigger radio DSO. 50% of radio listening must be to digital devices and there had to be a major improvement in coverage to match that of FM and to ensure good reception especially on major roads. At the end of 2013 government pulled back from in principle commitment to DSO. The Consumer Electronics Group CEG, including VLV, did not accept the 50% figure.
We considered it was too big a task to move the remaining 50% of listeners during a switchover period possibly as short as two years. Many of these will be the vulnerable and aging, who are particularly dependant on radio.

VLV has concerns about the cost of replacing the medium to high range analogue radios owned by our members and the poor additional content available on digital radio. At the launch of the Action Plan we stated "The present FM analogue transmission is fit for purpose and has served most consumers across the UK well for decades. When digital radios become as compelling a consumer proposition as digital televisions, they will be widelyadopted and the switchover can take place."

As part of the Action Plan both the level of listening on all digital devices and the purchase of equipment has been carefully monitored. While digital listening is slowly growing many consumers are still buying FM only sets. There are also over 30 million vehicles with FM only radios. At present less than half of new cars are fitted with DAB radio. 

This retreat from a clear commitment raises the question of which digital radio technology the UK will eventually adopt. The major complication is that whilst DAB+ is installed in some receivers already sold, it is not compatible with older digital radios in the UK. The incentive to move towards DAB+ is not clear, given the market has already to support both FM and DAB transmissions (VLV Bulletin)

Note: The total number of radio receivers in the U.K. is estimated by Ofcom 2013 to be 111-117 million of which 15-19 % are digital receivers.