Tuesday 3 March 2015

Gloomy Prognosis for DAB Radio in the Nordic Countries

FM Radio to be retained for decades while online listening is increasing.
Denmark has been broadcasting DAB-radio since 2002. Norway is on its way into a complete DAB+ structure and for Sweden there is a DAB+ proposal to the government for a transition period 2016-2022. Finland has definitely left the DAB track.  -  Will DAB survive the established FM radio and the fast rising on-line platforms in the Nordic market with a total population of 26,7 million - and a combined resource of 50 million FM receivers?

In a long term view the future of DAB looks dismal as a prerequisite for a success is an ultimate FM switch-off. And this will not happen for a long time. Also the Nordic countries are among world leading ICT countries with a fast developing mobile broadband infrastructure. Sweden is already 100 % 4G covered and the 5G network is await around the corner. In 2020 there will be ample space for both radio and television on mobile broadband and most people (11 years and older) will own a smartphone.

During the last 8-10 months the pressure on politicians in Denmark, Norway and Sweden to reconsider or not consider at all an FM closure has increased. Already the community radio sector has received promises to be able to continue on FM.

All of a sudden media and politicians have discovered that there are annually millions of foreign visitor (professionals and tourists) coming by car into Norway and Sweden. As most countries in Europe will retain FM its is not expected that the visitors are in possession of a DAB receiver. There will be serious problems in traffic and emergency situations as wildfires and terrorist attacks.

In Denmark politicians in the Parliament have decided to postpone a decision on a transition from DAB to DAB+ This after a consultation with a skeptical or negative radio industry opinion with a retainment of FM on its agenda. SBS Discovery, public service Radio24syv and the two copyright organizations were the skeptics.The signals from the public service Danmarks Radio (DR) to reconsider further development with DAB+ which have shaken the politicians

The politicians will probably decide on a market research in order to find out what the listeners want. Also special attention should be on an in-car DAB radio solution.

The much toted introduction of DAB radio in Norway is not yet successful in spite of a barrage of positive news from the DAB lobby organization Digital Radio Norge. The FM network is planned to be closed for public service and major commercial radio stations 2017-19 but still only 18 percent of the cars are equipped for DAB+. Also there is a fierce resistance from the local radio sphere which do not want to leave FM for DAB+. 

The future fate of 16 million FM-receivers is still unknown. Today, Norway is the only country in the world with a formal closure date for FM. However, there is a fierce resistance to close FM which probably will be retained for local and community radio without any set switch-off date. The government will take a decision on this in April. The chairman of the Local Radio Association Svein Larsen is happy that the issue is being reconsidered. To close the FM network 2017 will kill local radio he says.

In Sweden the government coalition partner the Green party is still opposing a proposed national venture in digital terrestrial radio using the DAB system. Already 2013 the Greens in a Parliament bill wanted to find out if DAB was the proper technological choice for the future. The party sees this a complex question with many technical considerations which cannot be decide on before all aspects have been elucidated. The party also want to see the consumer needs being accurately analyzed. The Green party is in charge of the Ministry of Culture.

The proposal for a transition to DAB+ is now in consultation and the government might take a decision in May 2015. However, there is a vocal and widespread opposition to close FM radio. The government might again put a lid on this as the socialdemocratic government did in 2005. It should also be noted that there are 200 vacant FM frequencies in Sweden and that the broadcast provider Teracom is presently upgrading its complete FM network.

Since 2007 Finland is using the VHF Band III exclusively for television (DVB-T2) and there is no space assigned for DAB radio. Commercial radio on FM is the most profitable in the Nordic region.

The forecast 
is that FM will be retained in the four major Nordic countries, but as a parallel platform for radio DAB will probably stay on for while in Denmark and Norway. A major stumbling block for DAB is a lack of popular support both in media and by public opinion in general.  In 2020 online listening on 4G and 5G might become a major listening platform for radio and music in general. Besides approx. 50 million FM receivers there will be around 20 million smartphones to receive radio and music on-line 2020.