Thursday 25 January 2018

DAB Radio in Norway Close to the Abyss. FM Still On.

Picture: VG
Lobbyists are spreading a false picture of the digital OTA transition
During 2017 Norway switched-off its national FM network and replaced it with DAB+. Reports distributed by DAB promoters to international media depict the transition as ”successful”. However, the listeners do not agree. Last month the Oslo daily Dagbladet published a Ipsos poll indicating that 56% of the Norwegians are not satisfied with DAB, 31% satisfied and 12% do not know. 

Trying to force the listeners to scrap their FM receivers and invest in DAB+ receivers will come to a high cost for the three major broadcasters. Public radio NRK has lost a considerable part of its listeners – about a fifth during 2017.

Abroad the DAB lobby is ignoring the awkward developments at home. The CEO of the DAB promoting company Digitalradio Norge AS Ole Jørgen Torvmark will tell quite another story for an audience at the European Radio Show in Paris this Friday. The success story of DAB+ in Norway is a template for what can be achieved from digital switchover! says the invitation by WorldDAB. 

Meanwhile the Norwegians are furious about the FM switch-off. An editorial in Dagbladet summarized 2017: Agreeing that the FM switch-off is something ridiculous is uniting the nation on level with cross-country skiing.

Being in the only country in the world to switch-off FM-radio the listeners are now discovering several setbacks with DAB+.  For example while driving a car with frequent DAB signal drop-outs there is no automatic FM back up signal as in other country with dual systems - as in Australia - there will be only silence.

There have also been lots of criticism regarding an impaired emergency preparedness system. Mobile and smartphones are not DAB-able as most are for FM radio. Still millions of cars, buses and trucks are not equipped with DAB+. And the geographical coverage of the nation including its sea coast was much better with FM than DAB.

Listeners are also disappointed of the arrogant responses on complaints about DAB reception. NRK and Digitalradio Norge AS argue that nothing is wrong with the transmission system. The blame is instead put on the listeners themselves and their receiver installations. The attitude is that the DAB  critics ”are as always just a few complaining” individuals.

However, social media is buzzing with resistance to the switch-off. One of several Facebook groups Nei - til tvanngsinforing av DAB… has reached 7,800 members in eight months and is growing fast. Most major and regional newspapers have published negative editorials, op-eds and articles about the switch-off.  You will hardly find any positive input about the transition in any Norwegian newspaper during 2017.

After the switch-off was completed in December politicians are getting worried and have started to question the project. The new Minister of Culture Trine Skrei Grande (Liberals) was skeptical to the project already 2011 in the parliamentary debate on DAB radio. Then, she hoped it was the last time the politicians decided on an information-sharing technology.

In newspapers and social media NRK and Digitalradio Norge are accused to have not presented a complete picture of the FM and DAB technology. The costs for listeners to replace their receivers (est. NOK 23 billion kronor) and the impact of Internet on radio developments was never put on the agenda. 

It is primarily the threatened position of local radio that concerns politicians. For a long time according to other sources, behind this is effort by the major players to force local commercial competition out of the market. This would be particularly aimed at local Radio Metro and others on FM in the metropolitan areas. According to experts, such smaller players hardly will survive being exclusively in a DAB network together with the three dominant players. (NRK, German Bauer and Swedish MTG)

Meanwhile many Norwegians are staying with FM-radio as they can listen to local commercial or community radio. Still there is no political decision to close FM for local radio.

Some local commercial FM stations have doubled or even trebled their listernership during 2017. Also almost half of the population can listen to cross-border FM mostly the Swedish public channels. Neighboring Sweden and Finland have no plans to replace the FM networks with DAB+.

But the steep uphill battle for DAB will be the Internet. Norway is one of the most connected countries in the world with the fastest mobile broadband capacity. Many listeners losing NRK and commercial channels on FM discover that the choices and sound quality on the Internet is far superior to the DAB offering.

The ultimate killer for DAB will be the smartphone. And Norway is a part of this universal evolution which will make the smartphone a major listening platform for digital radio - in most of the world’s 220 countries. NRK has not succeeded convincing the smartphone manufacturers to include DAB receiver capabilities. The last DAB+ LG model initiated by NRK cannot be found in the stores in Norway any longer.

The Norwegians will find alternatives to national channels for listening to radio and music in their homes and on the road. The ultimate losers of this transition to DAB+ will be NRK whose public service image is tarnished by being part of something the citizens never asked for and still don’t want. The winners will be local radio on FM.

In the Norwegian newspapers, but also social media and by listening to the listeners you will get the story not told by lobbyist. 

Also read
One Out of Two Norwegians Are Still Dissatisfied With DAB Radio
The Illusions of the DAB Radio World Are Worrying