Monday 19 March 2018

BBC: No Switch-Off Plans for FM Radio

Photo: BBC
FM, DAB and internet will form a 'hybrid' future
The BBC has cancelled plans to switch off FM radio broadcasts and force millions of listeners to tune into digital transmissions. FM will remain as part of a 'hybrid' future that will operate alongside DAB and the internet. Bob Shennan, the director of BBC Radio and Music, confirmed the scrapping today at the Radiodays Europe conference in Vienna. Shannon urged broadcasters to work together to ensure the survival of radio, saying Government plants to switch of analogue broadcast could restrict listeners' choice.

We all once thought that DAB was the only digital future of radio, but audiences want choice, said Shennan. We now know DAB is important, but only part of the story, along with FM and the internet. We need to do more before we consider a switchover in the UK, and for that to be genuinely audience-led.

Analogue radio was originally set to begin turning off in 2015 under Government plans. But a weak take-up of DAB meant the plans were scrapped and ministers said a switchover would begin after digital audiences accounted for half of overall listening. That threshold has already passed - with DAB accounting for 36% and the internet leading digital audience with more than 50%.     

Mr Shennan's appeal for commercial rivals in the radio industry to work together indicates an increasing fear at the BBC over the ever-widening choice for audiences online.

Shennan urged commercial broadcasters to collaborate on initiatives to ensure that radio remains relevant in an era of 5G connectivity as Ofcom's spectrum auction gets underway, saying: How can radio make the most of this technology? Or more pressing still, how can we protect the critical radio space in cars, where we need to work with suppliers to ensure that radio thrives as part of the connected dashboard?

Some facts:
Besides the UK being the leading DAB nation there are only four other countries with a DAB weekly listening more than 10%; Norway, Denmark, Switzerland and Australia. BBC has been the main promotor of this platform introduced in the UK 1995 along with public broadcasters in Sweden and Norway. However, the UK still is on the original DAB system platform as there has been no upgrade transition to DAB+. A considerable part of the DAB receivers are not compatible with DAB+.  

There are an estimated 120 million FM-receivers in the UK.  An analysis indicate that without a complete national FM switch-off DAB will not become a major listening platform or even survive on the market for radio and music streaming at all.

Also read
BBC to shelve plans to force listeners to replace their analogue radios with DAB sets (The Telegraph)
BBC scraps plans to turn off FM radio signals that would have forced millions of listeners to tune into digital (Daily Mail)
BBC halts FM radio switch off (Digital TV Group)