Monday 24 April 2023

DAB Radio in Sweden - Previously Condemned and Dismissed, Back on the Agenda

Digital radio report commissioned by the government faces harsh criticism.

The parliamentary public service broadcasting investigation has now been appointed with Göran Hägglund (KD) as chairman. According to the government's directive, the committee must, among several other things, investigate whether Sveriges Radio (SR) can expand a national DAB network by its own budget funds. This directive is characterized by the mapping and analysis of digital radio development in Europe, which the Authority for Press, Radio and Television (MPRT) carried out on behalf of the government in 2022. In addition, the "radio industry" - i.e. Viaplay and Bauer - exert pressure on the matter.

This is the fourth time since DAB was introduced in 1995 that the DAB issue has been investigated. At the latest in 2015, an unanimous Riksdag (parliament) rejected the proposal to replace FM with DAB. This was preceded by a strong referral opinion against the proposal and also a critical review by the National Audit Office. One of the most critical advisory statements came from the Public Service Council (PSR), which is now returning with scathing criticism of the report and directives even before the committee began its work.

PSR considers it risky if SR continues to be involved in an outdated technical system that will lack consumer demand. Costly mistakes can in the long run contribute to a decreasing trust in the public service among the listeners/taxpayers and the politicians.

PSR shares MPRT's conclusion that the development of DAB radio is not consumer-driven.

However, PSR also notes numerous inaccuracies and that facts that are crucial for an overall understanding have been omitted from the report. Despite the fact that the government mandate includes "digital radio development", no systems other than DAB have been addressed. The flaws in the report are so serious, PSR believes, that it therefore submitted a special opinion to the government.

PSR is concerned that the relevant actors, together with the lobby organization WorldDAB, have been given a disproportionately large space in the factual basis. Over the years, technical problems, noticed by listeners and experts alike, have not been answered by the vested interests behind the system. Criticism has never been met with substance. It must be a government authority's task to draw attention to this, seek objective sources and report all known system problems.

The mapping and analysis is almost exclusively about the DAB system and Europe - a limited part of the world. The report contributes to the widespread misconception that DAB is a world standard and a system mandated by the EU.

PSR lacks a description that gives an objective and true picture of the DAB system with its currently limited development possibilities on an international level. Especially in relation to FM radio's continued strong position as a global standard and the Internet as a second main platform for radio. Today, half of the world's population has smartphones, which also function as radio receivers, which also cannot be integrated with DAB because that system requires its own transmitter and receiver structure.

The report does not report other systems for terrestrial digital radio, such as DRM and HD Radio. India, the world's soon-to-be-largest nation in terms of population, is betting on digital radio on medium wave (DRM30) and on FM (DRM+). The tests that public service companies in several European countries conduct or participate in with terrestrial digital radio via mobile networks - 5G Broadcast - are not mentioned.

The listeners in the Nordic countries do not have any problems with lack of capacity with their mobile subscriptions. There are no decisive cost thresholds when it comes to streaming audio such as radio. Several operators today offer "free surfing", i.e. unlimited data sets.

Streaming services, such as Spotify and Apple Music, affect music listening in general and terrestrial radio in particular. An analysis of what future importance the Internet will have for radio's development is crucial for a fair picture of the listening needs that the DAB special interests claim to fulfill, writes PSR.

Among others, PSR's other points of view can be mentioned:

- The EU directive does not state that all new cars must be equipped with ”DAB receivers” as standard equipment.

- In most cases, reporting of listenership numbers is missing for the countries with almost or fully developed DAB networks. The listener's perspective is largely missing in the entire report.

- There is no accounting of and how the countries that have not chosen to introduce DAB radio have justified this.

- The report does not report any of the many technical limitations and problems that exist with the DAB system.

- Expansion of a new independent transmitter network involves energy and environmental disadvantages.

- The very high costs for the DAB system as a whole are not reported.

- Attention has not been paid to how the introduction of a third platform for radio distribution, alongside FM and the Internet, could mean a dillution of crisis preparedness.

Furthermore, MPRT has not investigated whether there is a real mutual audience dependence between the commercial actors and SR. PSR does not advocate a ban on commercial radio companies investing in the broadcast systems they believe in. But public resources, including SR, should not subsidize a major risk-taking a national DAB network entails.

Conclusion:  DAB is not a choice today - or for the future

PSR's conclusion is that there is a lack of clear and sustainable motives for a DAB expansion. After almost 30 years with DAB, there is still a lack of interest in DAB among radio listeners. Getting them to now stop listening to radio via the Internet on their smartphone or on FM and instead purchase a separate DAB receiver is an impossible thought today. There is no added value in this.

Since the launch of the DAB system in 1995, there has largely been no decisive progress in terms of its technical development and market prospects. Nor has any concrete need been demonstrated to build out a third independent broadcast platform for radio alongside the FM network or the mobile network.

PSR believes that there are no longer sustainable motives for societal involvement and continued government investigation into the DAB system. Public resources, including SR, should of course not subsidize such risk-taking. It is assumed that ministries and authorities always put the citizen's interest first in their investigations and decisions. Letting special interests set the agenda damages trust in democracy, PSR believes.

Complete documents (in Swedish)

The Public Service Council's opinion to the government 

Public service committee directives

Also read

Final Stop For DAB Radio in Sweden

The Impossible Mission: A Global Future for DAB Radio