Thursday 30 April 2015

Dark Clouds for DAB Radio in the Nordic Countries

Vanishing prospects for FM switch-off in Denmark, Norway and Sweden
An FM switch-off in the Nordic countries might be more far off than ever. The opposition is competent and vocal. DAB listening today is measured at 17 % in Denmark, 19 % in Norway and less than 1 % in Sweden. Finland opted out of DAB irrevocably already 2005. With increasing on-line listening and retained FM the DAB-system is expected to have a difficult time surviving on free market terms and without government intervention. Here is an update of the future situation for FM and DAB broadcasting in three major Nordic countries.

The politicians in Denmark were impressed by the recent heavy opposition by major broadcasters and music copyright organizations for a premature FM switch-off.  Originally a switch-off was planned for 2019 "if more than 50 % of listening is digital" 2018. Now a switch-off decision will rather be taken after the 50 % goal has been reached and the actual switch-off will be two years subsequently. This time also in-car listening will be included.

The political agreement in Folketinget (the Parliament) includes a major study of listening and technical developments including the Internet and new broadcast systems (as DVB-T2 Lite which is tested in Copenhagen). Also developments after the 700 MHz band has been transferred from broadcasters to mobile broadband operators will be observed

Today "digital listening" in Denmark is 26 percent (including Internet and terrestrial television network). Actual DAB listening is estimated to be 17 %. Denmark introduced DAB 2002 and is preparing for a DAB+ upgrade. This political decision and with this slow pace of market development it is forecast that an FM switch-off will be delayed many years - or never implemented.

In Norway the opposition against an FM switch-off is vocal especially from the local radio sector (commercial and community radio). One observer said it is like the big guys beating the small guys. Public service NRK and two foreign owned commercial operators versus Norwegian owned and operated local stations.

The Minster of Culture Thorhild Widvey (Conservative) has now put a proposition to Stortinget (the parliament) that a switch-off should be implemented 2017 but excluding the local radio sector outside the four largest cities. 

However, the coalition partner in the government the Progressive Party has been against an FM switch-off all the time. Now the MP Ib Thomson from this party has been appointed to chair the committee taking on this DAB proposal in Stortinget.  As the major parties - the Conservatives and the Social Democrats still are positive to a DAB introduction a political compromise will probably be similar to the British model according to the newspaper Aftenposten (already in July 2014). In the U.K. BBC will continue on FM with no set switch-off year.

In Sweden for the DAB proposal there has been a devastating outcome of a government consultation and a highly critical National Audit report against any FM switch-off. Also there are a total press opinion against any transition from FM to DAB+.  The only alternative platform for radio is generally regarded to be Internet on mobile or fixed broadband. Also further government involvement in DAB development in Sweden is questioned. 

Not later than in May, the Minister of Culture Alice Bah Kunhke is expected to announce that if the government will accept or reject the proposal for a transition from FM to DAB+ 2017-2022.  If there will no proposal to Riksdagen (the parliament) Sweden will probably follow Finland opting out of the DAB system.    

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