Sunday 10 September 2017

EBU Report Challenged: Is DAB Best Choice for Radio Distribution?

Internet developments and added listening values omitted by EBU study
The EBU has presented a study using a model country based on the statistics available from the five principal countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK). FM emerged as the most expensive distribution platform. Digital transition to DAB would lower the budget required for distribution, permitting greater investment in content production and employment according to the report. However,
an analysis show that there are a lot add before drawing such conclusions. Crucial technical variables and added values with Internet distribution is not considered in this study.

Broadband has a variable cost that depends on the listening time and the population reach it sustains. It proves to be an expensive technology for distribution and not really capable of competing with DAB for various reasons according to the EBU study. Nevertheless, mobile broadband (MBB) could be considered as an alternative solution to terrestrial broadcasting where population density is very low. In these cases, the broadband providers’ business models will determine whether it is feasible to cover the sparsely populated areas or not.

The current need for MBB addresses some use cases that terrestrial broadcasting cannot; mainly due to the absence of mobile devices capable of receiving FM and/or DAB signals. MBB comes at a high price premium, in comparison with the broadcast model, that could in some cases threaten the ability of the population to access information according to the report.

For radio broadcasters, the way forward could be a transition to DAB, exploiting internet connectivity to provide additional low data services that enable interactivity with the audience is a conclusion of the EBU report.

Read EBU Tech Review 2017 Cost-benefit analysis of FM, DAB, DAB+ and Broadband

A more holistic approach on radio distribution - an analysis

As EBU together with the WorldDAB organisation is the major promoters of the DAB-system it comes as no surprise that this study was quite selective.

In view of Internet developments regarding distribution of video and television with HD and UHD quality it is difficult to give this study too much weight in the debate about the benefits of DAB for radio distribution.  An HD video channel on Internet will required as much as 40-50 times more capacity than a radio channel (at 98 kbps).  The study did not consider the Internet added values for radio listening.  For sound quality 98 kbps is not optimal for music listening. By listening to for example to Spotify or BBC3 on Internet you will get 320 kbps.  Also DAB will never match the Internet when it comes to choice of radio channels as well as music streaming services.

The study has not taken into consideration the investment costs for consumers to replace FM receivers. In households there are often several FM sets including in cars. For consumers looking for more choice Internet listening will be a low-cost and handy alternative in their smartphone.

90 minutes per day of radio listening on MBB 4G/LTE would add up to 4,2 Gb data/month. In Finland and Sweden you can subscribe today for 40 Gb/month on MBB for less than 25 euro a month.  Radio will be just a minor part of your MBB data consumption.

Internet radio listening is also common via fixed broadband and on smartphones via free and unlimited access to local Wifi-systems in homes, offices and public places even in public transport. The EBU study has not considered the ongoing technical developments of MBB with eMBMS and LTE Broadcast.  It should also be noted that comparing over the air (OTA) broadcasting and Internet media distribution is like comparing apples with strawberries. An OTA channel will occupy frequency space even without having any listeners. On Internet cyberspace is only occupied when someone is listening i.e. the IP protocol is activated.  An OTA niche channel with an audience of just a few percentage will be extremely expensive per listener.

For enhanced communication structures MBB networks are established in all countries with strong industry and government backing. It is a win-win game. Broadband is primarily regarded as a utility while OTA networks are primarily functioning as an entertainment service with music distribution as the dominant content.

Regarding the absence of broadcast reception capabilities in mobile/smartphones it is common (except for the iPhone) with FM receiving capabilities. But still the manufacturers not keen to include DAB in their phones because this system is not a global standard as FM in all 220 countries of the world.  Thus, as the smartphone becoming a major listening platform for radio Internet will be the only feasible alternative or replacement of FM radio.

We also note that DAB and the other European digital OTA system DRM has not been compared in this study.

Also read
World's Fastest Mobile Network Marginalize DAB Radio
New Alliance for LTE Broadcast on 4G and 5G
What's True About Mobile Broadband Broadcasting?
Mobile broadband future major platform for radio and tv

The Illusions of the DAB Radio World Is Worrying