When I joined the BBC’s digital radio team in 1999, everyone expected it to be the next big thing. Nearly a decade on, however, DAB digital radio still feels like it’s up and coming.
The technology offers better sound, more stations, ease of tuning and the opportunity to transmit text and other data, but it’s also suffered from poor marketing, expensive kit, variable reception and strong unpredicted competition from both digital TV and the internet as a means for listening to audio.
DAB has always had admirers and detractors in equal measure, and the recent mixed headlines it has attracted should be viewed in this context.
On the one hand, you have the news that DAB now accounts for 10 per cent of the UK’s radio listening. On the other comes the announcement that commercial radio company GCAP Media is closing two of its digital stations because, it says, DAB is not “economically viable”.
What is the sector to make of this? I can’t help but feel that it’s a technology worth sticking with, and one that the sector should get more involved in.
For all the doomsayers calling DAB the new Betamax, there’s the fact that there are now 6.5 million sets in the UK. A million have been bought in the past three months. Add to that the continued public commitment of both the BBC and Channel 4 to working in partnership with manufacturers to develop new ways of using the technology.
DAB broadcasts in the future could involve receivers displaying images, charity logos, phone numbers and key campaign facts, while the voice of your spokesperson comes out of the speakers at the same time.
Moreover, a report looking at the future of radio – and backed by commercial trade body the Radio Centre – commented that “as listeners migrate to digital platforms, new advertising revenue streams are opening up”.
That’s good news for commercial companies and for us, because it recognises that DAB can be a new way to reach consumers.
Third sector groups should take advantage of this new market so that we’re already established with the major players, if and when the technology really takes off.
Even if it doesn’t grow in the way many people hope, there’s certainly nothing to be lost from seeking to develop further relationships with big players such as the BBC and Channel 4, and 6.5 million DAB-using households is a not insubstantial audience.
A big part of me feels there’s nothing to lose.
– Damian Radcliffe is head of broadcasting for volunteering charity CSV