Ofcom counts three in ten users as a success for digital radio

After the UK Government’s sustained promotion and protectionism of the expensive digital radio - which will never reach much of the highlands – Ofcom has just published its Digital Radio Report 2012: The Communications Market: Digital Radio Report 2012.

The report looks at the availability and take-up of digital radio services in the UK.

It shows that almost three in ten (29.5%) of all radio listening hours in the twelve months to June 2012 were to digital radio – and this is presented as a triumph after a sustained five year campaign by the Westminster Government to force DAB radio on a largely uninterested and unwilling public.

In Scotland, the muscular part of this campaign – the planned universal switch off of the analogue radio signal – would have left most of the highlands and islands with no radio reception at all. Digital radio transmission requires hugely expensive multiplex licences from Ofcom and any broadcaster investing in such a licence has to have an audience catchment area capable of returning on that investment.

The populations in the Highlands and Islands are simply far too small to be earners for those providing such a service and so there would have been no suppliers, The possible exception was the Inverness area whose economic viability was marginal but whose city status made a certain degree of loss acceptable.

For the elderly, who make up such a high proportion of the Scottish population and markedly that of the Highlands and Islands, radio is a constant companion, regularly the only one; often the only carrier of news; and a voice in the night.

For Argyll enlisted the help of Alan Reid in bringing to the attention of the then Culture Secretary at Westminster the absolute impossibility of turning off the analogue signal in the Highlands and Islands.

It emerged that this was not only a situation the UK government was not aware of – but that they hadn’t even thought of such situations.

A continuing worry is that a successor Culture Secretary appeared not to be aware of his predecessor’s agreement then that the signal would not be switched off in the Highlands; and since this area is below the radar in Whitehall, the situation requires to be closely monitored at Holyrood.

The way the market is going, with only three in ten radio users even now getting and taking DAB radio, it is highly probable that the analogue signal will never be switched off. As the population becomes ever more predominantly Internet users, that platform,  already a major source of access to radio programmes worldwide, will make the production of other than Internet radio sets uneconomic, outside high value niche markets.

All that Ofcom can say in this report is that: ‘digital radio sets were the most widely-used method to listen to digital services’.

That means that amongst the three in ten using digital radio, DAB radio sets were no more than ‘the most widely used method’ of listening.

This entire operation has been an indefensible fraud on the public and on the public purse.

It was policy led not demand led and, even in the face of a variety of threats and compulsions – car makers were compelled to fit new cars with DAB radios – demand has remained resistant.

An article from yesterday’s Guardian underlines the situation.

For Argyll’s previous articles on this matter are linked below, dating back to 2008. They carry the history of what is an ongoing, expensive, uninformed and inevitably doomed government campaign.

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6 Responses to Ofcom counts three in ten users as a success for digital radio

  1. There seems to be a bit of confusion in the article. It says that approx. 30% of listening hours are to digital radio, but then attempts to equate this to only 3/10 people listening to digital. Leaving aside the large areas of the country that don’t receive a digital signal, surely there are a great many people who are in the process of switching and hence have some analogue and some digital sets, resulting in some or their listening being digital and some analogue. Gradually, as older cars are replaced, new stereos are purchased et al, the proportion will rise.

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  2. “the planned universal switch off of the analogue radio signal – would have left most of the highlands and islands with no radio reception at all. Digital radio transmission requires hugely expensive multiplex licences from Ofcom and any broadcaster investing in such a licence has to have an audience catchment area capable of returning on that investment.”

    Slight exaggeration there.

    Much of the Highlands is very well served by DAB and of course there are plenty of areas with poor (or no) VHF reception. There are even some places with DAB reception but no VHF FM reception.

    The big problem is that only the BBC national networks are available in most areas but Radio Scotland and Radio nan Gaidheal are transmitted on one of the commercial MUXes which is out of the BBC’s control and needs the commercial stations to extend their coverage. I suspect that, as often happens, they want someone else to pay.

    DAB is much more suitable for the Highland terrain than VHF FM because it does not suffer from the distortion cause by multipath. The signals reflected off the hills which cause the problems on VHF FM actually improve DAB reception. Also rather than there being perhaps three poor signals on different channels, with DAB they are all on the same chanel and give to give an improved combined signal.

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    • The Department of Culture, Media and Sport admitted to us when challenged, at the time we involved Alan Reid MP, that most of the Highlands would not be commercially served by DAB.
      It may be that we are talking geographical area and you are talking population,.
      The Ofcom multiplex licences were so expensive and so hard to return on investment that a swathe of licences were handed back.
      When you say that, in the case of Radio Scotland and Radio nan Gaidheal,that you ‘…suspect that, as often happens, they want someone else to pay.’ – it would be more accurate to say that they NEED someone else to pay.
      The point is that this is a failing and largely redundant Technology and the government has wilfully persisted in trying to ram it into a majority market position – clearly without a positive response from the market.
      The human ear can barely tell the difference in the purity of sound, particularly since few are actually listening in ideal circumstances. The Internet is, as with print, a muscular challenger to radio as it will be with television. And, apart from access via laptops, wifi radio sets just get carried around the house and into the garden.

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      • In geographic terms, most of the Highlands is not served by VHF FM or terrestrial TV.

        I was referring to the bigger commercial stations, owned by large groups nowadays, when saying that they expect somewhere else to pay, not the small local ones in the Highlands.

        It is not a failing technology, it gives far better reception in the Highland terrain. There are later systems but that is always the case with technology.

        There has been a lot of rubbish from people living within line of sight of main VHF FM transmitters and having an external antenna claiming that all VHF FM reception is perfect which it probably is in their location. The average listened is using a small portable or car radio. I think we have all had to fiddle with telescopic antenna on VHF FM portables because someone has moved in the room.

        I don’t even bother putting the DAB antenna on the roof of my car most of the time because I get perfectly good reception around the local area with it on top of the dashboard, I could not do that on VHF FM.

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        • “I think we have all had to fiddle with telescopic antenna on VHF FM portables because someone has moved in the room.”
          This sounds like b/w TV days with set-top aerials!

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