Digital delay 

11 December 2007

Channel 4 speech radio launch delayed

Whilst television is moving full steam ahead towards the main part of the region-by-region analogue TV transmitter switchoff, digital radio has been encountering more and more setbacks. Recently, Virgin Radio Viva was axed which was then followed by Global Media ditching DJ’s from The Arrow as well as withdrawing from the planned Sky News Radio.

And now the launch of Channel 4 Radio has been postponed by three months, which in itself doesn’t account to much but still indicates that the urgency and momentum that accompanied the recent growth of digital radio has now been lost. Ofcom has also delayed its own plans for an FM analogue radio switchoff as the industry is still uncertain as how best to proceed.

Digital radio in the UK as it stands has three problems. Firstly there’s the issue of sound quality, which is more important than Ofcom and the digital radio industry seems to acknowledge, although the root of the problem may be that quantity was previously judged to be a more important factor than quality in persuading people that digital radio was ‘a good thing’.

The recently introduced DAB+ standard has the potential to solve the sound quality problem, but the UK suffers from having an established base of DAB digital radios (‘early adopter syndrome’) that can’t receive DAB+ transmissions which means having to wait for the industry to catch up with a new standard before it can be introduced.

Secondly, FM still offers a decent choice of stations along with the fact that you can count the number of DAB-equipped car radios on the fingers of one hand. Thirdly the recent advertising slowdown has inevitably affected radio stations, so obviously digital-only stations such as The Arrow have been hardest hit even with an increasing number of listeners.

Promoting DAB+ and DVB-H in tandem may be the only way to rejuvenate the digital radio market in the longer term apart from a spurious threat of switching off FM radio stations, because DAB together with Freeview and digital satellite radio stations collectively appear to be losing their attraction.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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