SWITCHOVER FOR UK RADIO
What is digital radio? What are the ways of listening to digital radio? What are the industry arguments for switchover? What are the industry arguments against switchover? What are the consumer arguments for switching to digital radio? What are the consumer arguments against switchover? What's happening in vehicles? What would be the environmental impact? What are the options for a switchover timetable? How would switchover happen? How much would switchover cost and who would pay? Who decides and who advises? What conditions need to be met? What might stimulate a faster take-up of digital radio? What is the timetable for switchover? Who would need assistance with switchover? What is the future for FM? What about DAB vs DAB+? What would happen if there was no switchover? Some basic data
What is digital radio?
Digital radio is radio broadcast in digital (discrete noughts and ones) format as opposed to radio broadcast in analogue (continuous wave) format.
The process of adding audio information to a radio wave is known technically as modulation.
There are two analogue methods of modulation:
What are the ways of listening to digital radio?
What are the industry arguments for switchover?
What are the industry arguments against switchover?
What are the consumer arguments for switching to digital radio?
What are the consumer arguments against switchover?
What would be the environmental impact?
As regards usage of digital radios, if you buy a new digital radio today and compare it to a similar analogue product, it will be more efficient. There is no longer any investment going in to making FM radios more energy efficient, but substantial R&D investment is being made to continue improving the efficiency of digital radios. It is claimed that listening to a typical DAB radio all day long consumes less power than boiling a kettle for a cup of tea.
A recent independent study funded by DCMS (May 2011), which compared the energy efficiency of 57 models of digital and analogue radios, showed that digital products were more efficient on stand-by. It also showed that, for example, the average in-use power consumption of portable DAB radios had improved by 33% in just one year compared to only a marginal improvement in analogue.
As regards disposal of old radios, not all analogue radios will have to be disposed of. In many cases, radio is embedded into another device, such as a CD player or stereo system, and those devices will not be disposed of as they are used for other purposes. Furthermore, FM radios will still be able to receive the community and small local radio services still on FM.
But for those people who do want to replace their radios, it is hoped that the environmental impact will be minimised through responsible disposal and recycling. The infrastructure and facilities for this are already in place under the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive) which requires manufacturers to pay for the sustainable recycling and re-use of electrical goods.
As regards transmission, digital uses much less power than analogue services. Figures from network operator Arqiva show that transmitting nationally via DAB uses less than 6% of the electricity of transmitting the service via FM. For local and regional radio services, digital radio uses around half the electricity per service compared to FM.
What are the options for a switchover timetable?
How would switchover happen?
This has not been decided but the industry is discussing a programme involving three phases with different parts of the UK included in one of the three phases, the whole programme taking perhaps three years.
Even after switchover, there would remain some radio stations broadcasting on analogue: small local and community stations using FM (probably roughly 200 out of a total of around 300).
How much would switchover cost and who would pay?
The cost of transmitters for local coverage build-out from 2012-2017 is budgeted at £21 million (compared to £700 million for switchover of television). Both these figures exclude costs of marketing and the Help Scheme. This would be in addition to the costs of continued analogue transmission.
In July 2012, a Memorandum of Understanding was agreed providing for an equal three-way split of costs between the BBC, the multipex operators and Government. This is not a legally binding document and a legal agreement will now be negotiated. In both cases, the period covered is until March 2017 when a new BBC licence fee settlement will come into operation.
This sort of arrangement would only last until switchover. From then onwards, the industry would be expected to fund the extra costs of digital transmission from the savings generated by the closure of analogue transmission.
The basic cost to the consumer will often be higher than for television DSO. Instead of buying a set top box for around £40 for a television, every radio will have to be replaced. While this could also cost £40 per set, a like for like replacement will be more.
Who decides and who advises?
Currently the DCMS Secretary of State Maria Miller would decide on the advice of Minister of State Ed Vaizey and after consultation with other Government Departments.
There are four advisory groups to the Department's Programme Management Team:
The organisation representing industry interests is Digital Radio UK (DRUK) which is 50% owned by the commercial sector (the three largest private radio groups plus the RadioCentre), 40% owned by the BBC, and 10% owned by Arqiva (which owns the transmitters). There is Board representation from the set manufacturers (Intellect) and the car manufacturers (SMMT). The Chief Executive of DRUK is Ford Ennals.
The main manufacturers of digital radios are Roberts, PURE and Sony.
What conditions need to be met?
The Government has said that a decision to switchover will not be taken until two conditions are met:
Note: In its September 2010 report "Digital Radio Switchover: what is in it for the consumer?" the Consumer Expert Group (CEG) proposed that the take-up test be based on DAB listening only, rather than all digital listening, and that "a digital switchover date should only be announced when no more than 30% of listening remains on analogue".
What might stimulate a faster take-up of digital radio?
What is the timetable for switchover?
There is none yet and there will not be one this side of a General Election. The current aspirational date in the industry is 2020.
Who would need assistance with switchover?
Blind and partially sighted people, some other disabled groups, and older people will not be able to manage switchover without assistance. A range of other groups with physical, mental or locational issues may well need some support
In the case of digital switchover of television, there was a Help Scheme funded by an addition to the BBC licence fee. There will need to be some sort of Help Scheme in relation to digital switchover of radio. In July 2013, the Consumer Expert Group submitted to DCMS proposals for such a Help Scheme for radio.
What is the future of FM?
Unlike switchover for television, when the analogue signal was switched off, in the case of radio we are talking about a switchover rather than a switch-off because there will still remain analogue radio broadcasting on FM. Indeed it is Government’s intention that a post-switchover radio market would include a strong tier of small-scale local radio on FM. This tier of radio would be a mix of community and commercial radio and would have a specific focus on the delivery of locally produced content.
In Ofcom’s 2009 consultation "Radio – the implications of Digital Britain for localness regulation", the regulator set out a number of options for determining which services could remain on FM without risking the integrity of any future switchover programme. Of the options presented, the Government’s preference is to allow stations with Measured Coverage Areas (MCA), the local area in which a local licence is expected to be available which is smaller than 40% of the coverage area of the relevant local multiplex or multiplexes of which it overlaps, to remain on FM. In fact, a number of stations are technically ‘small’ but on DAB already and a number are operating in areas where there is not yet a local multiplex operating.
This proposal for a cut-off would probably mean that some 100 radio stations - out of the 300+ - would remain on FM.
What about DAB vs DAB+?
DAB is a technology currently used in the UK for for digital radios and proposed for digital switchover of radio, but many other countries are using or planning to use DAB+ and it is likely but not certain that at some point in the future the UK will upgrade from DAB to DAB+ which would involve some services being broadcast in DAB+ format.
A dormant AACv2 decoder for future DAB+ services installed in a receiver sold today but not used because of a lack of DAB+ transmissions would still attract the royalty defined in the licence agreement. Therefore it is proposed that the minimum receiver specification (MRS) for digital radio provide that such radios be upgradeable to DAB+ but not necessarily already upgraded for such services.
From a consumer point of view, there are no major benefits of DAB+ over DAB. However, if DAB+ could be used to increase significantly the bit rate used per service, this would improve the sound quality. Also, since other European countries seem likely to adopt DAB+ for their digital switchover, it would make the use of digital radios across Europe easier.
From an industry point of view, however, DAB+ makes more efficient use of spectrum, allowing something like two and a half times more stations for any given slice of spectrum, so transmission costs are significantly lower.
DAB+ would not replace DAB so there would not be a further switchover; instead DAB+ services would supplement existing DAB services.
Upgrade from DAB to DAB+ could be:
What would happen if there was no switchover?
The current licencing arrangements - which effectively tie the industry into digital transmission - would need to be unravelled which would probably require primary legislation.
By the time of any such decision, the BBC would probably have completed its investment programme on transmitters but it would probably cut back on its investment in digital programming.
The national commercial multiplex (Digital One) would most likely continue but the investment in local commercial multiplexes would be more mixed. Indeed the case for continued investment in local multiplexes and transmitters would be difficult to sustain in most areas.
Some basic data
Value of UK radio sector - £1.1 billion
The set universe is estimated by Ofcom at being 100M-113M. This estimate is roughly in line with DCMS presumptions of roughly 2.2 sets per household, as many households may contain more sets but do not use them.
Share of UK radio set market:
Amount of radio listening in cars: about 20%
Proportion of cars with a digital radio: 4.5%
National coverage of digital:
Penetration of digital radios as measured by RAJAR (first quarter of 2014):
Proportion of radio sales which are DAB: 39%
16 million DAB digital radios sold since 2000
Household penetration of DAB: 48%
Penetration of digital listening as measured by RAJAR (first quarter of 2014):
Government's Digital Radio Action Plan click here
Digital Radio Action Plan associated documents click here
Preliminary impact assessment of the costs and benefits of switchover click here
DCMS Consumer Expert Group click here
Ofcom consultation on DAB coverage click here
Radio Centre click here
Guide to choice of digital radios click here
Wikipedia guide to digital radio in the UK click here
Last modified on 15 May 2014