Dead And Buried? 

9 March 2008 tbs.pm/3232

Ian Beaumont takes issue with some analysis about the future of DAB.

I am nothing if not a realist. In the many years that I have been following the media, I’ve seen the them do a lot of silly things. But the way industry insiders such as Ralph Bernard have recently talked down DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) digital radio is almost nothing short of deliberate sabotage. Thankfully few others have gotten in on the act, though DAB does have its problems. But then, so does Gcap, the company Ralph Bernard worked for. So maybe, it was telling that Mr Bernard did everything he could to hide Gcap’s problems behind the façade of a DAB crisis. After all, almost all of Gcap’s radio stations broadcast simultaneously on analogue AM or FM and on DAB Digital Radio.

But now, a group of analysts have bought into this façade and are trying to suggest that there is a real crisis in DAB, a crisis that – by the way – doesn’t actually exist except in the minds of bean counters who are looking for profit all the time. The name of this group of analysts: Enders Analysis. Now, this analytical organisation has tried to claim that in fact DAB is about to become the next Betamax!

First of all, the analogy is way off the mark. DAB is not in competition with FM, or AM, or even DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale) which is fairly new on the scene. If that were the case, then LW would probably have been closed off years ago. Secondly, to look at how long it takes for something to bed in to the public consciousness, you only need to look at VHF/FM. The band was opened up in the 1950s, but it didn’t become popular to listen on FM until the 1980s. Even when Radio 1 had to hand over 1053 and 1089 AM to commercial radio in the 1990s, there were still plenty of people to convert over to listening to Radio 1 on FM.

The report’s writer then goes onto suggest that DAB’s financial health is looking grim by saying:

“With three of the largest radio groups having reduced their commitment to the DAB platform in recent months, their stations having been replaced by a mix of ethnic, religious and non-commercial broadcasters, the future health of the DAB platform must be under question.”

I really think this guy needs to wake up and actually do a little research. There are other issues at work here than just DAB. First, Yes, GCrap GCap is closing stations, not because DAB is a failure, but because of their own lack of confidence in both finances and in broadcasting itself. Remember they tried to sell off 9 stations as a bundle, that they felt were “non-core stations”. They failed, miserably. Gcap’s Gold Network is in danger of collapsing. The whole network of 40 stations gets less than 1.5 million listeners, with some stations doing incredibly pathetic numbers. Gold’s Plymouth station gets a mere 7,000 listeners. It’s because the product being offered, whether by DAB, FM, AM or online, is one that people think is not up to scratch. It doesn’t mean the platform will fail.

Virgin Radio may have closed one digital only station and put the brakes on launching another, but that again has little to do with DAB. SMG, who own STV and Grampian as well as Virgin Radio, are trying to sell Virgin Radio, but again, there are few interested parties. It’s an attempt to make the Virgin Radio company more attractive to possible investors. It’s got nothing to do with any possible failure of the DAB platform. People were saying similar things about Digital Terrestrial Television when On/ITV Digital collapsed in 2002. I remember it well, I was reporting on it here at Transdiffusion. Now, with Freeview as the base of the platform, the platform is thriving. Commercial Radio went into the platform without looking at how long it takes to establish one. They were looking for a quick 5-year or so turnaround to profits, rather than the 15-20 years it takes to properly establish a new radio platform.

DTT went from being a commercial platform to being a public service platform and has thrived. DAB needs to go down the same route and it won’t as long as GCap are in charge of national and local multiplexes. GCap’s Digital One and Now Digital are the DAB equivalent of ITV Digital. The daft thing is, this moronic writer of this report, whose name is Grant Goddard, also referenced the ITV Digital debacle!

“Ofcom faces a public outcry if the DAB platform were to fail, with owners of the 6.45 million DAB receivers sold to date demanding a refund of their purchases (remember ITV Digital?).”

Yes, I do. As I mentioned earlier, I reported on it, first hand, you can find the articles over in Bitstream on EMC, along with those of some of my colleagues who also reported on it at the time. And in all honesty, I do not see how over 6 million people would demand refunds for something that they HAVEN’T subscribed to, but just bought a piece of equipment for. Believe it or not, there are still ITV Digital digiboxes out there working, albeit not brilliantly, but they are working, just. But the most moronic statement of them all has to be the one that follows:

“Channel 4 is faced with the task of imminently launching a brand new DAB multiplex in the middle of a snowstorm around the future of the whole platform,”

A ‘snowstorm’ that has been created predominantly by two people. GCrap’s Ralph Bernard and Enders Analysis’s Grant Goddard. Channel 4 got a taste of running a digital radio station in the recently demised Oneword, and it obviously didn’t put them off because they chose to bid for a new national multiplex. And they won. 4 Digital group’s stations represent the freshest ideas for DAB ever. All Digital One seems to have done is trotted out the same old tired sound, time and time again, and Joe Public is bored with it. With the growth in online listening, listeners can tune in to stations the world over, and find the cream of the crop. Sadly for commercial radio, the UK’s best stations are run by the BBC. British commercial radio barely flickers across the online ‘dials’ at all. But stations in the US, Canada, Australia, and Europe are all providing a far superior product to almost anything we have here in the UK. The reason is simple. Whilst our commercial radio stations have cut back content to the bare bones of music, commercials and news, other stations across the world have upped their content levels and because of this, are able to take advantage of the Podcast medium, which out of necessity, has to be speech based.

DAB as a platform is not at fault. It’s the stations themselves that have shot themselves in the proverbial foot. Yes, we’ve lost a number of radio stations on DAB, but they’ve closed because their business plans were not realistic, in much the same way that a multitude of stations have closed on digital television, not because of the platform, but because their business plans were not realistic, not designed for the new digital broadcast environment that exists these days. And because they aren’t making money as quickly as they want to, they want to abandon a broadcast platform. And you, Grant Goddard of Enders Analysis, are actively encouraging them with this piece of anti-DAB propaganda!

The report reads like the kind of hit job that I would expect from Fox News covering a Democrat, rather than an analysis of DAB. It has so many inaccuracies, that I have detailed and more, and come to so many erroneous conclusions, that I have to consign this report to the only file where it seems to fit in. The waste paper bin!

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1 response to this article

keith 9 January 2012 at 3:28 pm

dab is the future i grew up listening to radio 1 and the choice is a whole lot better and to them who say it is dying it is not a lot more choice is whats needed not less

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