Is DAB radio dead in the water?
We Brits rarely get to pioneer new technologies these days, but we certainly are at the forefront of digital radio. Or at least we were until it
We Brits rarely get to pioneer new technologies these days, but we certainly are at the forefront of digital radio. Or at least we were until it all went titsup today.
This morning, the UK’s biggest commercial broadcaster closed two digital stations and dumped its stake in the DAB platform.
GCAP Media, which owns Capital, XFM and Classic FM, announced it would close The Jazz and Stuff’s digital-only fave Planet Rock. Chief executive Fru Hazlitt even went as far as to claim that DAB “was not an economically viable growth platform”. Gadzooks!
So what’s brought on this change of heart? I’m guessing it’s not the constant sniping from audiophiles who claim – with good reason – that the low bitrate DAB signals we receive in the UK are inferior to the sound quality of FM radio. More likely it’s the tough commercial market that sees an increasing number of stations chasing a diminishing share of an ever-decreasing advertising pot.
To make matters worse, the rise of podcasting and internet radio means DAB stations have even more rivals – and not just from the UK, but from around the world. And then there’s the fact that the iPod generation can create their own soundtracks on the fly without the need for the mediation – or irritation – of a burbling DJ.
So is it the end of DAB? Well, not really. There are DAB sets in nearly 7 million UK household already, and the likelihood is that millions more will yet be sold because prices continue to fall and designs are becoming ever more innovative (see the Pure Highway and Roberts Robi). The BBC is still fully behind the format, too.
But the biggest problem facing digital radio in the UK is that our format differs from digital radio formats elsewhere in the world – such as XM satellite radio in the US and the better-quality DABv2 that’s launching in Australia. Different formats mean smaller markets, hence the lack of DAB radio support from big-name brands – and the slow uptake of in-car DAB.
Richard Wheatley, chief executive of The Local Radio Company, recently compared DAB to Betamax. I disagree. But the rise and rise of the internet probably means it’ll be the last audio broadcast technology that hits the mass market.