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Digital radio uptake slows as consumers shun DAB

Government craws towards 50 percent threshold

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The UK is still crawling towards the digital radio switchover target of 50 percent of broadcast services thanks to the poor uptake of DAB radio, new figures in OFCOM’s Digital Radio Report 2012 has found.

In the year to June 2012, digital radio’s broadcasting share has increased only 3.6 percent to comprise 29.5 percent of output; of that DAB (Digital Audio Broadcast) made up 64.9 percent with the remainder accounted for by online and digital TV.

With a 29.1 percent market share, sales of conventional DAB radios rose only 2.8 percent, failing to offset a sharp fall in the number of analogue radios bought. Nineteen percent of consumers thought they might buy a DAB set in the next year while 49 percent who didn’t own one said they were not likely to.

The only target that appears close to being met is that BBC DAB services are now available in 93.4 percent of homes (the target being 90 percent coverage including major roads) although commercial stations remains slightly behind that level.

A positive interpretation of the figures would be that the Government still has three years to reach the 50 percent listening threshold at which it previously said it would set a formal date for the switchover to occur. Under the Labour Government, 2015 was set in stone but a review by the incoming administration turned it into a symbolic moment on the road to eventual re-use of analogue spectrum.

Looking closely at the figures, consumers also appear to be consuming radio in ways that are very different to analogue services, making comparisons between DAB and online services harder to assess.

The most popular digital service was BBC Radio 4 Extra which attracted 1.6 million listeners in an average week during Q2, a station based on catch-up from a variety of devices including smartphones and PCs.

The most popular ‘live’ service meanwhile was BBC 6 Music with 1.4 million listeners, a specialist service that, ironically, was only saved from being axed by the Corporation after an online protest.

This hints that DAB’s role in the development of the digital market might not be as important as it was once assumed to be; digital radio might become a service that ignites on smartphones as much as radios.

Reasons for the relative unpopularity of DAB are not hard to find, starting with the price paid for sets which now cost an average of £61 per portable, about double that of an analogue set.  Users who own a PC or smartphone can get the same access at no extra cost.

Putting DAB in a car costs an average of £117 – more if adding DAB as an option on a car at the time of purchase – which might explain why only three to five percent of vehicles have one.


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