Digital Radio – A Journey or a Destination ? pt 2

Guest Contributor Des DeCean is an Inductee into the Radio Hall of Fame and was founding Chair of DTAC, the CRA Digital Technical Advisory Committee responsible for the planning and rollout of DAB+ for Commercial radio into the 5 major capitals.

Tuesday was part 1 of his views on where Digital Radio is at in Australia. See it here.

Des left us with this….

So – is DAB+ here to stay? It all depends on Broadcaster Passion….

OK – let’s assume DAB+ is here to stay and broadcasters choose to embrace the platform, here are some key areas that I believe need to be addressed:-

King, Kinger and Kingest (WTF?)

Content is King! We all agree with that – right?

Is enough being done to explore the content capabilities of DAB+?

There are some great music channels up at the moment, and whilst they are enjoying an element of success, they are low cost, easy to run services. The TSL appears to be greatly extended with these services and I frequently hear people complain about repetition – suggesting that these services need greater content maintenance.

There are many other areas where DAB+ could look to provide compelling new content.

Kiddy radio: Young children are so into their music these days and from a very early age. Young families would feel much more comfortable having a station on at home, or in the car, that catered for children, rather than having to cringe at suggestive words and conversation from songs and on air talent.

This format has proven so popular in the US that artists are now recording sanitised versions of pop songs for kiddy radio. Digital Radio would be ideal for this format.

Business Radio: There is a keen interest in the share market these days as it goes on a crazy roller coaster ride with such things as trading CFD’s etc providing opportunities for making money in a bear market as well as a bull market.

A combination of targeted talk, information and share market movements scrolling thru on DLS could serve a current void in the market.

Using DLS (Dynamic Label Service): This is the on screen text that is most commonly used to display song title and artist details, and perhaps a positioning statement.

With the world being tweet crazy, DLS provides an opportunity to engage the listener by broadcasting tweets. The opportunities for building a stickier relationship here are endless.

Slide show and Multimedia content: This aspect of DAB+ is under-utilised and is still in its infancy. The supporting technology has improved dramatically but it still needs to be embraced by receiver manufacturers.

Unfortunately the chicken and egg scenario plays a part in the development of this aspect of the DAB+ platform. Unless there is a demonstrated demand for receivers with screens they will not be produced for the market.

So whilst content is King, there are other contenders for the top title.

Reach is Kinger (new word)

In car listening is one of the few remaining areas where radio can dominate and, even that is on shaky ground with more and more people listening to their own music and podcasts in-car.

Digital Radio needs to move more swiftly to seize this ground before it loses it.

Joan Warner and Kath Brown of CRA have been instrumental in lobbying the automobile industry here and overseas to include Digital radio in their production vehicles. This has proven to be a massive task with the vehicle industry being concerned about too many standards, too little coverage and a lack of demand from the public. The iceberg is slowly moving as we see some of the high end, and now some of the middle market manufacturers, including DAB+ receivers in their cars and trucks.

There is now also a range of aftermarket DAB car radios on the market but there is a very low public awareness of their existence.

Many later model cars have integrated radios so it’s not just a matter of swapping out a unit.

There is a range of integrated DAB+ car radios available out of the UK that will fit into most cars with integrated systems and even interface into the steering wheel mounted controls. To my knowledge this product is not yet marketed here in Australia.

Broadcasters need to work harder at supporting this very important sector with such things as giveaways of car radios and greater support for suppliers and installers through on air exposure.

Marketing is Kingest! (another new word)

As Digital Radio is still trying to get its foot in the door of many homes and minds and ears, keeping the DAB+ platform top of mind is incredibly important.

There still seems to be a very low awareness of Digital Radio and what it has to offer.

Again CRA have done an excellent job with their industry ad campaigns promoting DAB+ but there appears to be a disconnect between these campaigns and what the stations that are airing the ads are actually doing to demonstrate their commitment and conviction to DAB. In a sense, the ads and many of the stations airing them seem like strange bedfellows.

Think back to when FM radio was launched. Many stations were doing radio swaps in various forms. “Give us your old AM radio and we’ll give you a new FM radio”. Black Thunders, White Knights and whatever else were seen on the streets of most metro markets on a daily basis swapping out radios – all in the name of giving people the tools to access the new medium.

There seems to be very little of this with Digital Radio. Admittedly the radios are more expensive, but the prices have come down a long way and $30 units are now available. Consider the energy and excitement that can be created by a simple “the first 20 people to the corner of Smith and Brown Street will receive a free Digital Radio”. This backed up with a live cross helps to keep the Digital platform up front and builds some audience excitement – and of course improves potential reach.

From my experience at home or in my car- time and time again– people who hear digital radio for the first time are blown away by the quality and the variety of stations available. Always the next question is – “how do I get to listen to these stations?” This says to me that we are not doing enough to market the platform. We are not getting the message home to enough people.

Sure the commercial free continuous music on many of the digital only stations is a big winner – so why not push these channels harder to build reach?

Show me the money

The oft asked question – How do we generate revenue from Digital Radio?

The answer? – Build it and they will come.

Digital Radio marketing campaigns also need to move to TV and Print – not just radio. When stations and networks use TV to promote their analogue services, they should be including some Digital reference by way of vision or audio into those ads. Again, showing passion for and commitment to the DAB platform.

One thing is for sure – too many people are still unaware of Digital Radio and what it has to offer in terms of content, quality and information.

The bottom line is – if broadcasters don’t offer compelling content and a solid potential audience through strong receiver penetration, then DAB+ will remain an unattractive proposition to advertisers and consumers alike. The technology will wither on the vine as consumers move to more exciting platforms and radio will head back down the old path of becoming irrelevant in a new tech world.

Des DeCean has an impressive background in Australian radio :-

  • Past Director Technology and founding member of Austereo
  • Member of the World DMB working group that developed the DAB+ format
  • Board Member CRA 2007 – 2009
  • Founding Chair of DTAC the CRA Digital Technical Advisory Committee responsible for the planning and rollout of DAB+ for Commercial radio into the 5 major capitals.

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