Digital Radio – A Journey or a Destination ? pt 1

Staff Writer

Guest Contributor Des DeCean is an Inductee into the Radio Hall of Fame. Today is part 1 of his views on Digital Radio.

It is now just over 3 years since Digital Radio launched in Australia.

Having played a significant role in the development of DAB+ technology and its adoption then rollout in Australia, I consider myself to be a passionate supporter of the technology and the benefits it can deliver to consumers, broadcasters, and advertisers. I am however, concerned about what appears to be a lack of passion and commitment to the medium by some broadcasters.

In this article I express my views on the situation as I see it. You may agree or disagree with me, but hopefully I will at least provoke some further discussion on just where the rollout of DAB+ in Australia is going.

Is DAB+ a journey, or a destination?

Digital Journey: Exploring new content  formats – some with niche appeal and reaching previously un-served market sectors; using DLS; Slideshow; interactive services; popup services; cross platform promotions; Receiver giveaways; listener education and information pieces etc – that’s  the start of a long and exciting journey into the dawning of a new era for radio.

Digital Destination: Set up a low maintenance continuous music format, load it on the automation system, get it on air, get the assistant PD or MD to do some format maintenance once a week,  and – job done. That’s destination Digital Radio.

First Impressions – Last impressions

Some rules of life apply everywhere – and this one is well known to most successful sales teams.

In the case of DAB – if the listener can’t feel passion and excitement about Digital and what it has to offer  oozing out of their radio, then it will all too quickly become a lack-lustre dead platform and pale into the noise of life as just another technology that fell by the wayside. It’s up to broadcasters to make sure DAB+ remains as the new ‘must have’ technology.

Is the passion there?

We all know too well that one of the key differentiators between success and failure is passion. We see it with every day execution of so many station activities on and off air.

In a world where new ways of delivering content- be it streaming music, free downloads, access to internet radio, blogs, and all the other forms of social media vying for our attention, it is easy for radio to pale into the background.

Remaining relevant doesn’t just happen through migrating to a new platform; it has to be worked on -hour on hour – day on day.

It seems to me that there is a lack of talk and promotion of DAB+ on air and little activity with receiver giveaways and other related promotion and marketing activity aimed at promoting the platform and its reach. The CRA generic advertising is good of course – but where is the commitment and passion from individual broadcasters?

Is DAB+ here to stay?

This is probably the big question that needs to be addressed by broadcasters.

Broadcasting on two platforms – AM and DAB+ or FM and DAB+ or in some cases all 3 platforms, is an expensive exercise for the broadcaster – and confusing for consumers.

Transmission facilities are expensive to run and maintain. It would seem logical from a bottom line perspective that the sooner a broadcaster can confine terrestrial delivery costs to just one platform – the better. This means ultimately shutting down the analog services.

Three things hinder this next step :-

1. Lack of DAB+ receivers (compared to analog)
2. Lack of coverage
3. Lack of passion and commitment

Of the 3 above points – fixing point 3 can fix point 1. A stronger commitment to educating the public and marketing receivers more aggressively, and backing that up with compelling content, receiver giveaways, and stronger promotion of content will all stimulate consumer interest and assist with speeding up receiver penetration and potential audience migration from Analogue to Digital.

Point 2 – lack of coverage is currently being addressed in metro markets with blackspot infill transmitters already operating in Melbourne and planning well under way for their introduction in other Cap city markets. Regional rollout too is in the planning stages and readying for a post 2013 rollout.

AM radio of course is the huge winner with DAB+ because of the massive improvement in quality. When DAB launched in the UK the majority of receiver purchases were made by older people due in part because of AM reception problems together with deteriorated hearing. They loved the improved clarity of their AM station on DAB, the interference free reception and the ease of tuning.

Unfortunately most metro AM stations in Australia are not embracing and pushing DAB+ enough with their audience and exploiting all opportunities to grow their DAB+ listener base. I doubt that DAB+ could have saved MTR and its poor listenership and coverage but it certainly wouldn’t have hurt them to be the first AM station to fully embrace DAB+!

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

In Part 2 here, Des reveals what he believes needs to happen for DAB+ to work.

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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