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Digital radio receives welcome boost

18 февраля 2008

Digital radio, decried last week as a white elephant when GCap Media, its original champion, staged a wholesale retreat, has received two significant votes of confidence, which broadcasters hope will prove a “tipping point” for the platform.

First, the Ford motor company, which is to make digital audio broadcasting radios available as options on its Focus model – the best-selling car in the UK – is now thought to be close to announcing DAB as a standard fitting in future.

Second, Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator, reaffirmed support for digital radio this week and will explore with broadcasters how radio spectrum can be best allocated to ensure its future.

Last Monday, digital radio was dealt a blow when Fru Hazlitt, chief executive of GCap, the UK’s largest commercial radio broadcaster and heaviest investor in DAB, described it as no longer “economically viable” for her company.

But many in the radio industry believe the principal stumbling block for digital radio was the refusal of mass-market carmakers such as Ford and Volkswagen to adopt DAB, the format used in the UK, but not in other main European markets.

Including different technologies in cars involves complex redesigns and is not undertaken lightly.

Ford said that apart from making DAB an optional extra in the Focus, there were no plans at present to change its range of options for digital radio. But people familiar with the matter have told the Financial Times that Ford is close to announcing it will make DAB a standard fitting in some future models.

Although about 10,000 Vauxhall cars and some high-end vehicles have been sold including DAB as standard, most of the 1 per cent of UK drivers who own them bought digital radios as options, costing up to £500.

Andrew Harrison, of the Radio Centre, which represents the industry, said: “The car has always been the main differential between digital radio and digital television. It was relatively simple to switch off the analogue signal for television because it is a fixed box in a room, whereas radio has been mobile.”

Putting digital radios into mass-market cars would make people far more familiar with the technology, he added.

Separately, at a private meeting of industry executives and officials this week to discuss spectrum reallocation, broadcasters were left in no doubt Ofcom would be flexible in its dealings with digital radio if it meant the platform could widen its appeal.

There are 6.5m DAB sets in the UK, compared with up to 150m analogue, and 9.9 per cent of radio listening is on digital stations.

Radio industry executives point out that the government wants digital radio to become the norm, not least because at some point, the Treasury would like to be able to auction off the broadcast spectrum that would be freed by abandoning the FM/AM signal.

One senior radio executive said: “The BBC is committed to DAB and so is the government. It won’t disappear.”

Источник: Financial Times

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