Steps and Challenges to Going All-Digital
OSLO, Norway — What do I mean by
the democratization of radio in the headline above? The short answer is —
providing the same content to the whole country. Irrelevant of whether a
citizen lives in rural or urban settings, they will receive the same number of
For NRK, the Norwegian public
broadcaster and my employer, this approach is one of the organization’s key
tasks. For commercial broadcasters, it is about providing their audiences with
So where did we start? The very first
radio station on DAB was on air as early as June 1, 1995. From the very
beginning of the Norwegian broadcasting industry’s digitization of its
services, public and private broadcasters agreed that they should cooperate on
technology and compete on content.
As well as collaborating with each
other, the industry also worked with regulators and decision makers on
formulating a plan on how to make radio “all digital.” Today, the Norwegian
radio industry and stakeholders are able to benefit from this early industry
cooperation and agreement on the future of radio broadcasting in Norway.
We are now finalizing FM switch-off
plans and looking to provide listeners with digital-only sources of radio.Digital radio is defined as DAB, Web radio
and radio via the set-top box for digital TV. Listeners may choose to tune in
to radio via their smartphones and online, but the majority of digital radio
listening remains via DAB/DAB+, which is and will remain, the backbone of radio
owns and operates most of
the transmitter stations in Norway and has
years of experience in building
networks in challenging topography.
Pictured is the transmitter
station in Sogndal.
(Photo: Bo Mathisen. Copyright Norkring AS)
NRK built the network up to around 80
percent coverage. In discussing the future of radio with the government, NRK
stated that there would be no further extension of the network unless a clear
date was set for FM switch-off. As soon as an FM switch-off date was announced,
NRK continued with the build-out and worked on reaching its goal of 99.5
During this time of negotiation,
analog TV was replaced by digital TV (analog TV ended on Dec. 1, 2009). Through
informing relevant decision makers, the important assessment on the future of
radio was undertaken, and Norwegian politicians felt secure in making a
decision on the future of Norwegian radio.
Norwegian decision makers saw that
DAB/DAB+ is the standard of choice across Europe and Asia-Pacific and in 2011 a
report by the Norwegian parliament stated that broadcasters could shut off FM
if certain criteria where fulfilled.
FM SWITCH-OFF CRITERIA
Coverage (absolute condition for FM shutdown): Before 2015, the public
broadcaster NRK must achieve coverage of 99.5 percent, the commercial
broadcasters on the national network #1 are required to reach 90 percent
of the population.
added for the listeners (absolute condition for FM shutdown). There must be a
value added for the listeners in going from FM to DAB, both in terms of
Digital listening (condition to be met in order to shut down FM in 2017.
Failure to reach it can postpone the shutdown until 2019). Before 2015
50 percent of the radio listeners must use a digital radio platform daily. This does not specify market share of listening,
contrary to the U.K. requirement, only reach. “Digital platform” also
includes listening via Internet and via the digital TV network. This
condition is set in order to measure the listeners’ independence of the analog
4. It has
been specified that half of all Norwegian municipalities must be able to offer
in-car DAB-adaptor installation.
Norkring is building the world’s most extensive network
for digital radio in Norway. Seen here are workers at the Viktjernaasen site.
Bo Mathisen. Copyright Norkring AS)
Every country has different
regulation and population structures and the effects of FM switch-off will vary
accordingly. For Norway the continuous cost of simulcasting was affecting the
services on offer and had financial implications. The financial implications
were that parts of the existing FM network were in need of an overhaul.
Secondly, NRK could foresee a cost of US $25 million (€18 million) for a DAB network
transmitting 14 channels and US $28 million (€20 million) for continuing FM
only with three stations.
Even though a decision has been made
on FM switch off, Norway still faces challenges. Around 3 million cars are on
the road; 2 million of these will have to be fitted with digital radio adaptors
before an FM switch-off. Retrofitting these cars is possible and provides
manufacturers with business opportunities.
Today NRK is able to provide all of
its 14 stations to the whole population and commercial radio is also able to
create multiple stations without obligation to create certain content.On an FM license there were obligations to
provide cultural, children’s and minority programs.
Also, now they do not need to pay for
expensive license fees. Interest among local radio in DAB/DAB+ has also grown.
Currently we see a number of local radio stations on air across the 37 local
areas. In the future they will be able to utilize the diverse multimedia
experience offered by DAB as soon as DAB/DAB+ compatible chips find their way
into smartphones and tablets.
Although Norway is a small country,
we have set a good framework to follow. With cross-industry collaboration at
its core, Norway finds itself as the first country to be able to confidently
say we are “radio, all digital.”
Jørn Jensen is chief advisor to the director
of distribution at NRK.