Europe is showing strong support for DAB/DAB+ listening, but there are some clouds on the digital radio horizon.
That’s one takeaway from a session of the WorldDAB Summit 2021, held online last week. (Recordings of the sessions are on the WorldDAB YouTube page.)
During the session “Why French Broadcasters Are Deploying DAB+” Hervé Godechot painted a positive picture of DAB listenership growth in his country. “Today, 40 percent of French people can listen to digital audio broadcasting,” Godechot said.
“We expected to reach this level in 2023, but we went faster! In the next 12 months, we will provide DAB for 26 new areas. Next year, half of French listeners will have 465 digital radio [stations] available at home.” Godechot is a board member with French broadcast media regulator Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel.
The same upbeat view of DAB’s impact was shared by Erwin Linnenbach, managing director of German program producer TEUTOCAST, in his presentation “Disruption in the German Audio Market.”
“DAB+ is finally the chance for the normalization of the German radio market,” Linnenbach said. This is because DAB+ made it possible to launch national private audio services based on listener-favorite formats, such as sports. In addition, the 400 local/regional private radio stations in this country are controlled by about 2,000 owners, Linnenbach said. With the arrival of national private DAB channels, ownership consolidation is practical.
Hosting the “Switzerland’s FM Switchoff in 2024” presentation, Switzerland’s Federal Office of Communications Project Manager of Digitisation and Convergence René Wehrlin outlined why Swiss broadcasters are so keen to terminate FM within the next three years.
“FM prevents greater media diversity,” Wehrlin said, because Switzerland’s FM band is full and thus not open to new players. At the same time, it is expensive and pointless for broadcasters to run both DAB and FM networks,in his view, “because DAB networks cover the country practically 100%. However, as long as FM is in operation and part of the audience is not equipped with DAB radios, no FM broadcaster will voluntarily give it up.”
However, a presentation about the recent UK Digital Radio and Audio Review poured some cooler water on the conversation.
For instance, although “DAB will be the primary platform for radio well into the next decade,” said Ian O’Neill, head radio/head of television for the U.K. government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport, setting a firm date for shutting off FM could end up sabotaging digital radio.
The reason: Fixing a firm FM closing date “could lead to a reduction in radio listening if FM listeners who were prompted by the change decided to move away from radio,” O’Neill said.
Coincident to this, “the decline of all radio devices in the U.K. has continued now for some time,” said Lindsey Mack, BBC senior manager of DAB & BBC Sounds external affairs.
“The most recent figures we have [show] that DAB in particular has declined by about 17.5 percent in the last 12 months. Now there’s multiple factors leading to that decline. One is obviously the growing use of smartphone and online music services, the launch of smart speakers, [as well as] the lack of innovation and features and product design, because most of the DAB radios have actually remained virtually unchanged,” Mack said.
“Research has shown that consumers, whilst they liked DAB, they find DAB radio is far too one dimensional,” said Mack. “DAB has also become a very much a replacement purchase. So there’s limited scope for market growth.”
He also noted that retailers are concerned the range of models available in stores have declined, leading to even fewer choices for consumers. Despite this, Mack said, “DAB listening remains very healthy.”