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Digital Radio Moves Ahead In A Mixed Economy

The WorldDAB session at IBC2018 highlighted current trends in the digital radio market

AMSTERDAM — Digital audio consumption is increasing and the WorldDAB session at IBC2018 entitled “Radio’s Digital Strategy” provided a comprehensive focus on audio delivering platforms other than the traditional broadcast airwaves.

During the conference, several delegates emphasized that radio has to be easily available where the audience is looking for audio entertainment services. Graham Dixon, head of radio at the European Broadcasting Union, commented: “Twenty years ago, when the DAB standard appeared, we all welcomed it as a sort of ‘Sun God,’ the source of light capable to settle all radio broadcasting problems at once.”


Then, he continued, the internet became mass-available, and things went a different way: “the competition landscape dramatically changed, and several threats to radio listening arose.” Last year however the number of DAB stations increased by 23.4 percent within the EBU region, scoring the overall figure of 1503 radio stations available on DAB/DAB+.

“Radio still is Europe’s most trusted media,” Dixon added. “It is no longer the Sun God, but we all have to strive in order to keep radio broadcasting among the Olympians.” He suggests splitting radio delivery activities into core processes (meaning to have the radio content available for fruition) and activation (i.e. driving listeners to listen to radio).

According to Dixon, the number of web-connected household appliances will soon drastically augment, and most of them will be voice-controlled. And he believes that radio has to be there, not just being available through voice-controlled devices, but also easily reachable and discoverable.

Also during the session, Joan Warner, CEO of Commercial Radio Australia, provided insight into the successful campaign they ran in Australia together with Amazon, in order to enhance Alexa-enabled devices’ capability to play the correct radio station when any listener prompted for “tuning” to a specific station.

Australia is a multi-ethnic country, with a number of regional accents and non-English station names, especially in rural areas. In her opinion, smart speakers are interesting but work still needs to be done. For example, she pointed out, when a listener prompts a speaker to listen to a specific radio station, smart devices often tune into a different station with a similar name, and after two or three failed attempts, that listener usually concludes that smart speakers aren’t useful for gathering radio content.

This could cause broadcasters lose potential audience, she warns. “We did a lot of testing. When prompting one of the most popular smart speaker in Australia for a top national station, it succeeded in tuning to the correct station just in 23 percent of all attempts,” she said.

So, she explained that they entered into a long-run project together with Amazon in order to properly train their smart devices to deliver optimal performance when prompted with almost any ethnic accent in Australia, and with any station name, including local and community ones.

“This is something we have to address in Europe too,” added Dixon. “In Ireland, when you pick an Alexa device out of the box and prompt it to play Radio 1, it tunes to BBC Radio 1, and not to Ireland’s RTÉ Radio 1. That’s annoying!”

[Read: Next Radio Conference Finds Medium In Good Health]

In conclusion, Warner (on behalf of Patrick Hannon, WorldDAB president) summarized the good health of digital radio broadcasting. DAB/DAB+ is now an established standard in Norway (the first country to switch off FM signals), the United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Slovenia, Italy and Australia, while the pace is picking up France, Austria, the Czech Republic and Poland.

Trials are going on in Africa, the Middle East and the Far East. In terms of advertising revenue, in 2018 U.K. radio is the fastest growing medium (faster than online). This is also thanks to the growth of national commercial stations (Source: Radiocentre, Ofcom, RAJAR).