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Eureka: Niche or Volume Player?

The terrestrial digital radio standard used in several other countries has slowly attracted more nations since test broadcasts began in 1998. This may be a key year for Eureka-147 as receiver prices start to come down.

The terrestrial digital radio standard used in several other countries has slowly attracted more nations since test broadcasts began in 1998. This may be a key year for Eureka-147 as receiver prices start to come down.

Eureka radios have been available since that year as well, but industry watchers say few have sold due to their high prices. Now that more manufacturers are becoming interested in marketing such radios and chipset costs are starting to drop, Eureka proponents hope to have sold 500,000 radios in the United Kingdom by the end of 2003. (Britain and Canada are arguably the best representations of the technology at the moment, since those are the most populated countries to have the technology.)

About 330 million radios overall are sold worldwide each year, according to Texas Instruments, which makes digital signal processing chips for the Eureka and IBOC technologies. Although most radios sold are analog, the company foresees significant growth over the next 10 years for digital radios for home, car, portable and handheld use.

Ibiquity Digital is not marketing its HD Radio technology to Europe, but it sees Mexico and Latin America as strong possibilities.

First audience figures

Digital Radio Mondiale, preparing for 2003 receiver launch for its own shortwave and AM technology, is targeting the same European countries that use Eureka for FM.

More than 285 million potential listeners around the world can now receive more than 585 DAB channels, according to the World DAB Forum, a non-government consortium of companies that support the implementation of the Eureka-147 standard for terrestrial digital radio. A year ago at this time, potential listenership stood at 230 million and there were about 400 Eureka-147 channels being transmitted.

The BBC turned on the United Kingdom’s first digital services eight years ago in tests. Four years ago, Britain saw four new digital stations go on the air.

The first digital radio listening figures reported in May by the Digital Radio Development Bureau, a group dedicated to marketing DAB in the U.K., showed London’s privately-owned KISS FM drew 961,000 listeners to its digital broadcasts. The station broadcasts on 20 digital multiplexes.

Local stations Smash Hits reported 759,000 digital listeners and Oneword reported 50,000 digital listeners.

“Digital radio broadcasting in the U.K. is still in its infancy, and mass-market DAB products have only become readily available in the last few months. These first numbers demonstrate clearly that people are prepared to change their listening habits when they are offered something new,” stated DRDB Chief Executive, Ian Dickens.

By the end of this year, the digital radio marketing group estimates there will be 500,000 stand-alone digital radios in U.K. homes, rising to 1 million by December 2004.

Eureka receiver sales figures to date were not available for this article.

Digital radios in the U.K. are beginning to become more affordable and more manufacturers are offering digital products.

In the fourth quarter of last year, some Eureka radio manufacturers such as Roberts Radio were able to drop prices to about $165 as newer, smaller chipset costs dropped, in turn lowering manufacturing costs.

Roberts introduced four portable Eureka-147 radios under the Gemini name with prices in U.S. dollars ranging from about $215 to $330. The Gemini 1 offers a “rewind” feature to play audio received and stored in short-term memory from a few minutes earlier. Roberts literature touts the benefits of digital radio as “crackle-free sound.”

In addition to Eureka car radios and home tuners, several companies now offer portables, including ELANsat Technologies, Maycom, EXSYIN Corp., Personal Telecom and others.

More radios this year

TEAC plans to offer a Eureka tuner in the U.K. in August for approximately $365. Morphy Richards plans to launch its first Eureka products in that country this year using RadioScape and Texas Instruments technology.

France and Germany are starting to come into play with the technology. A group of about 10 broadcasters in France want to go digital with the Eureka-147 DAB technology and the government has established a task force to determine the feasibility of French radio going digital.

In Germany, government officials, representatives of receiver and car manufacturers and broadcasters planned to meet this month to discuss how to speed up the digital transition. Key to the decision are plans by the government to revamp its subsidy program to cover broadcasters’ transition costs for digital radio.

Germany is a key country for the success of DAB because of its potential market of more than 80 million people, 38 million households and 42 million cars, according to the World DAB Forum.

Approximately 70 percent of the population and area are covered, and most of the 16 German Federal States have launched DAB services. There are approximately 150 stations on the air.

Canada has 72 licensed digital stations in five markets: Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Windsor and Ottawa. The stations operating in the first four cities provide service to 10 million potential listeners or about 35 percent of the population, according to the World DAB Forum.

In the fall of 2002 RadioShack Canada Ltd. began carrying a line of DAB home and portable radios, PersTel DAB receivers and combination DAB receivers/MP3 players, in markets that can receive a digital signal.

GM Canada has delayed the introduction of DAB receivers as standard equipment following a change in management at the automaker.