BERLIN — Nearly 95 years after the debut of regular radio broadcasts in Germany on Oct. 29, 1923 through a medium wave transmitter in Berlin, various present-day radio industry specialists gathered in Berlin to attend the WorldDAB General Assembly. More than 200 delegates from all over the world discussed the future of DAB+ as well as multiplatform digital radio.
The general consensus during the event is that the radio industry would benefit from a mixed approach, where traditional broadcast distribution still is the backbone. Patrick Hannon, WorldDAB President, said: “The future of radio is digital and multiplatform, but DAB provides the essential foundation. Collaboration is key to success.”
Session speakers highlighted how radio consumption is continuously morphing: the traditional broadcast model is still key, but “we are experiencing a global renaissance of audio,” explained Joan Warner, CEO of Commercial Radio Australia, “thanks to a dramatic, technology driven change.”
New players such as smart speakers introduced by Amazon and Google have opened new audio listening models, so “we have to be everywhere people consumes audio,” Warner said.
According to GFK data, after years of strong growth, in 2018 the selling figures of digital radio receivers in Europe plus Australia are declining, but those figures also reflect the completion of the digital switchover in Norway.
“Excluding Norway, the selling figures of the remaining markets are still positive (+3.6 percent Jan. to Aug. 2018 as compared to 2017), but the DAB market is challenged by saturation and also by new technologies thriving into the market,” said Jan Lorbach, senior market insights manager at GFK.
GFK data shows that in the United Kingdom smart speakers now accounts for over a fifth of the digital audio market. This data doesn’t include direct sales, so the figures are most likely even higher.
Music streaming platforms together with the rising availability of in-dash multimedia units are challenging the radio listening in car, so fitting new cars with factory-standard digital radio receivers is a clear goal the radio industry has to achieve also at a regulatory level.
Italy will ban analog-only receivers as of 2020; and as for France, Conseil Supérieur de l'Audiovisuel board Member Nicolas Curien, emphasized that a goal of 20 percent of digital radio coverage of the French population could be reasonably achieved before the end of 2018, activating the law that requires all radio receivers to include a digital receiver within 18 months of that time.
In addition, Michael Hill, managing director of Radioplayer UK, showcased the results of a real-life user experience test. While driving on a curvy road, some drivers from U.K. were asked to prompt a touch-screen factory-fit DAB receiver for a number of different stations.
The drivers were then asked to do the same by prompting an Amazon Echo Dot device, which was in the car and was connected through mobile broadband access point. During the test, several purpose-fit onboard cameras recorded everything happening in and out the car.
The test highlighted how, by prompting the Alexa enabled device, test drivers could successfully tune into a national station three times more than by using the touch screen interface of a traditional, broadcast DAB receiver.
The “glancing away” figures while dealing with the two interfaces are impressive: the average glances away from road while performing the mentioned operation through the touch screen interface scored an alarming figure of 12.66 while the use of the Alexa device showed a figure of just 2 — more than six times lower.
Hill then endorsed the need for prompt availability of voice controlled in-car broadcast radio receivers.