Graham Dixon is the head of radio for the European Broadcasting Union. GENEVA — We all know that DAB usually stands for Digital Audio Broadcasting but what else could the letters stand for?
The broadcasting industry’s objective is to meet the increasing needs and expectations of audiences, so perhaps the letters could equally stand for “Delivering Audience Benefits.” Audiences and content clearly have to come first, any offer being supported by genuinely simple-to-use delivery.
THE AUDIENCE FIRST
We can see how changing audience expectations and the growing digital provisions are already coming together in many countries. According to the European Broadcasting Union, a large proportion of the European population is living in a country where there is some awareness of DAB, either as a full service or a trial.
I believe that we are now moving toward a tipping point, and it’s encouraging that, given the increasing spread of DAB adoption, we can already see DAB playing its role in delivering new listener offerings.
The question for broadcasters is not whether to embrace digital or not, as there really isn’t a choice, but how to maintain listener loyalty during this phase, with the inevitable increase in alternative media temptations of all types, combined with limited personal time.
At the same time, the messages about how to receive radio and audio content will inevitably become more complex as more choice is offered.
It is not simply a case of pressing the on button on a dark box installed in the corner of the living room, rather the challenge is to create an encounter with listeners using devices which they actually want to use, at home, on the move and in the car. This involves tailoring content for devices that meet their needs for entertainment, learning and provide interaction.
The EBU Digital Radio Toolkit makes it clear that “Compete on Content, Cooperate in Technology” is the shared vision, which can bring together public and private broadcasters around the common aim of creating modern radio.
There are currently about 250 DAB/DAB+ channels in Europe run by public service broadcasters, of which 64 are DAB/DAB+-only channels. The dates of station launches show an encouraging and steady progression and demonstrate that momentum is gathering.
Every new station launch brings editorial benefits, opening fresh space for creative imagination and new formats. Some genres have benefitted more than others from DAB, such as sports, news and children’s programming.
Some of these stations offer niche services where previously audiences would have been marginalized. A station like BR Heimat (see sidebar) with Bavarian folk music would probably never have been launched within the analog world, giving you nonstop Oktoberfest in the privacy of your own home!
Likewise, the popularity of the innovative mix offered by BBC 6 Music was proved some years ago, when it was brought back from closure.
Stations Serve Niche Audiences Via DAB
Bayerischer Rundfunk’s BR Heimat is a Bavarian folk music channel broadcasting via DAB+ to the Bavaria region in Germany.
Launched in early 2015, BR Heimat airs traditional folk music, a genre that is not frequently found on other stations. It also offers regional news and cultural programs.
According to the station, following BR Heimet’s success, other special-interest stations for broadcast exclusively on DAB+ are in the works.
Youth station Radio Wave, part of the Czech public radio broadcaster Český rozhlas, is another radio station that is making good use of DAB. Launched in 2006 the station broadcasts in DAB on the Český rozhlas and Teleko multiplexes, covering Prague and the central Bohemian region. As a cross-platform DAB station, Radio Wave targets youth and airs music, multimedia and video content, podcasts and live events.
Broadcasting digitally has allowed Radio Wave to offer content and campaigns beyond traditional means, explains the station. Beginning as a small project, Radio Wave, which prides itself on offering “quality music and progressive journalism,” has over time grown into a full-service station.
DAB can bring major enhancements to existing programs. This strategy of filling gaps in content provision sparks public interest and also generates the willingness to buy a DAB receiver. This contrasts sharply with the slow take-up back in the 1990s, when messaging was primarily around sound quality.
For public service media, universality is the ideal and also the aspiration. Apart from the necessity of serving the population so as to enjoy public funding, it is important to ensure that the services are available to everyone, and available everywhere.
As the managing editor of a BBC radio network until a few months ago, my background is primarily editorial.However, I have long recognized that content needs to be delivered in an attractive, contemporary way, and have personally been keen to explore new means of delivery.
Inevitably, audiences have been trained by their Internet experience to challenge broadcasters with new demands, new expectations. They want to be served more personally, and they also want to know what they are listening to, rather than waiting until the end of the piece or program.
Individual countries will have different paths toward reaching the digital goal, and that will be impacted by factors, such as market structure, economic conditions, geography, politics and regulation.
However, we should already be inspired to think that many listeners are already enjoying services, new targeted DAB services. So let’s not forget what DAB can stand for — Delivering Audience Benefits.
Graham Dixon is head of radio for the European Broadcasting Union.
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