Does DAB remain the future of radio?

It's not just analogue radio but other digital technologies that could stunt the growth of DAB. By Alasdair Reid

Cathy Lowe, head of radio, PHD
Cathy Lowe, head of radio, PHD

The radio industry had some good news courtesy of Audi last week – all new cars sold in the UK will have digital radio fitted as standard from next month.

Ford Ennals, the chief ex­ecutive of Digital Radio UK, called the move "a major milestone" no less – but, oh, how he must also wish he could inject some of that "Vorsprung durch Technik" into the industry. When it comes to radio and tech­nology, it remains something of a sore point.

Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report, published in June 2009, proposed a target of 2015 for the phasing out of the analogue transmission network. The target was later dropped following a back-lash from some quarters of the industry in the Digital

Economy Bill of November 2009, not least the biggest player, Global Radio – but was reiterated in the Gov­ernment’s Digital Radio Action Plan, published in July 2010.

However, with less than 50 per cent of households currently claiming to have access to a DAB set, that’s now a forlorn hope. Yes, we’re listening to more digital radio (29 per cent of all listening hours in 2012, according to Rajar) – but we’re doing a significant amount of that via the in­ternet and digital television platforms. DAB kit still accounts for less than one-third of all sets currently sold.

And that’s before we even begin to consider the 35 million sound systems in cars and other road vehicles. They’re still predominantly analogue – with only one in three new cars fitted with DAB as standard.

Hence Audi’s move being warmly welcomed by DAB converts. It has a market share of more than 6 per cent, responsible for sales of more than 120,000 cars a year. This summer, the company will also introduce a range of adapters to enable owners to retro-fit all existing Audi models with digital radio kit.

It comes on the back of renewed commitments from Ford, Volkswagen and Vauxhall to include DAB as standard; and the likes of BMW, Mini, Land Rover and Jaguar have already embarked along that road.

Is momentum finally building and is DAB still the future of radio?


No Cathy Lowe head of radio, PHD

"Digital is the medium’s future. But DAB is only one of several platforms available. How and where people consume radio is changing – and the key to radio’s digital future will be the development of online and mobile offerings."

No Howard Bareham head of radio, Mindshare

"Analogue turn-off won’t happen in 2015. It’s hard to see it happening any time soon after that either – and the probability is that DAB will now be overtaken by other technologies. But DAB will still grow."

No Erica Taylor trading operations director, Starcom MediaVest Group

"In the home, access to digital radio is possible through DAB, TV, online, Windows Media Player, internet radios and gaming systems. Those platforms that can offer richer [‘smart radio’] content are likely to be the winners in the long run."

No Mike Williamson head of radio, Carat

"DAB is clearly a huge part of radio’s future, but it’s not the definitive future. DAB in-car radio provides yet another touchpoint for consumers to enjoy great content, but it should be viewed as part of a wider, multiplatform context."

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