Why C4 sounds upbeat about DAB bid

The 4Digital Group consortium's bid for the second national digital mulitplex has been deposited with Ofcom. Sarah Crawley-Boevey reports on its plans to challenge the BBC over the airwaves.

"The digital revolution starts here," pledged Channel 4 chief executive Andy Duncan last Wednesday as the broadcaster submitted its long-awaited bid for the second national digital multiplex.

4Digital Group has taken some flak for having talks with "far too many players", but its partners' seriousness about the proposition could not be doubted this week.

Backed by names including Emap Radio, UTV, Chrysalis, BSkyB and SMG, it announced a 10-channel line-up and outlined plans to promote DAB as a platform. Agencies are enthusiastic about the bid, and with rival National Grid Wireless tight-lipped about its plans, 4's momentum seems unstoppable.

Duncan compared the company's approach to radio to that it takes with television. "We believe radio can become the most influential medium in broadcasting and we want to give it a bold, exciting and confident future," he proclaims.

His passion is shared by director of 4Radio, Nathalie Schwarz, who has already won praise across the industry. She told Media Week that 4Radio could push the BBC's audience share below 50%.

"We are confident that we can compete with the BBC's budget, though money doesn't automatically equal market share," she adds.

"I have always said it's about growing the pie. We're working with the UK's leading radio, TV, publishing, retail and technology companies, and our ambition is to put radio back at the heart of where it belongs. We want to make radio listening on DAB a standard practice, in the same way as FM radio listening took over from AM."

Robust reception

The consortium will spend £4.5m for three years to promote DAB. It has promised to build a state of the art transmission network that will deliver "robust" reception to mobile, handheld and static receivers by the launch date in mid-2008.

Working with Carphone Warehouse and UBC Media, 4Digital Group plans to get DAB capability onto 45% of handsets. At present, 47% of phones sold by Carphone Warehouse have an FM radio chip.

Simon Cole, chief executive of UBC Media, says: "We have a number of companies on board already, like Carphone Warehouse and BT Movio, so we're beginning to see companies that understand the future of radio coming together. Five years ago, FM in phones was rare and now DAB is rare, but five years from now it will be unusual to have phones without DAB."

On top of the DAB marketing budget, 4Digital Group will support the launch of its individual new services with £25m of cross-promotion. These services include podcasts from the Financial Times, Penguin and Gaydar to name a few, three branded 4Radio stations, the resurrected Talk Radio from UTV and Closer, an Emap station based on its women's lifestyle magazine.

Rival bidder National Grid Wireless has maintained a low profile. One of its few announcements - that it would reserve two stations for 4Radio if it won - caused a spat last week when 4 declared that its stations were exclusive.

Being forthcoming about its plans has worked in 4's favour, with agencies rubbing their hands at the thought of the new opportunities.

Impressive backing

MPG's head of radio, Simon Blackburn, is impressed by the range of companies involved in the consortium, which "will complement Channel 4's reputation for unique, cutting-edge programming".

"It's good to see national station owners like UTV and SMG in there, as well as some nice extras that aren't commercially available on this scale elsewhere, like IPC with NME and Sunrise," he says.

Mark Middlemass, managing partner at Universal McCann, says a successful bid for C4 would be for "the good of radio going forward".

Unless Ofcom, which decides who wins the bid, has a big surprise in store, expect to hear 4 on the airwaves soon.

The broadcaster has already taken on the BBC behemoth on TV. It has all the ingredients, the foresight and the support in place to do the same on radio

HOW 4DIGITAL IS MADE UP

SHAREHOLDERS

Channel 4 Radio (55%)

Emap Digital Radio (10%)

UTV Radio (GB) (10%)

BSkyB/Chrysalis (10%)

Carphone Warehouse Group (10%)

UBC Media Group (5%)

STATION PROVIDERS

Channel 4 Radio (three stations - E4 Radio, C4 Radio and Pure 4)

BSkyB/Chrysalis Radio (24-hour rolling news)

Emap Radio (Closer)

UTV Radio (Talk Radio)

CanWest MediaWorks (Original)

The Walt Disney Company (Radio Disney)

SMG (Virgin Radio Viva)

Sunrise Radio UK - (Asian station)

PODCAST PROVIDERS

Club Asia

Colourful

Financial Times

Gaydar

NME

Penguin

Media Trust

The Prince's Trust

IMG

STRATEGIC PARTNERS

BBC

Universal Music Group

The Cloud

Iriver

ITIS Holdings

BT Movio.

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