Digital radio switchover possible in 2017, says government report

LONDON - The UK could switch from analogue to digital radio as early as 2017, a government-led body has concluded today.

Burnham: crucial time for radio industry
Burnham: crucial time for radio industry

Issuing its final report today, the Digital Radio Working Group (DRWG), established by the Government in November 2007 to map out the future of radio, renewed its commitment to Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) as the primary vehicle for digital radio. It also set out a path for migration to digital, identifying the criteria that would need to be met for it to happen and when it might occur.

The group has singled out three criteria that it believes must be met in order to trigger digital migration. These are; that at least 50% of total radio listening must occur on digital platforms; that national digital multiplex coverage must be comparable to current FM coverage; and that local digital multiplexes should reach at least 90% of the population, including all major roads.

The group has recommended that Ofcom should monitor progress against the criteria on an ongoing basis and that a date for migration should be announced by the Government, ideally two years after the criteria have been met. The DRWG believes this could happen as early as 2017.

In order to meet these criteria, the DRWG has highlighted several barriers it believes should be overcome and has suggested possible solutions. In particular, it proposes that the Government relaxes what it termed "legislative and regulatory burdens" placed on the radio industry. It also recommends the Government considers a duty exemption for digital radios in order to enable cheaper sets and drive further take-up.

Barry Cox, chairman of the DRWG, said: "With nearly a million DAB sets expected to be sold this Christmas, we know listeners are already benefiting from the choice of channels available at the moment.

"We have always believed in the future of digital radio and now urge the industry, along with Government and Ofcom to address the barriers to successful migration, so people can access even more choice and functionality in the future.

"Most importantly, we need to see overall coverage for DAB improve, along with more focus to get motorists to adopt DAB so that it can be a real alternative to FM services."

Culture secretary Andy Burnham said: "This is a crucial time for the radio industry. I am pleased that the Working Group has been able to achieve such consensus and has recognised that there needs to be a strong consumer proposition for digital radio.

"We will now study the recommendations made by the group very carefully as part of the wider work being undertaken for the Digital Britain report. I would like to thank all members of the group for their work in looking at this issue over the past year."

Andrew Harrison, RadioCentre chief executive, said: "Clarity about digital radio is critical for commercial radio's future. We're delighted now to have an aligned plan along with other DRWG stakeholders and RadioCentre is fully committed to working with the industry to make that plan happen.

"The DRWG has done excellent work over the past 12 months in finding the best way to achieve this. We hope the recommendations in the report will be accepted by Government and will be reflected in the Digital Britain report next year."

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