At the Intellect Consumer Electronic conference yesterday and heard Ed Vaizey speaking.
He is an engaging and amusing speaker – slightly “BoJo lite” perhaps – and he had several interesting things to say about digital radio.
Alongside the news that the switchover to DAB by 2015 is now just an “aspiration”, he made some excellent points about why digital radio hasn’t taken off in the way some predicted. The four Cs, he said: content, coverage, cars and consumers (although he did add a fifth – cell phones).
Always a one for lists I think there are in fact at least 10 Cs!
Content: of course. Radio generates deep engagement with its listeners. Without good content why would anyone listen to a new digital channel. And the furore around the threatened axing of BBC 6 Music does indicate that digital radio can generate extremely loyal audiences.
Coverage: another no brainer. If DAB coverage is limited then people outside the coverage area, and also people travelling through or to areas that are not covered, will obviously be less than enthusiastic about it. Having said that according to uk-dab.info I should be able to pick up several dozen stations in SW6 – but I cannot pick up any. Coverage needs to be good coverage.
Cars: people in cars are a big part of the radio market; standards are starting to develop and reasonably cheap car converter kits are now on the market. But until motor manufacturers fit DAB as standard, people are unlikely to take the platform seriously
Cell phones: the same is true with phone. Many phone come with FM radio. Rather fewer with digital radio.
Consumers: well, they need convincing of the benefits. Why fix it if it ain’t broke, they will say. What’s in it for me if I switch? And the benefits aren’t immediately obvious to anyone outside the industry.
Continuity: that’s another consumer issue; in the short term, while FM and DAB are both available, consumers need to be able to switch seamlessly from one to the other, for instance when they move from an area where DAB is available to one where it isn’t.
Carbon: DAB needs to work using low energy – not because we are all told to be carbon conscious, but rather because technologies that use too much energy give out too much heat to be successfully miniaturised.
Cost: now that you can get a very nice Pure portable digital radio for £35, cost is far less of a problem than it was a couple of years ago; but the cost of radios that enable you to do more than listen is still a problem.
Certainty: the industry won’t invest without the certainty that DAB is going to be a success; government has a role to play here in identifying how they will make DAB happen.
And finally Commercial opportunities: what are the marketing opportunities on DAB that match and ideally go beyond standard radio advertising? If advertisers are not convinced of these, it’s hard to see how DAB stations will ever be commercially viable.
That’s 10 Cs I think – you can probably think of some more!