The UK-wide switchover to DAB radio seems likely to go ahead, as the government gives little ground to consumer concerns over the proposed national switch from FM radio to DAB.
The government has responded to a report from the Consumer Expert Group on digital radio that outlined concerns about how the proposed national radio switchover from FM to DAB would impact consumers. The response suggests no change will be made to the criteria that will trigger the switch from FM to DAB, which may disappoint those less than enamoured with digital radio at present.
The Consumer Expert Group report ‘Digital Radio: What is in it for consumers?’ was published in September and highlighted numerous concerns over a potential FM to DAB radio switchover including:
- The cost of converting every radio in homes and cars
- Poor DAB coverage issues
- The level of the criteria set to trigger the start of the switchover.
In the government’s Digital Radio Action Plan, released in July, government minister Ed Vaizey confirmed that ‘any transition from analogue to digital radio must be consumer-led’.
However the Consumer Expert Group (CEG) report stated that the 50% digital radio listening figure outlined in the Action Plan as a trigger to begin the switchover process was too low. In particular, it was concerned that it could lead to FM listeners feeling bullied into buying into DAB for fear of losing the ability to listen to radio.
If you’re thinking of upgrading to DAB, take a look at Which? advice on things to consider before you buy a digital radio.
50% digital listening majority
A 50% digital radio listening figure doesn’t just refer to listening via a DAB radio set. It also includes listening hours on digital TV and via the internet.
Radio listening figures released in October put overall digital listening at 25%, only 68% of which was on DAB. Experts say the internet is not capable of supporting all radio listening, however the increasing rate of internet radio listening could have a significant impact on the nation’s loss of national FM radio in favour of DAB.
The CEG report suggested ‘a switchover date should only be announced when no more than 30% of listening remains on analogue’. However the government has viewed this as ‘an inappropriate target’. It added that ‘in setting a date, once only a minority of listening to radio is on analogue platforms, we will take into account the appropriate time for consumers to prepare themselves for the change’.
However, a 50% digital listening figure could still leave the UK with 50% of listening on analogue – hardly an analogue minority.
Driving DAB radio sales
The government response follows the recent launch of Digital Radio UK’s (DRUK) advertising campaign to boost DAB radio sales over Christmas. DRUK is part-funded by the BBC, and BBC stations will run the ads, but sources suggest that some commercial stations are refusing to air them.
Which? digital radio expert Katie Waller says: ‘A key concern Which? has is that the advertising campaign mentions DAB radios starting from £25. Which? tests have found that cheaper DAB radios rarely provide decent sound quality. This could cause radio listeners to become disenchanted with DAB due to the poor quality of cheap sets they may receive in their Christmas stockings.’
The Digital Radio Action Plan sets out target dates to address other issues including coverage and cost, however a cost benefit analysis report is not due to be produced until the end of 2011.
Which? has tested more than 40 digital radios. Check our reviews for the best sounding models or view our video of the Pure Twilight – a DAB/FM radio with an ambient light.
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