Media Headliner: Digital radio's cheerleader-in-chief gets serious

By Anne Cassidy, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 22 May 2009 12:00AM

Tony Moretta, the head of the Digital Radio Development Bureau, is on a mission to educate consumers.

Digital radio's unofficial rising star, Tony Moretta, will hopefully do more to unite the radio world than its official one: the 6Music DJ George Lamb. Lamb, who in a recent quip likened travellers to asbestos, won the title of DAB Rising Star at last week's Sony Awards, much to the horror of the legions of listeners who petitioned to get him off the air.

While Lamb's brand of humour might make some people want to run in the opposite direction of a digital radio, Moretta is campaigning to inspire just the reverse. If the Digital Radio Development Bureau chief had his way, every home in the country would be as brimming with DAB sets as his own. He's got digital radios in his kitchen, the lounge, one each for his two kids, two pocket ones and built-in DAB in his car.

His mission is to drag radio out of analogue and into the digital world in as short a time possible. An unenviable undertaking, but it may help that Moretta is used to challenging expectations. His name wouldn't look out of place on The Sopranos cast list, but he looks and sounds quintessentially Anglo-Saxon. He recalls giving talks at conferences where delegates seeing his name in the speaker line-up pre-emptively put on their translator headphones, only to remove them again when he started speaking.

Moretta and the DRDB received a boost earlier this month, with Rajar figures showing that just over 20 per cent of the UK is listening to digital radio. Moretta also expects sales of digital radios this year to match or better the 2.1 million sold last year. But, while listenership is growing, it needs to reach the 50 per cent of total radio listening mooted by Lord Carter in his Digital Britain report before any digital switchover.

Carter indicated that the switchover could begin in 2017, but a growing chorus of industry figures, including Stephen Miron, the chief executive of Global Radio, and Tim Davie, the BBC director of audio and music, are demanding the whole process is accelerated.

Moretta is hopeful that a new consumer-targeted ad campaign, through Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy, that the DRDB is launching this summer will help that. The campaign will educate consumers on the advantages of digital radio over analogue. It will also involve in-store promotions and demos.

"It's not enough just to tell people to buy digital, you have to tell them the benefits. We needed a much more co-ordinated approach to educating consumers at the point of sale," Moretta says.

The drive follows a DRDB campaign last Christmas, also spearheaded by Moretta, on BBC and commercial TV and radio promoting digital radio. This consumer push marks the beginnings of a co-ordinated approach by the radio industry to promote digital. Before this, the BBC and individual multiplexes had tended to advertise in isolation, which, Moretta says, was misjudged: "People aren't bothered by multiplexes. They are just bothered by what they get when they turn the radio on."

The new unified line of attack marks a sea change in the industry in relation to digital. It wasn't that long ago that major commercial broadcasters involved in digital radio were scrabbling for the nearest exit. 4Digital, a digital consortium promising unique-to-digital content, collapsed after Channel 4 pulled out in October last year. But commercial radio and the BBC have now joined forces to promote digital radio and lobby for more government investment through the launch of the Radio Council. Moretta is buoyed by the move: "Now everybody is in agreement that the future has to be digital."

Before taking on his role at the DRDB in April last year, Moretta was the general manager of broadcast at National Grid Wireless, and led the consortium beaten by Channel 4 to run the second national digital radio multiplex. The experience, as frustrating as it must have been, proved valuable because it helped shape Moretta's plan for a centralised DRDB: "I had a good chance to look deeply into DAB and how it is marketed. I could see the opportunity."

Travis Baxter, the managing director, radio at Bauer Media, is enthused by the DRDB's new drive: "What Tony's doing is to try to join up all the dots." Baxter points out that the biggest challenge facing media owners now is where to invest as a means of distribution for digital, with so many options such as DAB, internet, and Freesat available. Moretta concedes that digital radio will be a mixed economy, but he argues that DAB sets, unburdened by contracts with internet providers, will retain their appeal. He also dismisses criticism of DAB sound quality, attributing it to "an extremely vociferous minority of audiofiles".

The biggest hurdle for the DRDB, he says, is the car market. Moretta explains that while car-makers have been supportive of DAB, with many such as Ford, Vauxhall and Toyota, installing it in new models as standard, the problem remains with older cars. There is a DAB adaptor for cars on the market, but it is expensive. "It's finding a low-cost easy-to-install adaptor for all cars," he says. The DRDB is working with DAB manufacturers and car-makers to tackle this.

While Moretta is confident that the DRDB and the industry is on the right track, there is still one rather important thing missing: a firm switchover date. He says: "In France, every car has to have digital radio installed by 1 September 2013. That's the sort of thing that helps."

THE LOWDOWN
Age: 40 (sadly!)
Lives: Tring, Hertfordshire
Family: Wife and two children
Favourite radio show: I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue
Favourite radio station: Absolute
Last book you read: A Fortunate Life by Paddy Ashdown
Most treasured gadget: iPod Touch
Alternative career: Journalism

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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