Media: Double Standards - Is adland well prepared to retune to digital radio?

The Government wants to switch off analogue radio in 2015 - Karen Stacey and Mike Gordon discuss whether digital is ready to take over and how adland can benefit.

KAREN STACEY - director of broadcast sales and brand solutions, Bauer Radio

- Why has the take-up of digital radio been so slow?

I don't think take-up necessarily has been slow given that it is only in recent months, since the publication of the Digital Britain report, that digital radio has been a real focus and priority for the industry. Coverage, choice and functionality have not, until now, been geared towards driving take-up, and even under those circumstances it has been steadily increasing.

- Why back DAB when critics suggest its sound quality is low and it will be superseded by better technology?

My view is that this issue of sound quality is a red herring. In the early days of CDs, many people preferred the "sound quality" of vinyl. Now everyone is accustomed to downloading digitally. To the majority of listeners, digital radio will only improve and enhance their experience, with more choice and interactivity, and all the other benefits that we expect from a digital medium.

- What will Digital Radio UK do to actively promote digital radio?

The short answer to that would be everything. It will deliver and co-ordinate all activity to meet the criteria for digital upgrade, from the build-out of digital radio coverage and improving availability in cars to working with manufacturers to bring down the cost of sets and co-ordinating industry efforts in developing the listener experience.

- How realistic is the Government's analogue radio switch-off target?

As with the digital TV switchover, setting a target date has helped stimulate action. No-one is suggesting that we're ready to upgrade now and no-one wants to move before listeners are ready for it. As an industry, we're aware that we've got a lot of work to do - coverage needs to be improved, the cost of sets needs to come down and more cars need digital radios installed. But the vision and commitment is now in place to make that happen.

- How has your company invested in digital radio?

Bauer is making a huge investment and is a leader in digital radio. We've made significant investment in DAB multiplexes and carriage, as well as in other digital platforms, such as Freeview and online. We've launched new channels and innovative commercial models. We have always invested in digital and remain committed.

- To what extent did the collapse of the 4 Digital Group proposals damage the momentum of digital radio?

This happened more than a year ago now and I don't think it did any real damage. It was not a business that was in operation. It was a licence application that was awarded, and the nature of these things is that the spectrum is still available and will be used. Ultimately, this was not a reflection on digital radio; it was a reflection on the situation of certain shareholders involved.

- How will advertisers benefit from greater take-up of digital radio?

Digital radio creates a more competitive sector and allows commercial radio to grow. That's good news for advertisers. Increased functionality and interactivity opens up a world of possibilities in the ways advertisers will be able to target and engage with consumers. The media campaigns of the future will look for more accountability, interactivity and engagement. Digital radio is an enabler of all three.

MIKE GORDON - group commercial director, Global Radio

- Why has the take-up of digital radio been so slow?

To be fair, digital radio is already in a third of households and accounts for a fifth of listening. Until recently, digital has been viewed as a complementary, rather than a primary, platform. Now that the industry is unified and the Government has given clear targets, I'm absolutely convinced take-up will accelerate.

- Why back DAB when critics suggest its sound quality is low and it will be superseded by better technology?

In a recent survey, the overwhelming majority of listeners said that they're happy with the sound quality of digital, with 75 per cent indicating that it's as good as, if not better than, FM. There are already almost ten million digital radios in use in the UK, and by moving ahead with DAB, we're not closed off to other options as most new digital radios are forward compatible.

- What will Digital Radio UK do to actively promote digital radio?

Digital Radio UK is a new organisation being created by the radio industry - commercial, BBC and the multiplex operator Arqiva - to take on the entire spectrum of activity needed to get the UK ready for digital upgrade and deliver the consumer and economic benefits the upgrade will bring. It's in the final stages of recruiting for a chief executive and will build on the work of the Digital Radio Development Bureau, working closely with other stakeholders, such as manufacturers and Ofcom.

- How realistic is the Government's analogue radio switch-off target?

2015 is a target that we are focused on and working towards, and the fact of the matter is that, without it, a lot less would be happening. There's been a huge amount of activity since the Government gave us a target. Earlier this month, for instance, we called a summit with the motoring industry and other stakeholders to progress take-up in cars. If we keep up this kind of momentum, then I believe it is achievable. It's still more than six years away.

- How has your company invested in digital radio?

We have invested more in digital radio than any other radio group. Global also took the lead in supporting the call for a target date to galvanise the industry and will continue to be a pioneer in commercial radio on all distribution.

- To what extent did the collapse of the 4 Digital Group proposals damage the momentum of digital radio?

I think the real momentum started once the Digital Britain report was published and the switchover date was set. And, to be honest, we're all excited about looking forward, not backwards.

- How will advertisers benefit from greater take-up of digital radio?

Media consumption patterns are more fragmented than ever before. Radio takes up more than a third of the average person's media day. Our model is based on the distribution of compelling free content, which means we are platform agnostic. Listeners engage via radio, online, mobile phones, Sky, Freeview or the latest iPod Nano. Our audiences are growing and the increased functionality and interactivity that digital radio offers, such as text, images, tagging, return path and so on, means this is all good news for advertisers wanting to target and engage with their consumers.

Topics