It is my honor to post this e-Interview with Patrick Hannon, the President of WorldDMB.
- There are many examples of digital radio transitions all over the world. Some are great success whereas some are total fail. I think there is not a one-right-path to follow. What do you recommend us, I mean Turkey, with all those experiences?
Digital radio is established in a growing number of markets. The earliest markets - UK, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland - have been followed by successful launches in Australia (2009), Germany (2011), Netherlands (2013) and Italy (2014). Recently, Norway became the first country in the world to announce a firm date of Digital Switchover (2017) and Switzerland plans for DSO in 2020-24. In all of these countries, DAB / DAB+ is the chosen standard.
Whilst every country is different, there are a number of common factors, which underpin success:
- A consumer proposition which is superior to FM – e.g. greatly improved sound quality, additional services
- Coverage – first in major cities and then extending to other towns and major roads
- Availability of digital receivers (domestic and automotive) at affordable prices
- Effective marketing and promotion – for retailers and consumers
- Above all, strong political commitment and collaboration between all stakeholders.
You mention that some markets have failed in their efforts to launch digital radio. These failures were in the early days of the platform – before receivers were available at affordable prices.
For DAB+ digital radio, this problem has now been resolved. In the last ten years, over 30 million DAB / DAB+ receivers have been sold worldwide. This growth has enabled manufacturers to benefit from economies of scale. As a result, DAB+ receivers are now available at mass market prices – entry level models are available at €20 - and prices are falling every year.
If Turkey wishes to digitise, I would make the following recommendations:
- Make a clear political commitment that the future of radio is digital
- Choose DAB+ as the official digital radio standard in order to
- provide cost effective coverage
- ensure the availability of receivers at a wide range of price points
- Ensure that all major stakeholders are involved in creating a roadmap to
- develop coverage plans that initially focus on major towns and cities - over time, coverage can be extended more widely
- actively and consistently promote clear messages about the benefits of digital radio to retailers and consumers
- Simulcast period, the period of FM & DAB/DAB+, is a must but is also an extra cost for broadcasters. What do you suggest for the length of this simulcast period?
There is no short answer to this question. Several factors need to be considered, including:
- the coverage of DAB+ services (switchover is only possibly in areas where there is good DAB+ coverage)
- the penetration of DAB+ receivers (it might be risky to fix a date for switchover before a certain % of the population has a digital receiver)
- the costs of simulcasting (broadcasters need to be clear about the incremental costs of simulcasting – and what the potential long term savings would be when analogue broadcasts are switched off).
A common approach adopted in other countries is to set a number of criteria which need to be achieved before a DSO date can be confirmed. Typically, these criteria would include:
- minimum coverage requirements; and
- the proportion of the population which listens to the radio on a digital device (this could be DAB+, digital TV or Internet).
My main advice is to focus on a strategic roadmap which can lead towards Switchover – but don’t try to set a date too early in the process.
- As far as I know in Europe some cars come with DAB+, especially in C+ segment. But anyway there are many cars on the roads with FM only radios. What is the solution for those?
First, we should say that a growing number of new cars now come with DAB / DAB+ as standard. In the UK, 70% of new cars now have DAB+. In Norway the figure is similar and in Switzerland the figure is 45%.
Nevertheless, even in these countries, there are many cars already on the road which only have FM. For these vehicles, there are two options:
- Replacement digital radios
- Adaptors to convert existing radios.
A growing number of both types of devices are available – for example, in the UK, the following models are available for under £100:
With Norway being the first country to set a switchover date (2017), we expect this market to develop significantly in the next two years. More models will become available and prices will fall.
- Some argue that 3G/4G/Internet Radio is the best solution for listening radio and there is no need to built a new network for digital radio. They do not talk about unicast/multicast network & also the cost for the data on those solutions. How do you comment on this?
From a consumer perspective, the key strengths of digital broadcast radio are that it is reliable, free-to-air, and easy to use. From a broadcaster perspective, it has the added advantage that it is a highly efficient means of reaching mass market audiences.
For consumers at home, it is possible to listen to radio via the internet – but in fact consumers greatly prefer the convenience of listening to radio on DAB / DAB+; for example in the UK, 31% of all listening in-home is on DAB but only 7% is online.
Outside of the home (e.g. in-car) the case for digital radio is even stronger:
- it is more reliable than IP delivery – especially when many people (in the same area) are trying to access the same service at the same time
- it is free – no need for users to worry about exceeding their data roaming packages
- it does not run down the battery of a smartphone.
Whilst the cost efficiency of DAB+ (both for consumers and broadcasters) is an important benefit of digital radio, perhaps the strongest argument is in times of emergency. These are the times when citizens need information most urgently, but it is at exactly this time that IP networks are most likely to become overloaded and fail. Digital radio broadcasts are reliable, regardless of the number of people listening to them.