£20m digital investment will pay radio dividends

The BBC has announced it is committing £20m to promoting the digital medium, which will provide a useful boost for radio

The BBC’s announcement that it will invest &£20m in marketing its digital radio and TV channels this year is welcome news for the radio industry. At this very early stage in digital radio’s development we should all be working to the same common goal, which is to drive consumer take-up of digital receivers.

Over the past couple of years, the BBC has lagged behind the commercial sector for developing and promoting digital radio. Hopefully that stance has now changed, and this commitment will provide another catalyst for digital’s growth.

The December promotion of digital radio sets for only &£99 was a huge success – shops were apparently sold out in a couple of hours. This just shows what can be done with effective marketing – and what will motivate customers to adopt the digital medium.

The national commercial multiplex now covers almost 85 per cent of the UK, and at least one or two local multiplexes broadcast in most major conurbations. This year, the launch of further commercial multiplexes, and the extension of the BBC’s transmitter network to above 60 per cent coverage should provide the majority of the population with real choice.

Commercial radio has already shown it is committed to digital broadcasting. Last year, for example, my own company, Capital, spent over &£3m – ten per cent of the company’s profit – on digital radio, and we now have a national service called Life, and two quasi-national services – Xfm and Cube.

However, the only way to make digital a reality is for the industry to develop the market as a whole. Strategic alliances, including those with mainstream rivals, offer a useful way ahead.

The commercial sector and the BBC are already working together to promote digital radio, and we see the BBC’s recent announcement as further cementing this relationship. We have jointly established the Digital Radio Development Bureau (DRDB), and this will be instrumental in working with manufacturers, retailers and consumers to build and shape the market.

Recent announcements by the manufacturer Goodmans that it will be launching a range of products incorporating digital radio for between &£100 and &£200 later this year is also encouraging news for digital, and will encourage other manufacturers to follow suit. These advancements are certain to bring real progress for digital radio this year. The support of the BBC is another pointer to its success.

While the BBC will be marketing its existing and new digital-only radio services, it is to be hoped it will also be actively involved in digital’s other, much broader, challenge – encouraging consumer take-up. The commercial sector looks forward to working alongside the BBC to achieve this.

Nathalie Schwarz is director of strategy and development at Capital Radio

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