We must help advertisers to ride radio’s digital wave

Sales of digital radio are booming as customers embrace the new technology, but radio stations must maximise DAB’s potential for advertisers.

Digital radios were selling like hot cakes at my local Dixons over Christmas. Those of us who bought one over the festive period are part of the latest trend to rock the radio world.

Estimated sales figures from the Digital Radio Development Bureau (DRDB) suggest that 400,000 digital audio broadcasting (DAB) radios were sold in 2003. Retailers, from Tesco to Asda, are filling their shelves, sensing that DAB is the next sensation to sweep our gadget-hungry nation.

While the Rajar figures for the last quarter of 2003 indicate that certain digital radio stations are enjoying growth, the specific effects of the Christmas sales rush won’t be measured until the figures for the first quarter of 2004 (due in May). However, the way audiences consume radio is fundamentally changing and advertisers need to keep an eye on three key areas.

First, the opportunities for listener interaction are opening up advertising frontiers. The successes of online, interactive voice response (IVR) and text promotions give an indication of the future. But already designs are circulating that can transform DAB’s 128-character monochrome display into a full-colour, animated screen that will revolutionise radio advertising. Add a SIM card to provide a dedicated return path allowing for “requests for further information” and “buy-it buttons”, and a new level of accountability is born.

Second, digital radio allows major players to offer advertisers a portfolio of station brands spanning the age spectrum. As stations invest in compelling programming for their digital brands – encouraged by Rajar figures that prove listening habits are adapting to new technologies – so UK advertisers that might have been reluctant to use radio are more likely to find a sympathetic environment in digital.

Digital radio also allows previously niche and specialised services to be rolled out quasi-nationally. This gives advertisers access to highly targeted audiences on a large scale, providing targeting and environment opportunities far beyond the traditional three national analogue licences.

Lastly, anecdotal evidence suggests radio is appearing in new parts of our life, just as it did when cars first came with stereos. Broadband connections to desks change workplace listening and Sky boxes are being plugged into surround-sound entertainment systems, so radio now competes with compact discs.

But it’s consumers who will decide the future. The latest sales figures for DAB indicate that we could be at the tipping point for digital radio, which after years on the sidelines of the technological media boom looks set for a starring role. The radio industry must ensure that advertisers get full value out of this expansion.

Gavin Miller is commercial marketing director at Capital Radio Group

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