Government reveals plan to aid digital radio switchover

The Government has announced a string of measures to speed up the switchover to digital radio but has fallen short of setting a date for its completion warning the industry that more is needed to persuade listeners to switch from FM before progress can be made.

The Government is working with automotive brands to speed up the transition to digital radio across the UK.

It is ramping up investment in DAB coverage and adding a second multiplex – which will allow broadcasters to create new national digital stations – to give listeners greater access to the format. The Government said the switchover would not commence until the number of people tuning in via digital radio sets was 50 per cent. It currently stands at just over a third (35.6 per cent) of the listening audience.

Speaking at the Go Digital Conference earlier today (16 December), Ed Vaizey, the minister for culture, communications and creative industries, said he wanted the measures to improve the service, reach coverage and listening criteria to ensure the “digital future of radio”.

He added: “We cannot go backwards. The radio listener will get a much better service, and better functionality. There will be far more choice, with many more stations. The UK is at the forefront of developments in digital radio. This package of measures is intended to cement this and herald in a digital age, as and when the consumer is ready.”

Additional initiatives, developed in partnership with the car industry, are also being carried out to accelerate the transition. Ford unveiled a tie-up with online listening service Radioplayer to bring digital radio into Ford cars, while Halfords said its car radio products will be “100 per cent digital” by 2015.

Meanwhile, a deal has also been struck between Digital Radio UK, the DVLA and the driver and Vehicle Standards Agency to provide people with information about how to upgrade their car radio to digital.

The measures were welcomed by a coalition of 14 separate commercial radio operators – which include Celador Entertainment, Quidem, UKRD and UTV Media. It added, however, that broadcasters should have autonomy over which platforms they invest in.

Paul Smith, chairman of Celador Entertainment said: “The Government’s decision not to commit to switchover is very good news for listeners. We have always felt that broadcasters are best placed to understand the needs of their audiences and that platform investment decisions should rest with individual radio stations.”

The Government has been hesitant to commit to a digital switchover date following earlier concerns the provisional 2015 target would not be met. The reluctance has caused tension with commercial radio trade body the Radio Centre, which has been pushing for an extension of digital switchover date to 2018 – but there are even questions as to whether this date is achievable or not.

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