Digital Britain: Has Carter Really Saved DAB?

It may be obvious but it’s worth stating in light of Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report published yesterday – digital radio and DAB are not the same thing.

Read the headlines and you would assume Digial Britain is nothing but good news for those who have bet the farm on digital audio broadcasting.

This is what we know:

  • all national radio stations will stop broadcasting in analogue by 2015
  • all new car radios sold in the UK should be digital by 2013
  • all radio stations broadcasting on MW (except the ultra local) will upgrade to DAB

Incidentally none of this will happen until 50% of listening is digital (it’s currently around 20%) and until DAB reaches 90% of the population and all major roads.

A commitment to the cause of DAB, undoubtedly, but read a little further into Chapter 3b: Radio: Going Digital where Carter and team state:

Digital radio is not now, nor should it be in the future, a single platform medium. The Internet, mobile broadband, in particular, will have a role in radio’s future.

Right now DAB is the front runner accounting for 63% of total digital listening, compared to 17% on digital TV and 11% on the internet. And the report goes on to argue that:

at least for the foreseeable future DAB is the right technology
for the UK

Note the phrase “foreseeable future”.

The biggest advantage DAB has over the internet as a platform for radio is its portability. You can listen on the go – on the bus, on the train, on the pavement and, if you’re lucky, in the car. Assuming you’ve got coverage, of course.

But what if that competitive advantage disappears – what if WiFi and 3/4G networks  get super fast and super sophisticated?

Internet-enabled smartphones such as the Apple iPhone and Blackberry are outselling traditional mobile phones which means there’s a growing installed base ready and waiting for streamed audio on the go.

And not just from traditional radio stations but from the likes of Spotify and Last.fm too. Indeed, Spotify on the move could even render the mighty iPod redundant.

And as for internet-enabled car stereos – why not?  

It’s entirely possible that by 2015 – the target date for the great analogue radio switch-off – digital radio will mean internet radio. And DAB will be just a minor player.

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