Thursday, 28 January 2010

Digital Nirvana...not quite here yet

I posted a few months back about the Digital Britain report.

The bottom line was that the expected 2015 date, by which the big Radio boys in UK radio would move from Analog transmission
to Digital, leaving FM to small-scale and community stations, was hoplessly unrealistic. And from a report published in the Guardian on the 26th, it looks like I was right. It may be ten years before the FM band is reinvented as a home for community and small-scale radio.

The 2015 switchover target is only going to be adhered to if 50% of Radio listening is on Digital by then, and right now, that seems highly unlikely. There's a mass of detail in the Guardian piece, and if you care about small-scale radio, as I do, it's a worthwhile read.

What jumped out to me is the statistic that there are at least 100 million FM radios out there. But I think there are a lot more than that. They're in your car, on your stereo, in your phone, on your mp3 player, not counting that plain old transistor radio you may still be using. They're all portable and easy to use, and they all came (sort of) for free, or really cheaply. On the other hand, my single Digital Radio is neither cheap nor portable - it's plugged into the mains - and it's prone to having to be rebooted
occasionally, and can give me really crappy signals - 5 live has been particular iffy of late.

Not really an incentive to go out and get another one, it it? All those supposedly hot new digital services don't count if you can't enjoy listening to them.
You can't blame listeners for sticking with the durable, proven, and solid FM band.

So now they're talking about, maybe 2016, maybe 2020 before the big switchover. I think it's a damn shame for all parties - but especially for the small-scale stations. That's the independent stations, the small local stations, the community stations who want to simulcast on the web and on FM, or who want to step up their power just so a larger audience can help them survive.

Radio is desperately in need of fresh innovative ideas to pull in new and young audiences. Those ideas normally come from left-field, the same way new music always comes in from left-field. So we need the left-field sector to flourish, to get more professional without getting more corporate, so it can play host to some programming innovation. I was kind of optimistic about a five year gap before the smaller stations can get a level playing field. But it looks like that was too good a target to hold up.

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