James Cridland is Managing Director of media.info, and an Australia-based radio futurologist. He is a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business. Find out more or subscribe at http://james.cridland.net
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- Norway switches off FM. But why don’t they just do streaming? I do some tedious maths. I have so much respect for people who make complicated things sound simple on the radio after trying to make it into a podcast.
Norway’s #FMexit special
Norway “switched off FM” this week and switched to DAB+. I was interviewed by a number of outlets, and helped others with background including BBC News.
A few facts
- They didn’t turn FM off across the entire country: only in one Norwegian state, Nordland. It’s the beginning of a year-long process nationwide.
- They didn’t turn FM off in Nordland, either. It continues for many smaller local stations. But those stations account for less than 5% of total radio listening (TSL). If you’re a radio listener, your favourite station has probably moved to DAB.
- This isn’t a switch-off of broadcast radio. DAB is broadcast radio, from transmitters on hills to receivers with antennas, just like FM. And, like FM, it is free. Broadcast radio has a tremendous future. (The internet is too expensive).
- This isn’t bad news for commercial radio. Instead of one mostly-national commercial station in Norway, there are now upwards of twenty. This is a massive levelling of the playing field.
- This isn’t bad news for NRK, the public service broadcaster. They save US$24 million by turning off FM, which they claim is “8 times” more expensive than broadcasting DAB. They’ve promised to plough this money back into programming. They’ve also launched a slew of additional stations.
- For radio listeners, this means that instead of seven or so FM stations, they have a choice of around thirty on DAB+. Reception is better than FM (the reflections from mountains actually make the signal more robust). All stations will be retransmitted in road tunnels. They’ve even spent time ensuring good reception at sea.
- Nationally, 74% of Norwegians already have a DAB set. However, 26% don’t. Stations are also available via DTV and online, but there is a potential that radio loses listeners. That’s a concern, and we should carefully examine the effect of #FMexit.
- While DAB+ is installed in the vast majority of new cars, but only 25% of total cars in Norway have it installed. Adaptors are available, but many may not bother. Only 23% of radio listening is done in-car (compared to 44% in the US). If listeners discover alternatives to radio in-car, will they transfer to the home too?
- One newspaper poll said the majority of Norwegians are against it (yet 74% own a DAB set already). Read with caution. “See this free thing you use? Would you like it taken away?” is a question probably not ever going to get a positive reaction. “Do you miss listening to Norwegian folk music and those old friendly presenters who used to be on? Would you like a station just for you?” might have delivered a different result. As in many other countries, newspapers are owned by competitors to radio.
- The UK uses a mix of DAB and DAB+. The Norwegians only use DAB+. DAB+ signals can be broadcast on existing transmitters, but need receivers that cope with DAB+. Most sets on sale deal with DAB+ without a problem. Older receivers may not. UK infrastructure can deal happily with DAB+. More info
How it was covered
- The NAB posted a negative blog post, probably destined for their members rather than the rest of the world. The central point – that there won’t be an FM switchoff for DAB in the US – is correct: DAB frequencies are military ones, and the infrastructure requires a collegiate, co-operative broadcast marketplace that doesn’t happen in the US for a number of reasons. It’s a shame the NAB missed a chance to highlight the benefits of broadcast vs IP (surely the opportunity for the National Association of Broadcasters). Instead, it retreated to a “not invented here” paranoia. Truly, the Trump era is upon us.
- As you might expect, the EBU – the European equivalent of the NAB in many ways – was rather more positive.
- Other countries leapt to give their thoughts. Here’s what switchover means to Belgium – nice photo – while for the UK view, Ford Ennals (head of Digital Radio UK) talked to John Humprhys on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.
- One place where DAB has been tried in North America is… Canada. FM radio is old. So why hasn’t digital made a dent, asks this piece from the CBC.
What’s my view?
The Norwegians have done an excellent job at publicity and promotion of DAB+. I’m concerned at the in-car situation, though, and would watch the listening figures carefully.
In my mind, a government-mandated switchover is undesirable for commercial broadcasters. A market-led switchoff should be encouraged in those places where a switchover is desired (the UK, Switzerland, etc). Commercial broadcasters should be free to come off analogue, partially or wholly, when they feel it makes economic sense, safe in the knowledge that the analogue frequencies will not be available for re-use by other broadcasters.
The UK might hit trigger point next year. The government should carefully evaluate learnings from the Norwegians before rushing to a decision. Bear in mind that the next General Election is in May 2020; and that Conservative constituencies are mainly in rural areas with poorer coverage.
Most importantly: radio broadcasters are not in the business of running FM transmitters. They exist to serve audiences on whatever platform their audiences wish to use. And, for a growing number of people, that’s DAB.
- CES 2017: A Radio Broadcaster’s Perspective. A nice writeup for radio people.
- Announced at CES, Gracenote makes radio in your car smarter – a kind of database of radio stations by rough coverage area.
- Why Digital Hasn’t Killed The Radio Star – #lazybugglesheadline but a decent one!
- The future of radio: Seven important trends, some look sensible, some don’t much
- Snapchat Is Beginning to Use Machine Learning to Improve Ad Targeting – if it works, this worth looking at. The personalised ads I see are depressingly wide of the mark.
- Music Subscriptions Passed 100 Million In December. Has The World Changed? (Good piece saying it has, and it hasn’t)
- ESPN’s “Mike and Mike” to split. They do a good bit of radio-on-telly too. I love Mike, though have never liked Mike. <– weak joke
- Pandora to decrease workforce by 7% this quarter
- This is a wonderful must-listen: almost like a love letter to analogue sound. From TwentyThousandHertz – PS: listen right to the end
- The Washington Post: We’re launching a newsletter dedicated to the best reader comments – interesting because most comments sections are now pretty dreadful
- This is a nice idea. Absolute Radio presenter Geoff Lloyd’s “Records of the week” for last year, as one Spotify playlist.
- North Norfolk Radio apparently starts networking from, er, Suffolk. Listeners aren’t happy. Is a rebrand to “Shape” in the plans, too?
- Britain’s Most Creative News Jingle? (Wow.)
- Biggest, richest radio station in the UK cuts all live overnight presenters. A bone-headed, stupid decision, that one suspects is politically-motivated.
- That jolly good James O’Brien is in The Guardian, and quite rightly too.
- Farage Joins LBC as Presenter – important to note that this gets covered not just in radio industry titles, but elsewhere too.
- TeamRock (including “licence for digital radio station”, which is an almost entirely valueless thing) bought by Future Publishing. They sold these titles to the consortium for ten million quid, and bought it back for less than a million. That’s an interesting deal.
- Global’s DAX online audio marketplace is now working with 300 advertisers a month, according to this report.
- Why does the program director ignore my emails? Great response from Matt Deegan within this discussion.
- BBC sets up team to debunk fake news. But look at the comments to this tweet to see how some perceive the organisation.
- Njoy The Silence. Why Cornwall’s DAB Station Was Doomed
- Economist digital strategy chief: We expect display advertising to have disappeared by 2025
- Australian radio is mostly still in the middle of the summer break, so it’s all quiet on the radio front – with the exception of a much more consistent sound with rebranded ABC Radio stations in cap cities from last Monday. Congrats to James O’Brien, Jeremy Millar and many others who made it sound effortless.
- Bulgaria: public radio stations fail to reach agreement with music rights holders – so all of them switch to playing classical and folk non-copyright music. Brave of them!
- Romania: always fun hearing a new station go on-air. Here’s the launch of Virgin Radio Romania, which is oddly in English until the Romanian presenters come on.
- China: how a news app is boosting engagement by paying users. Back at Virgin Radio, I tried something I don’t think people have done since – gamified radio listening by giving points depending on how long people stayed tuned-in. Wonder why nobody else is doing this?
- Abu Dhabi: Radio job – Program Director. US$6,000 a month. A flight back to the UK every year, and the sun!
- Denmark: 36% of radio listening is “digital”
- Korea: Wow. There’s a new format for pre-recorded music called MQS SD. And here it is. Don’t all purchase it at once.
- France: Radio France Inter came off LW at the end of last year. Take a listen here. Another #deathofam story. Damn you 2016!