Commercial radio groups express opposition to government enforced switchover

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12:18pm 12th November 2013

80 commercial radio stations operated by 13 separate commercial radio operators are today joining forces to highlight the implications of government enforced digital radio switchover for radio listeners and local radio stations. This comes as the government prepares possible plans to confirm a switchover from AM / FM to DAB digital radio for the majority of radio stations in the UK.

Unlike TV switchover, radio switchover does not form part of an internationally coordinated programme and will not unlock a taxpayer dividend from the sale of released spectrum. Furthermore:

  • Evidence shows that listeners are well-served by existing platform choices. 14 years after the consumer launch of the technology in the UK, just 23% of radio listening is currently to DAB digital radio and yet radio is currently performing well, with 90% of the population listening every week (RAJAR Q3 2013).
  • Switchover poses a serious risk of listeners losing access to radio unless they spend several hundred pounds per household on new digital receivers. Ofcom recently stated that there are 101m – 117m radio sets in the UK market, of which 83% are used at least weekly but just 15-19% are digital (Ofcom, Digital Radio Progress Report, September 2013).
  • Local commercial radio stations are severely disadvantaged by the switchover plans. Just 15% of local radio listening occurs via DAB (RAJAR Q3 2013) and as many as 100 important local commercial radio stations would either be left stranded on FM at switchover, or would be forced to reduce their local programming and take on higher transmission costs in moving to the DAB digital radio platform.
  • Agreement has not been reached between government and broadcasters on public funding for expanding local DAB coverage, and even if this work goes ahead, it will benefit larger local and regional services rather than smaller local commercial stations whilst placing an additional cost burden on licence fee payers.

Each of the 13 commercial radio operators in the coalition – which include Celador Entertainment and UTV Media – is committed to technological progress for radio in the UK with increased quality, coverage and choice, as this can only benefit listeners and the radio industry. All wish to see platforms such as DAB continue to prosper. However these commercial operators believe that it should be consumers rather than government who determine whether and when there is a future switchover, with broadcasters retaining control over which platforms they invest in. Furthermore, new policies should be devised to support valued local commercial radio stations.

Paul Smith, Chairman of Celador Entertainment said “Celador is one of the fastest growing radio groups in the UK, operating 18 commercial radio stations which provide valued local programming to listeners. For radio to continue to meet the needs of listeners, I believe that platform investment decisions should be left at the discretion of the broadcaster.”

Scott Taunton, Managing Director of UTV Media (GB) said “UTV is an enthusiastic supporter of all forms of digital radio including DAB, however in common with many other UK radio operators we believe that switching off AM and FM risks jeopardising listeners’ affection for radio and undermining valued local radio services. We urge government to devise policies which prioritise the interests of consumers and allow all sectors of the industry to prosper.”

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