Ad for DAB+ promotes extra channels
By James Cridland for media.info
Posted 8 October 2015, 11.07pm edt
One of the biggest reasons to get a new DAB Digital Radio is the additional choice. I've written before how in the UK, generic ads for digital radio rarely promote anything beyond a nebulous 'choice' offering, and don't focus on the genres and stations available.
However, using the tagline "It's radio as you know it, plus...", DAB+ in Australia has promoted the additional choice for many years. The commercial radio industry body has just unveiled a new marketing campaign featuring more details of that choice.
The film - which'll be shown in cinemas across Australia - shows the type of stations available; with a great demonstration using a beatboxer called Tom Thum. Watch it here.
Commercial Radio Australia (CRA) has launched a new marketing campaign for DAB+ digital radio featuring Australian beatboxer Tom Thum, creatively illustrating the many different genres and stations available on DAB+ digital radio in Australia, through the use of his incredible vocal techniques.
Previewed at the National Radio Conference on the Gold Coast today, the DAB+ digital radio beat box campaign featuring four radio ads and a video takes digital radio promotion in a new direction. Tom Thum, who racked up a TEDx record of 42 million YouTube views, features in both the radio ads and video, using his lips, mouth and voice to mimick the different formats available on digital radio.
Joan Warner, chief executive officer of Commerical Radio Australia said: “The industry was looking for an innovative way of communicating the variety of DAB+ digital stations to audiences and to show there is something for everyone on digital radio.”
The idea behind the video and radio ads came from Ralph van Dijk, creative director of awarding winning radio specialist agency, Eardrum. “We wanted to develop a campaign for digital radio that was creative, simple, funny, visually entertaining and that had a sound that could break through when played on any radio station.”
The video, directed by Jeremy Koren (aka Grey Ghost), features beatboxer Tom Thum filmed inside a large purpose-built set, designed to represent a stylised digital radio, showing the circuits, wires and mechanics of the device. As the station changes, Tom beat boxes to different genres including sport and music: from rock to hip hop, heavy metal, jazz and more. The beat builds, and the music changes, showing the diversity of genres available on digital radio.
Building on the highly successful previous Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Christmas digital radio campaigns, this series of four new radio ads and the video, will be played across all DAB+ digital radio stations plus 42 commercial stations in the five state metropolitan markets of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide beginning on Monday, 12 October.
CRA also announced the Tom Thum DAB+ digital radio video will be played across six Moonlight Cinema locations around Australia from December through to March 2016 at more than 300 screenings to thousands of outdoor cinema fans in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne and Perth.
In addition to the ads, video and sponsorship the radio industry has launched a new DAB+ digital radio website. It features the all-of-industry Digital Radio Plus blue cross logo produced by multiple award winning creative, John Mescall in 2008. The website allows for easier navigation and provides new content, including information regarding DAB+ in vehicles and the latest global developments. On it, you can also hear the new radio ads for DAB+.
That good news for Australia just highlights how badly the UK has been served by Ofcom/BBC/DCMS's poor strategic decisions not to grasp a golden opportunity to start a migration to DAB+ years back when they were planning large scale extension of DAB to remote areas.
With dozens of new transmitters planned for areas with no previous DAB service they could have started an 'outside-inwards' migration to DAB+, gaining experience and customer acceptance in low profile areas with no pre-installed base of DAB-only receivers. Instead, because of the decision to stick to plain DAB only, these areas still don't even get a full choice of BBC National services because of the DAB multiplex's lack of capacity.
For DAB in the UK to deliver on its promise of more choice a shift to DAB+ is absolutely inevitable, but the longer it's put off the less value we will get from it. Congratulations to Australia for biting that bullet (and of course also to Austria, Belgium, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Indonesia, Malaysia, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, South Africa and all the others who woke up and smelled the DAB+ coffee!).
I'd agree with all of that. I wanted to do DAB+ when it was first announced, to help push through the technology. To my understanding, Ofcom still resist it, and insist it's categorised as "data" (which means you can't have much DAB+ on-air). It's a massive missed opportunity.
Ofcom don't resist it. They want to be careful that stations don't use it get round some regulatory rules that disadvantage consumers. My understanding is that anyone who wanted to launch a new DAB+ station on any type of multiplex would, with their nod, be able to do it. The data limits are a red herring, they'll likely be changed in the next radio act of parliament and there is unlikely to be the demand before then for more than 30% DAB+ space.
For local multiplexes - at the moment, the cash saving of being DAB+ and reaching a smaller audience does not outweigh the benefit of paying more and broadcasting to a larger audience through DAB. Most local multiplexes have enough capacity to broadcast a new station in DAB and won't need to squeeze one in using DAB+. However, on a national scale, by next year, we will have reached a point where DAB+ stations could be a viable economic investment for station operators as the volume of radios, particularly in-car, will be at a level where you can build an actual business.
The UK has arguably the world's most successful DAB market. There are a large number of stations and good coverage. The new stations are, finally, making money for their operators. 2008 to 2013 was a tough time for the radio industry and therefore a tough time for digital radio. The idea of introducing DAB+ then, on any scale, would have annoyed the early adopters and split the industry further. There was enough trouble keeping everything on track without introducing confusion with the sets.
Personally, I think the industry's approach to DAB+ has been a good one. The work on the digital radio action plan from 2011 signalled that the minimum receiver requirement - FM, DAB and DAB+ - to get the tick mark would be coming. This was the signal to manufacturers that they had to, for the UK, update their lines to cope with all of this. At the same time the work with the car sector has ensured that we have the world's highest rate of line-fit digital radios - over 70%, which will deliver around 1.4m new DAB+ radios to UK consumers this year alone.
In other words, the work's been done to build out a DAB+ universe to set the UK market up to benefit from the technology.
The first DAB+ stations will go live on D2 next year. They've committed to one, but based on what they've been saying publicly at events, there seems to be room for more. If I was a betting man, I'd predict maybe three or four.
DAB+ will therefore provide new stations to people with newer radios. They won't be losing anything, nothing's converting. Older radios will still get the stations they've always have. To me this is a great first step. It starts to teach people about the newer flavour of DAB but without scaring the horses people won't thing that what they still see as their 'new' radio - being made obsolete.
I think is something that Freeview homes understand with regards to Freeview HD - the newer boxes get newer things, but that they can still get BBC One in their second bedroom.
All the UK's multiplexes are capable of broadcasting DAB+ alongside DAB, it's an easy technical change to launch services.
What I will flag up is that DAB+ is not going to be a panacea for audiophiles desire for better quality or an assumption that it's going to open the floodgates on more radio stations.
On audio quality - the Media Info equivalent in Australia slags of the bitrates of services over there, just like some do here. There is literally no bitrate/codec that will keep the ardent audiophiles happy. In the UK I expect we'll run at bitrates that generate similar perceived audio quality - 32k to 48k. I'd be surprised if we saw it at 64k - 96k.
The cost of doing DAB+ is going to be less but not massively so. Let's say, on a local level, DAB costs 40k, but DAB+ at lower bitrate costs 25k. 15k is still 15k, but as a percentage of the costs of broadcasting it barely makes a dent. If it takes £200k to run a radio station, 15k less on transmission is not going to be the difference between whether you decide to run one or not. And if it is, it's likely you have many more problems than your carriage fees. Also, if you're reaching twice the people on DAB than DAB+, it's probably 15k better spent.
At at national scale, will it get more people on? Maybe. Using similar maths and multiplying the local number by 10 - 250k on transmission is better than 400k on transmission, but you still have to be the kind of business that can afford 250k.
Everyone in the industry is pretty much in favour of DAB+, but they've all been keen to do the work for it's introduction in the right way, something I think's been done, and we'll start to see the fruits of next year.
It's untrue to imply that Ofcom did not resist the deployment of DAB+ in the UK. We asked them about using it on more than one occasion between prior to 2013 and were told simply that DAB+ "was not authorized for broadcast use in the UK". It is only with the coming of the proposal to allow it on D2 that this stance appears to have changed.
As for capacity of the existing multiplexes, your comments are unfortunately heavily urban-biased. Here in Scotland, the BBC multiplex does not even have enough capacity to carry their own full complement of national services. In urban areas they rely upon leasing capacity on commercial multiplexes to carry BBC Radio Scotland and BBC Radio nan Gaidheal.
This leads to the ridiculous situation that in the Highlands and Islands (which have no commercial multiplexes) listeners can tune to BBC Asian or BBC Radio 6 Music on DAB, but not to their national Scottish or Gaelic services (ironically folks in bigger cities such as Edinburgh and Dundee can get the Gaelic service on DAB!).
The relays being rolled out in the Highlands and Islands could perfectly well have been DAB+ without any market perturbance at all. There was no installed base of receivers (and still is hardly any) so listeners would simply have had to ensure they bought tick-marked DAB+ compatible receivers. At the same time it would have given practical experience of the use of DAB+ in very varied terrain and shown especially well how well it can cope with multipath!
As for bit rates and quality - yes of course there might still be a drive to use the minimum the broadcaster can get away with, and introduce additional channels, or maintain bit rates and increase quality, but either way the listener is a winner, or at least the broadcaster has the technical option to make it so.
In passing, I believe also DAB+ is better able to 'window' to allow regional opt-outs, especially in sparse service areas again like the north and west of Scotland where receivers mostly get signals from only one transmitter at a time, even though it is part of an SFN. At present DAB not only prevents availability of the national services, but the regional Highland, Northern Isles etc opt-outs are completely impossible.
Why would you be so surprised if we saw DAB+ rates of 64k-96k? In Australia the main national music-focused channels (eg ABC Country, ABC Jazz, ABC Classical, Triple J) use 80kbps and the speech oriented ABC national and local services use 64kbps. The majority of commercial stations have gone for 64kbps, although of course quite a few have adopted 48kbps (as do most commercial stations in the UK for Internet streaming) and some are even running 112 or even 128kbps.
What Matt Deegan says is spot on, I can't really add anything further to what he says.
Alex - I disagree with your remark that Ofcom didn't allow DAB+ until recently. I oversaw the operations of over 20 DAB multiplexes from 2007 to 2011 and back then, the only barrier to DAB+ was that nobody wanted to use it. I was approached by a couple of organisations about broadcasting their stations in DAB+. No problem! But their problem was that, the maths didn't add up for them, the saving from being DAB+ wasn't worth the gamble of not being able to reach everyone with a legacy set.
As Matt says, the 30% data limit is a total red herring. Right now, there is no multiplex in the UK that even comes close to this.
Calm down fella, I'm just trying to give you my views.
I never asked Ofcom pre-2013 about running a DAB+ service, I did however run a test towards the end of 2014 without any trouble.
The BBC runs all non-UK-wide services on 'local' multiplexes - so BBC Solent as well as BBC Scotland and BBC Radio Wales etc.
Windowing (the ability to do local splits within a national network) has been trialled, but I'm not aware of anywhere that's been able to launch it properly.
You do, of course, raise a valid question about how the BBC should juggle the capacity on its national multiplex.
You could strip off World Service, 6Music, Asian Network and then perhaps run DAB+ versions of Scotland, Nan, Wales, Cymru etc and put a WS, 6M and AN on a local multiplex instead.
But is it better to have Nations services in a format that only 20% of DAB users can use (but reach the highlands) or reach 70% of the Scottish population in original flavour DAB on the local DAB multiplexes (but not in the Highlands)?
So, for those non-DAB+ Highland listeners, they's lose services like 6Music and still wouldn't be able to get the Nations services on digital.
Therefore, today, with no proof that Windowing would work in your suggested implementation and the knock-on effects to existing listeners - I'm not sure I'd personally go down that path.
But, the good thing about DAB+ is that it co-exists with DAB and that as take-up of DAB+ sets increase, yours could be a future implementation of the BBC's National/Nations services.
Why are we going to see lower bitrate implementations?
So, I want to launch Matt Radio. I've got 80kbit/s on a London multiplex and I can use it any way I wish.
- Matt Radio - DAB at 80kbit/s Mono (potential reach- 5m listeners)
- Matt Radio - DAB+ at 80kbit/s Stereo - which would sound great (potential reach 1.5m listeners)
- Matt Radio Classics and Matt Radio Hits - DAB+, each at 40kbit/s (potential reach 1.5m - but two chances as two different formats - and would generate me more monetisable hours)
I'd personally rank those as: 1, 3 then 2. I think that's how most operators would likely see it.
Oz is slightly different as new entrants aren't permitted any capacity. It's divided up instead amongst existing operators. There was no history of new stations in that market - and no real existing 'brands' to put in other areas. Therefore stations have split their capacity to cater for adding generally one new station for every additional analogue station. Also DAB stations in Oz have only just had their first audience figures, so there's been no moves to maximise hours there like there's been here. At the point they'll really start to compete for revenue I bet we see reduced bitrates and more stations.
It strikes me that the advert shows the variety of genres available, but doesn't actually mention any specific stations / brands. That seems a bit of a missed opportunity, both to use any existing brand equity to build up DAB+, and to help build brand equity for those stations.
When I enquired about DAB+ I was told that since this was considered a data service, PRS/PPL wouldn't consider it as a broadcast radio station, and wouldn't give a broadcast licence for it. Ofcom wanted a data licence, not a sound broadcasting one. Granted, this was many years ago.
Chill, The Arrow and other DAB fillers aren't in DAB+; nor is Absolute 60s in its sole spot in Inverness (which can only be maintained for music rights reasons); and there's still zero DAB+ services on the air here in the UK. I find it odd that Global wouldn't want to cut their transmission costs, or Bauer, and pump those services out in DAB+ - they can't possibly run them with any thought about listener numbers.
Art - a single frequency network is just that,and DAB+ makes no difference as to how easy optouts are to achieve. But, since I pay for the nation stations like Scotland, Wales and Ulster, I would quite like to get them here in London. Switching R1, 2, 3 & 4 to DAB+ would make space for this, while not removing any choice from listeners (since those stations continue on FM for the foreseeable future).
James - DAB+ services don't renew analogue licences (I've lost track of what at Global renews what, or if it still does). I'd also expect that Global have long term capacity contracts with mux operators, and as they don't have any other stations left to add in London they might as well fill the space with regular versions of services.
I'd imagine that Abs60s on Inverness is all about providing more stations for local listeners (with the bonus of meaning that Abs60s doesn't have to pay internet royalties and can keep paying broadcast ones). I'm not sure whether a DAB+ version would do that. It might do, but as Bauer own the station and the multiplex there's no saving or demands on capacity, they might as well maximise audience in DAB rather than DAB+.
In all these examples there's very little to gain from broadcasting these stations in DAB+. And again, suddenly adding DAB+ stations would raise a load of questions about why, what does this mean etc, adding more straws to our back.
As I mention in the first post, I think the good thing about waiting until D2 for DAB+ is that it means (I imagine) the new stations will be additive (people won't be disenfranchised by converting/removing stations etc) and it'll happen at a point when people with older DAB radios will also get new stations too. It'll also mean a nationwide service, at a point there's a decent amount of radios (particularly in car) so businesses will be able to see an actual return on their investment. It'll also be a great test to see if DAB+ is something that works for stations (and listeners) and then other radio operators can see if it's something they want to do.
Ash, if Ofcom permitted DAB+ pre-2013, why does its consultation on the 2014 update to the Ofcom Technical Code say:
"2.8 As part of our revision of the Digital Radio Technical Code, we are proposing
"2.10 Inclusion of DAB+ in the Digital Radio Technical Code does not provide consent for services on existing multiplexes to switch to DAB+...."
Prior to that, the Ofcom Digital Technical Standards Policy from Oct 2008 specified that multiplex transmissions must comply with ETSI standard EN 300 401 , which specifies MPEG-II DAB only, not AAC/DAB+.
Matt, in your last paragraph, could you define "a nationwide service"? There are huge parts of the country without even a D1, and no plans for one, let alone D2. And almost all the DAB-only sets currently in use will be in those very areas to be served first by D2. Your point that the new stations will be additive and that it would be a good test for DAB+ are exactly the points I made in 2010-2013 about adopting it for the additional rollout of DAB in remote areas that was to take place in 2013-14. We could already have that DAB+ experience in a low-profile region where it would actually have made a genuine difference (ie allowing the full suite of BBC national services to be put on DAB).
James: a single frequency network does not preclude local windowing - achieving similar effects as conventional AM and FM regional optouts. There are issues of degradation and flicker in regions of overlap, but trials (in Dresden I think) showed these weren't anything like as bad as might have been thought (and of course in the Highlands, Islands and Wales, where people routinely receive signal predominantly from only one transmitter such issues are negligible or non-existent). Yes this can be done much the same under DAB as well as DAB+ as you say, but I'm not sure it's not quite true to say that transmission is identical for DAB and DAB+, for example, I believe DAB supports unequal error protection which DAB+ does not, and DAB+ has more robust error protection, which assists in minimizing artefacts caused by overlap in local windowing. DAB+ also makes it more practical for an alternative scenario where bit rates can be temporarily lowered and a second service effectively opened for the opt-out while still achieving similar quality as for a single service using the same total channel capacity on DAB. As you say, adopting DAB+ across the board would allow all the national services to be available throughout the UK within the current bandwidth.
So, Matt says that DAB+ services aren't allowed to renew analogue licences. And then that DAB+ services might not give the advantageous broadcasting music licences. Yet Ofcom is apparently not resisting DAB+ and anyone can do it... hmm.
It's notable that none of the trial muxes are playing with DAB+ - is that a technical reason, Ash, or a licencing one?
It's also not entirely fair to claim that DAB+ would not give better audio quality. Given the choice between an 80k mono service and a 48kbps stereo one...
Thinking about it, I don't know whether a DAB+ service can renew an analogue licence, or whether it's allowable for a music licence.
I think there's a danger of seeing conspiracies where there aren't any.
The main reason no one's doing any DAB+ is that, up to now, it's been nigh on impossible to generate a business case for it. The success of in-car DAB over the last 24 months, and the transition of many of the new (and cheap) radios to including DAB+ is making it something that's now becoming worthwhile to do. I also don't think there's a huge desire to test DAB+ when we know it all works and it's been demonstrated all over the world.
My assumption with Ofcom's rules is that there's a combination of legacy legislation and that they don't want changes that seem to 'get round' existing rules and leave consumers in a worse place. D2 can have DAB+ stations without any issues, on other muxes you have to ask first. Case by case allows them to work through any consequences.
My example was 40kbit/s rather than 48kbit/s. But as I said, let's perhaps wait and see for what the UK DAB+ bitrates are going to be.
If I had 64kbit/s on a multiplex I'd still launch a DAB service rather than a DAB+ one. If I only had access to half that, then as I said, we're getting to a point where nationally you could form a business case to broadcast using DAB+.
And if James or Alex would like to run a DAB+ channel on any of my local multiplexes you're more than welcome and I'll even do the Ofcom regulatory filings for you. Capacity is available at very reasonable prices.
"Art - a single frequency network is just that,and DAB+ makes no difference as to how easy optouts are to achieve. But, since I pay for the nation stations like Scotland, Wales and Ulster, I would quite like to get them here in London. Switching R1, 2, 3 & 4 to DAB+ would make space for this, while not removing any choice from listeners (since those stations continue on FM for the foreseeable future)."
Were you talking to me Mr C? I haven't actually contributed to this debate so far but since you mentioned my name (and there doesn't appear to be any other Art's around these parts), I'll consider that you've dragged me into this as well.
I think I've mentioned elsewhere before that in Scotland there is a potential opportunity to expand the regional Central Scotland MUX (which is half empty just now) into a Scotland-wide MUX (almost - although there would be a potential frequency clash with D1 in Cumbria, Dumfries and Galloway and the southern tip of the Borders).
If that MUX was to broadcast Scotland-wide, then Radio Scotland could broadcast it's FM and MW services on it and continue to carry the (part Government funded) Gaelic language service on it, which almost 99% of Scotland's population doesn't speak. So the MUX would be part funded by the BBC. It could also open up opportunities for wannabe Scotland-wide specialist services, such as a celtic music service, a rock and sport service, a Scottish opt-out sport service and (since the Scottish government has been talking about it) a Scotland-wide independent radio service.
At the same time it would resolve some reception issues in the mountains, valleys and the islands, where FM is often ropey, AM is virtually non-existent but DAB offers rock solid reception.
It would also mean that capacity used by the BBC on the local MUX's can be used by other broadcasters (some of which are prevented from going on due to lack of space) OR if the BBC have local opt-outs, they could still be carried (in mono) in Aberdeen, Inverschnecky and maybe even the highlands and islands.
And you still wouldn't need to be worried about DAB Plus.
Sorry, I meant "Alex". :)
I think the idea of a Scotland-wide mux is a nice one, though would probably be hideously expensive. The same goes for Wales. The frequency clash would need to be fixed: probably by switching D1 to be a proper SFN (I don't understand why it isn't), and flicking Scotland over to the vacated D1 signal.
Hideously expensive? As opposed to BBC Radio Scotland using ALL of Scotland's BBC FM transmitter sites, using the same power levels as the national networks, including 8 very high powered ones, many more medium powered sites and several dozen lower powered relays, plus two high powered medium wave sites and two medium powered medium wave sites, plus additional sites for the gealic service, most of which use the same power levels at sites in the highlands, with some medium powered sites in Central Scotland? That's a lot of transmitters for three radio stations.
The situation in England is not the same because BBC English local stations tend to use similar transmitter powers to commercial stations and definitely do not use anywhere near 250KW ERP, so it's more feasible for them to be on local commercial DAB multiplexes. Scotland needs to have Radio Scotland at nationwide coverage - and so the best way would be for the regional multiplex to become national.
Art wrote: "Scotland needs to have Radio Scotland at nationwide coverage - and so the best way would be for the regional multiplex to become national."
Would it not be a lot cheaper, both in capital and operating expense, simply to switch the BBC multiplex in the Highlands & Islands to DAB+ operation? This would immediately provide much needed capacity for BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Radio nan Gaidheal, and even some space for regional opt-outs and/or independent local stations?
For reasons that have already been detailed above .... no! The BBC operates on a single frequency network across the UK and Ireland. The stick-in-the-mud are the BBC national-regions ...... those being Radio Ulster, Radio Scotland and Radio Wales. Those aren't just three stations.
Radio Scotland operates two main networks, one for FM and one for MW, plus local opt-outs.
Radio Ulster also has Radio Foyle, who share each others programs (occasionally at different times) and also opt-out from each other.
Radio Wales has still to expand its FM coverage but it is likely to provide extended split programming.
Then there are the gaelic and Welsh language services.
Even if the BBC went for DAB+ on its own national multiplex, you could potentially have one of Radio Scotland's services - but you'd probably still need the other - being available to all of the UK. Not a bad idea in principle - but what happens to sports rights? Likewise for Radio Wales and Radio Ulster. Room would still have to be provided for the two minority language services, which hold even less relevance in other parts of the UK.
So surely the best way forward is to extend existing commercial MUX's or for Scotland to extend the regional MUX and have Radio Scotland and the gaelic service taken off of the local ones, which would also allow for Radio Scotland to carry both its FM and MW programs on DAB at the same time, instead of this nonsense of some areas of the country not getting any MW programs at all (unless they have DAB, satellite or Freeview) and FM programs not being available on any digital platform because they carry medium wave programs.
BBC Radio Scotland (etc) are already available online and on satellite television to the whole of the UK.
I'm sympathetic to the idea of a Wales and Scotland mux (a Northern Irish one already exists). A multiplex joint-owned by the BBC and a commercial operator would appear to make most sense, since the BBC would expect higher coverage than a commercial operator would probably be happy with.
The cost to roll-out a Scotland-wide multiplex would be significant (for anyone). I'm not sure a commercial operator would see the value in building out to reach everyone in the country. It will probably take more transmitters than the initial D2 roll out and will cover a fraction of the number of people.
The cost to run a commercial service on the multiplex (even if the BBC paid for half) would therefore be such that it would likely be too expensive for any broadcaster to go on.
In addition, the move of BBC services off existing local multiplexes would also significantly reduce their income perhaps making some smaller multiplexes unprofitable.
I don't think the BBC can justify the investment and there seems to be little interest from commercial broadcasters, so I think it'd be a no go.
So... what happens when the government decide to switch off FM? BBC Radio Scotland will remain on FM in Scotland, while BBC Radio 2 goes to DAB-only?
(I shake my head in disbelief at this industry sometimes).
The transition to a fully digital radio is a journey. Things evolve and change. The regulatory environment changes, there are ownership changes. The BBC might not exist in its current form in 10 years time. The Government may want there to be universality of services, they may not. If they want it they may pay for it, or force the BBC to pay for it
As you point out, the BBC's nations services are available on a variety of platforms to audiences. On DAB the BBC have a national multiplex that's going to have 97% coverage - and they have an option to make that 100%. Adding nations services to that might be a more cost effective than rolling out a Scotland national mux. Who knows which BBC radio services will exist in 10 years time/at switchover?
Will there be small areas where FM is the only cost-effective way to deliver some services? Perhaps. Is that a big fail in the switchover plans? No. It'll be a way to give something to a few hundred thousand people who will already be well aware that their location causes trouble receiving transmissions.
Why do we have to replicate what was in analogue - coverage or content?
As I understand it, the BBC has done lots of scenario planning for the future of its radio services. The best executed plan will be the one that takes into account what consumers are actually doing at the point it matters.
As Matt says "I don't think the BBC can justify the investment and there seems to be little interest from commercial broadcasters, so I think it'd be a no go."
Clearly, that is the status quo, but my proposal (switch the BBC muxes to DAB+ has very small costs compared to a fresh mux rollout, and gives a huge listener-benefit return for minimal expense.
I can see that some of you regard this as heresy, but it is a field proven fact that an SFN does not have to have the same programming on all transmitters.
Sure the multitransmitter reception benefits of SFN are lost when services are split, but only for those services, and carefully done the detrimental effects at the margins are minimal. What's more, in large swathes of the northwest Highlands and Islands receivers are getting signals from only one TX with the necessary 75km range anyway.
The terrain of the northwest Highlands and Islands is a geographically favorable case in that the transmitters that would likely end up in the same programme groups are mostly geographically isolated from each other, and even where there is no hard barrier the paths between areas that would want to be separate are generally >75km.
Northern Ireland I can see might be a more difficult case owing to spill of signal to northwest England and south-west Scotland, but it is out of range of interaction with the northwest Highlands and Islands. (Black Mountain is more than 75km away from any other part of the UK outside Northern Ireland other than a small fringe part of Kintyre that gets no other DAB signal, so would be unaffected). Wales I don't know, but one size does not have to fit all.
Sure it would need careful planning, but the BBC and Ofcom have the people needed for that. The ideal solution would probably involve adding the two Scottish national channels to the Scottish H&I BBC DAB+ muxes and the two NI national channels to the NI BBC DAB+ muxes.
The chances are that owing to terrain and distance separation specific transmitters could even opt-out the main programme services for the BBC regional opt-outs from Stornoway, Inverness and Dingwall without undue SFM interference, but it would be better to use the additional capacity to create dedicated opt-out versions of Radio Scotland (/Ulster) that would carry the service with the relevant regional opt-out, just as the current FM transmitters do (and programme feeds are not likely to be an issue since all the DAB transmitters in the areas concerned are co-located with the relevant FM transmitters).
For icing on the cake, but by no means an essential part of the plan, a back-of-envelope assessment suggests there would probably still be room for two or three 32/48kb channels, for independent local stations and immediate neighbours on each TX (so, just for example, Eitshall would carry Isles FM, Two Lochs and Lochbroom FM; Skriag would carry Cuillin FM and Two Lochs; Melvaig would carry Two Lochs and Isles FM).
This would provide essentially the same basic DAB coverage as the stations currently have on FM. Probably they should operate without the TP flag though! Programme feeds should be no big problem as they could generally come from off-air FM reception where not already available (eg Cuillin audio already available at Skriag, Isles audio at Eitshall) or Internet feed. The present small-scale DAB trial is also of course testing on-channel relaying from neighbouring DAB transmitters, which might have a role in providing sources.
Again, purely by way of illustrative example, a typical BBC DAB+ multiplex, say Eitshall, could be:
64kb BBC Radio 1
64kb BBC Radio 2
96kb BBC Radio 3
64kb BBC Radio 4
64kb BBC Radio Scotland (national)
64kb BBC Radio nan Gàidheal
64kb BBC Radio Scotland (Islands optout)
64kb BBC Radio Scotland (Highlands optout)
48kb Isles FM
48kb Lochbroom FM
48kb Two Lochs
48kb Cuillin FM
Actually looking at that list it looks like bit rates could be even higher for some services, or more regional/local services included. Not all the local services would need to be carried on all the transmitters - they could be silent on those that are too far away to be of use in the intended area or too far away for convenient source to be available. Because of terrain/distance separation this would not degrade the received signal in the primary service area.
If we ignore the fact that windowing has never been achieved on anywhere near this scale, that the cost of multiplexing and feeding different groups of transmitters with BBC levels of redundancy would be quite expensive, that there isn't a regulatory environment/fair trading position that would easily allow combo commercial/BBC multiplexes, that the frequency planning/interference would bring up many more issues (they always do) then..
The big issue is that for the foreseeable future (next five years) there would be a significant number of non DAB+ listeners who would lose the most popular radio services in the country from their digital radio. I don't really buy "but it's on FM" - the vast majority of people who've gone digital do not want to return to analogue.
In the future when DAB+ has more penetration, I'm sure we will see some form of conversion of services from regular DAB to DAB+ which may free up some space, that could allow BBC nations services on. However, I think pushing this sort of plan before then, would be the wrong thing to do.
Details, easily worked through imho. And mostly red herrings,
The BBC's feeds here are considerably less redundant than you might think. Witness months of slightly distorted and routinely glitching service on FM and DAB from some of our main transmitters, the worst of which I believe was following sporadic failures of PCM cards. But that is almost irrelevant because the BBC already has those feeds in place for the DAB TXs (and already has feeds for the opt-outs because, as I said, all the DAB transmitters are co-located with all the main FM transmitters carrying the optouts).
The frequencies in use wouldn't change at all, and the powers would not increase, so no renegotiation or interference replanning should be needed (though a little might be useful to optimize the new plan). We don't need to ignore the fact that "windowing has not been tried on this scale"... scale is exactly what makes the windowing most practical for the regions involved - terrain/distance separation would ensure the avoidance of DAB/DAB+ SFN conflicts. It wouldn't work so easily in the south, but it would here.
The levels of redundancy required by the local stations and/or the opt-outs are much lower - they could generally rely on a single feed. Indeed the regional optout on FM routinely fails owing to switching faults, and the small local independents are quite able to tolerate the occasional outage.
There need be no issue of commercial/BBC combo fair trading issues - I never mentioned commercial stations as such. All the 'ILR' stations in the region are not for profit operators legally constituted to operate for community benefit. (Apart from MFR of course, but it operates only on the north eastern edge of the Highlands where there is already a commercial multiplex to carry it).
Finally on the irrelevancies, do you really think there are a significant number of non-DAB+ capable DAB receivers in use in this region? You should come here. We have only had DAB service for a year or so, and its introduction was given no publicity whatsoever so the great majority of radio listeners hereabouts are totally unaware of it. Those that are have bought DAB+ radios in recent times . Most of the DAB receivers in the area at present are those in tourists' cars, which are also DAB+ capable.
I am guessing (but am in a very good position to guess) that under 5% (being generous) of local listening here is currently on DAB, even though the service has been in place since last August (which we discovered after tripping across it by accident in October last year!). And of the people with DAB radios, many keep them exclusively on FM because they want Radio Scotland, RnG and/or the local station. Some, probably well under 1% might go over to DAB for Radio 4 Extra or 5 Live.
Of course, the BBC could also improve things even with the present DAB by dropping BBC Asian in favour of Radio nan Gaidheal - another minority language channel but one with vastly more would-be listeners in the region.
That's how it all looks to me, and I'm quite convinced the BBC and Ofcom have the people to make this happen at very low cost in comparison to the gains in service if there were the will to do so.
The multiplex ETI feed is created centrally and sent to the transmitters, usually by satellite. You we need a new multiplexer at each site to add the new services in and re-mux. You would then need to feed the re-mux feed to the relevant transmitters.
The issue with Windowed DAB is interference between the sites and whether differing protection levels would have to be introduced - reducing capacity.
The BBC can't give free or super-cheap capacity to anyone - commercial or community - as it forms state aid and is illegal under European law.
I would be surprised if less than 5% of digital radios were non DAB+. But neither of us clearly have any evidence either way. However you're also suggesting a system that would replace much of the BBC's existing national operation - so it's the DAB radios in Edinburgh etc that would be affected too!
I'm not massively disagreeing that this could be a future solution for the BBC. But in your current plan you would be causing massive upset for millions of existing users, to satisfy a relatively small number and incurring a load of new cost and complexity.
"The multiplex ETI feed is created centrally and sent to the transmitters, usually by satellite. You we need a new multiplexer at each site to add the new services in and re-mux. You would then need to feed the re-mux feed to the relevant transmitters. "
I believe ETSI-compliant ETI stream extractor/inserter boxes are commercially available, and at costs much lower than engineering whole new multiplexes. And I'd be surprised if BBC Research hasn't already experimentally deployed some of those or researched means of local insertion into ETI streams.
"The issue with Windowed DAB is interference between the sites and whether differing protection levels would have to be introduced - reducing capacity. "
The most fully reported tests so far suggest that is not a great problem even in areas of significant signal overlap. And if enhanced protection were desired, the draft figures I produced, even adding in the DAB-only channels (R5 Live, R4 Extra et al), there is plenty of space to raise the protection overhead even with all the desirable channels running at decent bit rates.
"The BBC can't give free or super-cheap capacity to anyone - commercial or community - as it forms state aid and is illegal under European law."
No, that's a very crude representation of the State Aid rules.
(a) The subject of the assistance could not normally be traded across member states, and can therefore be regarded as outwith the scope of State Aid rules.
(b) even if somehow regarding local area transmission facilities as tradeable across state borders, there are anyway 'de minimis' provisions that would amply cover a realistic annual value (€200,000 per recipient organization per 3 years)
(c) there are clear grounds for demonstrating a 'market failure' in the region
(d) there is a "General Block Exemption" that can be applied regionally in the Highlands & Islands, also an exemption class for improvement of local infrastructure, also a class exemption for development and innovation.
If any one of (a) through (d) above were applicable, then the State Aid is permitted without specific consent. Beyond that of course there is always scope to apply for a special scheme, but that would seem unnecessary.
"I would be surprised if less than 5% of digital radios were non DAB+. But neither of us clearly have any evidence either way."
Even if that were true, there are numerically so few of them that we could easily raise the funds to upgrade them (yes, within state-aid rules!). Personally I don't know of anyone in my circle of acquaintances in the region (which is substantial) who uses DAB at all on a regular basis. I have only seen one DAB radio at all locally (belonged to a child of the house who bought it when living away as a student, and it's not in use). I could easily do a survey to inform that question.
"However you're also suggesting a system that would replace much of the BBC's existing national operation - so it's the DAB radios in Edinburgh etc that would be affected too!"
Not in the slightest. I never suggested changing the multiplex in the urban areas. They already have commercial muxes providing the extra capacity the BBC needs on a commercial basis. None of the northwest transmitters comes within 75km of Edinburgh/Stirling/Glasgow, and even at their closest approaches they are separated by extensive mountain and hill terrain. The closest potential separation would be Oban to Rosneath if Oban were included (it probably need not be), but they are separated by three successive hill ranges, and the Rosneath service area is primarily on the far side of the transmitter from Oban. This sort of situation will generally pertain of course because of the terrain - even on FM there is generally a major break between the lowland and Highland coverage areas.
"But in your current plan you would be causing massive upset for millions of existing users, to satisfy a relatively small number and incurring a load of new cost and complexity."
Hardly - the entire population of the Highlands & Islands is about 360,000, and excluding the more densely populated fringe served by the Bauer commercial multiplex, the population of the proposed DAB+ region is well under 250,000, with a probable DAB receiver use in the low thousands.
But after thumping this particular tub for for 6 years, I guess I should accept it ain't gonna happen, especially if those with commercial interest in multiplexes would oppose it, so I think we've just about exhausted this!
Much said about how expensive it would be to roll out another multiplex.
Would that be similar to the expensive roll out for the BBC to ensure that Radio Scotland has the exact same coverage as it's four other national networks, not to mention for Scotland to get full FM coverage of Radio 4 (which wasn't on FM in Scotland until 1988)?
Would that be the same as the expensive roll out of Freeview across almost all of Scotland, when previously it was just the main transmitters?
Expensive roll outs have happened before when deemed necessary. Why does (digital) radio have to be considered as less necessary?
Alex Gray: Although I am not a radio engineer, I do think your proposal for a DAB+ phase-in is a good idea. Your thinking outside the box and running against the grain of the traditional principle of countryside being led by city and town service enhancements. I like it!
The new sort of devolved BBC should give your proposal some serious consideration because it does square the circle of total integration of the regional and national radio services on BBC National DAB.
Reading your input, you have certainly done your homework. Your ''outside inwards'' phase-in policy does get my vote!
It would not hurt the BBC to begin a DAB+ prototype transmission in a couple of isolated areas, surely!
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