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Digital by default - call for UK radio manufacturers

By James Cridland for media.info
Posted 26 September 2017, 2.02pm edt

James Cridland
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In the UK, the Minister of State for Digital, Matt Hancock MP, has said today (26 September) that all new radio receivers for sale in the country should include a DAB digital tuner.

John Lewis, a large UK store group, has confirmed that it is planning to phase out the sale of analogue-only AM/FM portable radios from its stores and website. The company would still, however, sell analog-only hifi systems.

Katrina Mills, Audio and Connected Home Senior Buyer, John Lewis, said: “We know that our customers are tech-savvy and early adopters of all technological innovations. This being the case, it makes sense for us to ensure we are exclusively presenting them with radios which are digitally enabled and begin to phase out the sale of analogue-only portable radios.”

According to industry GfK data, the majority of domestic radios currently sold are analogue-only. The Minister emphasised that whereas a digital radio would last listeners into the future, an analogue product has a time limit because “there will be a switchover at some point.”

The call for radio receivers to be "digital by default" falls short of proposals in Germany for analog radio sets to be prohibited by law: a proposal since rejected. The law would have made it illegal to sell certain AM/FM-only receivers.

In Germany, 15% of households now have a DAB+ radio receiver, a figure that the UK surpassed in 2005. 59.5% of UK households have access to a DAB set.

The Minister also confirmed that, with digital listening now at 48.7% (RAJAR Q2 2017), Government will consider whether to set a timetable for switchover when 50% is achieved. He reiterated the need to proceed carefully, saying "we've got to bring people with us on switchover... so that everybody has the chance to move onto the new technology."

"Government will consider whether to set a timetable for switchover" is as close as the government gets to proposing a government-mandated switchoff of FM, which is occurring in Norway this year.

At the same event, Ole Jørgen Torvmark, CEO, Digital Radio Norway, said: "Norway’s transition from analogue to digital radio is progressing well. In Nordland, the first region to make the switch, listening figures are now hitting the same level as before the switchover. This is in line with our forecasts, and is also what we expect to see for the rest of the country next year."

Norwegian youth station NRK P3 has lost a third of its audience since the switchover: but while this may leave a negative impression about digital switchoff, those listeners have probably migrated to one of the other 30 stations now available to them from commercial broadcasters. Initial data from Norway also suggests that the FM switchoff was accompanied by a drop in the amount of music streaming from services like Spotify.

More information

Digital Radio UK
Digital radio marketing body
James Cridland — James is the Managing Director of media.info, and a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business. His website is at james.cridland.net, where you can subscribe to his weekly newsletter.
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