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Norway to switch off FM in 2017 - UK to follow?

By James Cridland for media.info
Posted 16 April 2015, 5.24am edt

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Norway has become the first country in the world to announce a closure of FM for national broadcasters.

A press release this morning from the Norwegian government (pictured above) confirmed that the country will transition to DAB+ broadcasting. The announcement was made by Thorhild Widvey, the Norwegian Minister of Culture.

FM transmitters will be closed in a region-by-region basis throughout 2017, beginning on 11 January in Nordland, and continuing through the year. The final FM transmitters will be closed in 13 December.

Many smaller, local radio broadcasts on FM will not be ceasing.

Perhaps surprisingly, NRK, the public service broadcaster, is switching their FM transmissions off before the commercial stations in most counties. Oslo, the country's capital with 1.5m inhabitants, will lose NRK's services on FM on 20 September, while commercial radio will continue on FM in the area until 8 December.

A comparison with the UK

Like the UK, Norway also had a number of criteria to hit to achieve before government would consider switching off. Here are Norway's criteria (from Gunnar Garfors's blog), and how the UK would compare:

Norway: NRK needs to have the same coverage via DAB as Norway's biggest radio station NRK P1 has via FM. All NRKs 13 radio stations now reach 99.5% of the population, the same as NRK P1 via FM. All other FM stations have less coverage.

If this criteria were applied to the UK, the BBC would need to have the same coverage via DAB as BBC Radio 2's FM coverage, which is 99.0%. The BBC is currently expanding their DAB transmitter network with an aim to achieve 97% population coverage. The DCMS considers this to be comparable (see below).

Norway: 2. Commercial radio broadcasters needs to reach over 90% of the population via DAB. They now reach 91.8%.

If this criteria were applied to the UK, Digital One would need to reach over 90% of the population. At present it covers 89%. They'll reach 91% by the end of next year.

Norway: 3. There must be extra digital value. A lot of extra radio stations ensure that. Additional digital services such as broadcasting of photos, playlists and info on programmes ensure that this criteria is reached.

If this criteria were applied to the UK, this would already be achieved: with roughly double the amount of national BBC services available on DAB as well as significant extra commercial services. In London, the amount of available stations more than trebles.

Norway: 4. There must be technically satisfactory and inexpensive solutions for car radio available, and half of the 428 municipalities and all 19 counties must have an offer of retrofitting adapters. All counties and at least 80% of the municipalities deliver on this criteria and the Norwegian Media Authority is happy with the selection of available car radio solutions. They say that there is a wide range of DAB+ adapters on the market, that prices have declined and that there are several new features. 74% of new car models are available with DAB+.

If this criteria were applied to the UK - we have no "offers of retrofitting adapters" here you can get DAB adapters retrofitted all over the place, and there are a wide range of available car radio solutions. 61% of new car models are available with DAB+. (Correction: I initially read this as a special offer or discount; it simply means that dealers offer them).

Norway: 5. At least half the daily listeners must listen to radio digitally. 57% do.

If this criteria were applied to the UK - 52.0% of weekly listeners listen to radio digitally. A figure for 'daily' isn't published, but if you look at RAJAR's figures, on Mondays 44% of all radio listeners tune on digital radio. (19.3m of a total daily audience of 43m).

The UK's criteria are different and are...

When 50% of all listening is to digital - this is listening not reach as the Norwegians used. Currently, 37.9% of all radio listening is digital.

When national DAB coverage is comparable to FM; and local DAB reaches 90% of the population and all major roads - coverage for local DAB will reach 91% of the population by 2016, and national coverage for the BBC will be up to 97%. 97% isn't the same as FM's 99.0%, but the DCMS's press release in February acknowledged that it's comparable, saying "This programme of new local and national transmitters will mean that the national coverage element of the Government’s radio switchover criteria could now be met by late 2016."

My view

The Norwegian switchover will be a nervous time for the radio industry. Nobody has done this before; and while TV is important enough to go out and buy a new set, many normal listeners will react to the loss of their favourite FM station as a reason to tune to another, and/or try online services like Spotify and WiMP. Hopefully the Norwegians have done enough to retain radio's audience post-2017; but it's a watching brief for now, and there are many - me included - who are less confident that this'll go radio's way.

For the UK, there's no doubt that a move to cease dual transmission on AM/FM and DAB would benefit the radio industry. For the BBC, a date for digital switchover should be part of the charter renewal process: closure of AM/FM, if handled right, could offer significantly better value for licence-fee payers and unlock revenue for programme making. The BBC's publicity would also move most of the public over to digital. For commercial radio however, the decision to switch off AM/FM dual transmissions should be with the commercial operators; and any enforced switchoff should be achieved at the end of FM licences renewal.

Norway's additional choice is coming from the use of DAB+, a better audio encoding system than we use in the UK, roughly doubling the amount of channels you can broadcast and restoring stereo for most listeners. With the award of the second digital multiplex to SoundDigital, DAB+ is still nowhere in the UK's plans. It would be a significant boost to the industry were broadcasters free to shift services to DAB+ now, to encourage takeup and improve audio quality.

Press Release from digitalradio.no

Norway to switch off FM in 2017

Within two years from now, the shutdown of national FM-networks begins in Norway. The switchover will begin in the North and will be implemented region by region.

Thursday the Ministry of Culture announced that the national FM-networks will be switched off to complete the transition to digital radio. Norway is making an historical move into a new radio era, being the first country in the world to decide upon an analogue shutoff for all major radio channels. With DAB listeners will be provided with more radio channels and greater diversity in content.

Thor Gjermund Eriksen, head of NRK, says: "This is an important day for everyone who loves radio. The minister`s decision allows us to concentrate our resources even more upon what is most important, namely to create high quality and diverse radio-content to our listeners."

The DAB-coverage in Norway now exceeds FM-coverage. DAB provides Norway with 22 national channels, as opposed to five channels transmitting nationwide on FM.

The decision gives Norwegians a final date for the transition to digital radio, a process persisting for several years. Trygve Rønningen , CEO and editor in chief P4, says: "We can finally complete work that has been on-going for many years. This is the best solution for all listeners throughout Norway, as they now have a better radio, Shutdown starts in Nordland county 11th January 2017 and ends with the northernmost counties Troms and Finnmark 13.12 2017."

NRK, P4 Group and SBS Radio will turn off all its FM broadcasts simultaneously in two of six regions. In four regions , NRK Radio will lead the way in FM-switch off. Lasse Kokvik , CEO of SBS Radio says: "The national radio industry have agreed upon a rapid and coordinated plan for the transition, with considerations taken on not giving unreasonable competitive advantages through FM-closing."

Today's decision makes Norway the first country in the world to set a final date for FM-switch off. Several countries in Europe and Southeast Asia, however, are in similar processes, choosing DAB-technology as the backbone of future radio distribution.

Ole Jørgen Torvmark , CEO of Digital Radio Norway says: "The White Paper from 2011 and a unique collaboration between the radio industry is the main reason why Norway is far ahead in the transition to digital radio. Many countries are now looking to Norway to learn."

Radio on digital platforms ensures the radio media a long life for years to come. The Radio Industry is better equipped to evolve with listener`s needs and are thus better enabled to adopt to the ever changing patterns of media consumption.

Norway began the transition to DAB in 1995. In recent years two national and several local DAB-networks has been established. 56 per cent of radio listeners use digital radio every day. 55 per cent of households have at least one DAB radio, according to Digitalradio survey by TNS Gallup, continuously measuring the Norwegian`s digital radio habits.

Stats for digital radio in Norway

  • 56 % of radio listeners use digital radio every day
  • 44 % of listeners hear only via FM radio every day
  • 20 % of private cars are equipped with DAB radio
  • 55 % of all Norwegian households have at least one DAB radio.
  • There are 2.1 million DAB radios in Norway .
  • 7.9 million radio sets will be affected by FM-extinction. FM radios can be upgraded or recycled.

Source: Digital radio survey , TNS Gallup 2015

Norwegian DAB coverage

  • NRK: at least 99.5% coverage on DAB
  • Commercial radio: 92.8% coverage on DAB
  • Community radio: 50% DAB coverage on DAB
  • DAB-coverage on roads is generally higher than on FM.
  • All FM-transmitters in tunnels will be replaced with DAB.
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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Comments

2 years, 5 months ago

Important to note about this transition: it is the younger and older audiences that embrace DAB. The stations moving from analogue to digital have more than 95 per cent share of listening. When the NRK created a "plus" station of its P1 station (comparable to Radio 2) listeners in the 50+ demographic literally (!) emptied the shops of DAB receivers. Also, the most popular station for younger listeners is digital only, NRK mP3 (an extra station for the FM-based P3 station, comparable to Radio 1). As much I understand the "nervous times" view, I believe Norway, Norwegians and the radio industry have proven that listeners want it, are willing to pay for it and are in fact already making the switch faster than many of us thought.

2 years, 5 months ago

Here in the UK I feel that Ofcom should move the big 'Heart/Capital/clone networks, Nationals and BBC National Stations to DAB and then make FM accessible to all?

Local/Community stations could then occupy the FM band as people won't instantly be throwing their FM radios away. The edges of the FM band could also be released to small-scale/private broadcasters for 1w local neighbourhood stations.

Problem is - will OFCOM do this?

PRO2 years, 5 months ago

In the UK - just as in Norway - community and small local radio stations will be still on FM after the larger stations move over to DAB.

I don't know about 1W radio stations; but after FM switchover, I'd be quite keen to see some frequency reallocation taking place, and then a section of the FM space simply opened-up for broadcasting for low-power broadcasters.

In the US, the FCC regulates LPFM services at either 10W or 100W. The regulations seem sensible and fair, and are designed to be for local community broadcasting. I'm sure the commercial radio companies hate it, but it seems quite sensible to me.

2 years, 5 months ago

Look! There was very little chance of a passed ''sketched in'' digital radio migration date for DAB in election year 2015, but I think the new government with BBC & commercial radio assistance should forward a plan for a year 2020/21 completion date.

I would not dwell to carefully about what listeners think about a digital switch over target date. When BBC Radios 1, 2 & 3 lost their AM frequencies to commercial radio, the BBC at that time did put on a brave face because FM signal coverage was still inferior to AM at that time.

Even though the general public had no input on dropping AM output of the BBC music services, nobody died bleeding on the carpet when the changes were implemented! In fact, down the years, there was greater clamour from listeners who in turn had a protest rally against the axing of BBC 6Music, a service with no AM/FM output.

There is a very deep nostalgic sentiment for old radio platforms with the general public, they still love listening to the AM output of football on medium wave or perhaps a faraway radio station.

Personally, I used to listen to Ireland's old service 'Radio Eireann' which later became RTE Radio 1 along with RTE2 FM when both services transmitted respectively from Tullamore & Athlone, beaming signals to my home in Ayrshire.

I was sorry to be informed when RTE planned to switch off their medium wave services. Today, I now prefer RTE's satellite & online output with near listening-in-the-studio sound quality. Again, nobody was seriously hurt with RTE's switchover policy. (RTE's 252 long wave output is now on borrowed time.)

Time for a bold decision on migration to digital radio & forget about the moaning minnows!!

2 years, 5 months ago

The parliament will decide on this later this spring. Norway is NOT tuning off all FM frequencies and a digital transition is NOT occuring all over Europe. DAB+ listening in Norway today is 19 %. We should not believe the big guys just because they carry big sticks.
Here is the true story; a press-release from Norwegian Local Radio Association http://lafmleve.no/doc/NLR-PressRelase.pdf

PRO2 years, 5 months ago

The true story is that the local radio stations account for 5% of all radio listening, and I was clear to say that local radio remains on FM in the original article (and have been clear to say this in all press interviews).

The 19% figure is interesting, since the official radio listening research says it is rather more. But it is nowhere near 50% for DAB. It's one of the reasons I find it fascinating to watch.

Christer, a noted anti-DAB campaigner, is right that people aren't turning off FM in other countries. However, there are wishes from Switzerland and the UK to end FM dual transmission (and general aims for other countries to do similar, too).

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