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Ofcom announces winner of second DAB multiplex

From a press release to news@media.info
Posted 27 March 2015, 2.58am edt

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Ofcom today announced the UK’s new national digital radio multiplex will be run by Sound Digital, a consortium of Arqiva, Bauer and UTV Media GB.

Digital radio listeners will benefit from a choice of new national Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) radio stations, expected to launch in March next year.

Sound Digital’s line-up will include:

  • Virgin Radio - rock and pop music
  • talkRADIO - news and current affairs
  • talkSPORT 2 - live sport and sports talk
  • talkBUSINESS - business and finance programmes
  • Sunrise Radio - Asian music and speech programmes
  • UCB Inspirational - Christian music
  • Premier Christian Radio - Christian music and speech
  • Jazz FM - jazz music
  • British Muslim Radio - Asian music and speech, with elements of Islamic content
  • Absolute 80s - 80s music
  • Magic Mellow - relaxing and melodic music
  • Planet Rock - classic rock music
  • Heat Radio - pop music, celebrity gossip and entertainment
  • Kisstory - ‘old skool’ dance tunes and anthems

Some of these 14 stations are currently broadcasting on the UK’s existing national, commercial DAB multiplex, operated by Digital One1. This is now at full capacity as the number of national, commercial digital stations has risen from four to 14 since 2009. As existing services move on to the new, national digital radio multiplex, capacity will become available on Digital One.

Ofcom invited applications to run the new multiplex, a discrete chunk of the airwaves, in July 2014. Ofcom also received an application from Listen2Digital, a joint application from Babcock’s Media Services business and Orion Media, a commercial radio group.

Ofcom’s assessment

Ofcom assessed each application against specified criteria. These were the extent of the proposed coverage area; the timetable for coverage roll-out and launch of services; how the service would be established and maintained; and appeal to a variety of tastes and interests.

The criteria also included proposals to promote or assist the take-up of digital radio equipment, and whether the applicants ensured fair and effective competition when putting together their proposed line-up.

Ofcom concluded Sound Digital would best promote the development of digital sound broadcasting.

Ofcom published non-confidential versions of both applicants’ proposals and invited comments from listeners and the industry in January 2015. The comments received were also considered as part of the licence award.

Sound Digital will now begin upgrading existing transmitter sites to reach around 75% of households with the new DAB multiplex. Sound Digital will be required to begin broadcasting the new national DAB radio stations by the middle of next year.

Digital radio in the UK

Almost half of UK adults (48.5%) say they now own a DAB digital radio set and 36.3% of all radio listening is on a digital radio.

As the Digital One DAB multiplex is now full, this led to the need for more capacity. Therefore, Ofcom advertised the second national, commercial multiplex in July 2014.

The BBC’s digital radio stations, including 1Xtra, 6 Music, Radio 4 Extra and Asian Network, are broadcast on a DAB multiplex owned and operated by the BBC.

Supporting local digital radio

As well as increasing the capacity for national digital radio, Ofcom is supporting the Local DAB Expansion plan, which will bring local DAB radio services from commercial broadcasters and the BBC to even more UK homes.

Ofcom has published predicted coverage maps showing what local DAB listeners in each area could expect to receive, both indoors and in-car, when the Local DAB Expansion Plan is completed in the second half of 2016.

The coverage maps are the result of detailed technical planning work, led by Ofcom over the past two years to inform the planned expansion.

Ofcom is also planning to trial a new technology that could provide small radio stations across the UK with an affordable way to broadcast on DAB digital radio. The new approach, known as ‘small scale DAB’, is cheaper than current systems because it uses software freely available from opendigitalradio.org and is best suited for broadcasting to a small geographic area, ideal for community and local radio stations.

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Comments

2 years, 6 months ago

Ofcom's reasons behind the award can also be viewed on their website

2 years, 6 months ago

It's the lesser of the two evils. OK, so there were some stereo DAB+ transmissions on the Orion bid, but as for conventional DAB which everyone can pick up, both bids were all-mono. I've said elsewhere that it is not a progressive move to downgrade sound quality on a platform which can provide a hiss-free "CD quality" sound. After the false start with C4 and the amount of stations which have closed over the last decade, it's the more boring bid granted but it is the safer choice commercially.

PRO2 years, 6 months ago

Congratulations to Sound Digital who IMHO had the better bid.

Yes, it's bland and not very inspiring, yet the brand extensions, transfer of some stations from D1 by Bauer and some exciting speech formats from UTV should ensure the longevity of D2.

Personally I think UTV should attempt to launch talkBUSINESS using the Share Radio team instead than going it alone and I hope there's a way for the likes of Gaydio and Fun Kids to acquire space on the mux.

Compared to what Channel 4 offered when they were awarded the mux the last time round, this has a good chance of working.

2 years, 6 months ago

Hmm! I have mixed feelings about it.

I would have liked to have seen the other bidder win because it could have given more choice. However, we could end up having more choice on DAB by stealth, even though the more bland bidder won.

First of all, what happens to those slots that become vacant on D1, for which there could be 3. Does Absolute Radio revert back to stereo? Or do we get more stations appearing. Perhaps this is an opportunity for Heart-ever-so-slightly-different-than-the-other-Hearts to broadcast near nationally, just like Smooth-ever-so-slightly-different-from-the-other-Smooth does just now.

What happens to the local MUX's, for which Heat and Kisstory disappear to the new D2. This could be an opportunity for some small-scale stations to extend their coverage when the slots become vacant.

PRO2 years, 6 months ago

I'd speculate that when Heat and KISSTORY leave the local muxes, KISS Fresh will go quasi-national. Bauer could then either add another brand at 64kbps, either Absolute Radio 70s, 00s or Kerrang. The Absolute option is more likely to increase their share.

In London, space allocated to Bauer would be available for Absolute Radio 60s and 00s.

2 years, 6 months ago

I keep hearing people talking about dab and stereo or mono sound and do you know what? They're all radio people on forums. Do most people actually care?

My DAB radio only has 1 speaker and I stream radio in the car which is usually mono and while I can obviously tell the difference many people can't. It would never occur to them. We sometimes spendtoo much time focussing on things which are not that important to the listener. Should they become important i'm sure it can be fixed.

2 years, 5 months ago

Ofcom's reasoning includes the following:

However, it considered that Sound Digital’s position was stronger by virtue of its shareholders underwriting the costs and revenues for the duration of the licence, whereas Listen2Digital were dependent on maintaining sufficient carriage fee revenues from service providers.

If I'm reading that correctly, they are basically saying they prefer a single group (or consortium) to operate the multiplex and the services on it, rather than have some of the space rented out to third parties who may come and go.

2 years, 5 months ago

James Macdonald, I do agree to a point with your semtiment, most people listening to DAB do not care whether sound is in mono or stereo. The people who really do care about decent audio quality have moved to online devices & rarely patron DAB! I have three DAB radios in the house with a further two tuners integrated in each car, all of which are rarely tuned to DAB.
There is now a five year extension to analogue radio and will probably get a further five year extension after year 2020 because the radio industry will continue to refuse to see the errs of their ways with DAB! The product is fine, but the process of distributing repeat format stations with inadequate bandwidth is flawed.
Why should hifi lovers switch from FM to DAB? A bit like asking an Audi driver to give up his car and drive a Corsa as a replacement. -Even the culture minister will refuse to do that!

PRO2 years, 5 months ago

There is now a five year extension to analogue radio

As a point of order - no, there isn't. No plans have ever been announced to turn off FM in the UK. We're not under a "five year extension" or anything else.

Here's where we are... if/when we hit 50% of total hours being delivered by digital radio (which is likely to be mostly DAB, since that's where the audience is going) then government will consider a switchover of some FM services to DAB. Listening via DTV is flat, and listening to live radio over the internet is also flattening if not actually flat already; so all the growth needs to come from DAB, which is lower than 30%. I think we'll be waiting a long time.

I remain wholly against a government-mandated switchover for commercial radio; though I appreciate that the government probably needs to tell the BBC what to do with their transmission platforms in the next licence fee settlement.

2 years, 5 months ago

James Cridland, thanks for the correspondence. I do realise AM and FM are not closing down like PAL tv on the UHF band. The talk of digital radio switch over does refer in reality to the migration of UK national and regional radio services over to digital exclusively, including terrestrial, satellite and online platforms.
Listening to radio via Sky tv as an example, is not a flat experience if audio is fed through a hifi system (audio leads are supplied with digibox). The reproduced radio sound quality ''knocked me out'' from Sky back in year 2002, while DAB audio lacked that ''WOW!'' factor when it became available in Ayrshire.
I was sorry to hear 'Listen2Digital' did not get the D2 multiplex. I think as a result of OFCOM 's decision, DAB+ is now kicked well into the long grass while original DAB is currently not fit for purpose! I suspect five year extension licences will again be issued for analogue national radio in 2020!!
I currently have a Lanark produced Revo Mondo wifi adaptor plugged into my hifi unit and to be honest, the DAB integrated DAB tuner on my wee Hitachi hifi is never switched on. The hifi's DAB aerial on the roof is now redundant and will never be replaced!

PRO2 years, 5 months ago

The talk of digital radio switch over does refer in reality to the migration of UK national and regional radio services over to digital exclusively

...which isn't, yet, planned. It's important we realise this, and important we still repeat this at every opportunity. There are lots of tests and criteria to hit before they'll start planning this. It's not happening.

The reproduced radio sound quality ''knocked me out'' from Sky back in year 2002, while DAB audio lacked that ''WOW!'' factor when it became available in Ayrshire.

I've no idea what was happening in 2002, but right now, BBC Radio 2 on digital satellite is 192kbps MP2 - the very same encoding system used on DAB. BBC Radio London on digital satellite is 128kbps MP2 - the exact same encoding system and bitrate also used on DAB. A "flat experience" is driven by more than just the encoding system, as you've discovered; it's also driven by the dynamic audio processing, as well as the receiver's capabilities.

I'm delighted that you like using online radio - that's perfect for your situation (connected to a solid broadband connection in a house that doesn't move). The future of radio is multiplatform, so if you like what you have, that's great: no need to worry about DAB, since you've everything you want.

It's a shame that a) you'll not get that in your car; b) isn't anywhere near as reliable as broadcast; and c) would cost radio companies so much money they'd go bankrupt if everyone listened that way (hundreds of thousands of pounds per day, and yes, I have done the maths).

I, too, have a DAB aerial on the roof, and I don't use it either, by the way. Most of my DAB listening is in the bedroom or bathroom.

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