DAB sales are down - should we panic?

Ofcom releases a new digital radio report, and sales of radio receivers are down in the UK. What should we do about it?

By James Cridland
Posted 26 September 2014, 7.40am edt
James Cridland

Ofcom, the UK media regulator, has published its Digital Radio Report for 2014.

The media has seized on the following point from the summary:

Compared to Q2 2013, sales of DAB digital radio sets were down by 9.1%, with 1.7 million being sold in the year to Q2 2014. Total radio sales were down by 11.3% over the same period. DAB sales continue to represent around a third of all radio set sales.

"DAB sales down 9.1%" says Music Week, reflecting the spin that the media's putting on all of this.

The real concern here isn't that DAB set sales are down: it's that all radio set sales are down. DAB is outperforming total radio; but if radio receiver sales are down by 11.3% - in an economy generally felt to be improving - isn't that more a cause for concern?

Of course, you don't need to purchase a new radio receiver to continue listening to the radio. RAJAR doesn't show a material dip in radio listening, and radio listening isn't down by 11.3% year-on-year.

Perhaps the story here is that radio receivers, by and large, have dreadful user-interfaces. They're not products you show off to others, either: they hide in your bedroom or your kitchen, not in your front room.

But perhaps, too, the story is that radio broadcasters don't appear to care about radio receivers. There's a good comparison to be made here with TV.

Your Sky box doesn't ask whether you want to watch Astra or Eutelsat; doesn't ask you whether you want SD or HD; doesn't ask you whether you want FTA, FTV or subscription... it just gives you a list of channels. My YouView box puts antenna-delivered and IP-delivered TV channels together in the same EPG: nobody knows nor cares how the TV is getting to them.

Perhaps the decline of radio receiver sales is a wake-up call to radio broadcasters: to work with radio receiver manufacturers to make radio better. The technology is there: RadioDNS and now the Radioplayer's newly-announced in-car product both highlight that the industry is thinking about it - but when will we see better receivers: and would that buck the trend? I'd be interested in your comments.

Press Release

Ofcom has today published its Digital Radio Report for 2014. This annual report covers availability, take-up, listening patterns and attitudes towards digital radio.

The report, which was requested by Government in 2010 as part of the Digital Radio Action Plan, shows that over a third (36.3%) of all hours of radio listened to were on a digital platform in the year to the end of June 2014. This is an increase of 2.4 percentage points on the previous year, and an increase of 10.4 percentage points since 2011.

The proportion of people who said they owned a digital audio broadcasting (DAB) radio set was 48.5% in the second quarter of 2014 (April – June), up from 45.7% in the previous year. Ownership varies across the UK, ranging from 58.1% in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough to 26.7% in Northern Ireland.

Around 1.7 million digital radio sets were sold in the year to the end of June 2014, making up over a third (36.2%) of all radio sets sold. While there has been a drop in sales of digital radio sets (down 9.1%), this reflects an overall decrease in radio set sales (down 11.3%).

The number of new cars in the UK fitted with a digital radio as standard has increased over the last year. More than half of new cars (54.8%) were supplied with digital radio installed in the second quarter of 2014, compared to 38.3% during the same period of 2013.

The coverage of digital radio has increased, with the BBC’s national DAB multiplex covering 95% of homes and the national commercial digital multiplex covering 90%. Local DAB multiplexes are estimated to cover 73% of households.

The full report is on the Ofcom website.

More information

Media regulator for the UK
James Cridland — James runs, and is 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. He also publishes a free daily newsletter about podcasting, Podnews, and a weekly radio trends newsletter.


5 years, 1 month ago

I was an early convertor to DAB when it came to my home county of Ayrshire in 2002. Two DAB tuners were purchased for the house and by 2003/4, the cars also got kitted out. Although it was a bit of a Cinderella service back then, DAB choice was quite exciting with channels received including 'Prime Time', 'Saga' regional radio, 'Planet Rock', 'The Storm' and even 'OneWord' with its programme of stories and drama like The Pocket Shakespeare.
DAB was a bit like ONDIGITAL in its infancy with real extended choice and like ONDIGITAL in its later stage, DAB eventually lost its gleam with axed radio services, degrading choice and channels then popping up with dragon fly life spans! The audio also suffered with 112 kbps stereo music stations while other music stations were demoted to mono, giving an impression the DAB industry is treating their listeners with contempt and actually insulting them with mid fidelity output.
The DAB critics were ignored and some broadcasters called them geeks and now the chickens are coming back to roost. Poor old DAB, is it still classed as a cinderella service?
The people listening to commercial radio locally still tune in to Westsound on 1035kHz, not many listeners are tuning to DAB.
I am in my 60s and have since purchased internet radio sets which include integrated DAB tuners for back up. In essence, I am now treating DAB as a new form of AM. Not a brilliant sales pitch for good old DAB!

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