How the industry should be promoting digital radio

Another year, another digital radio promotion on the TV, on radio, online. But how could we promote digital radio even better?

By James Cridland
Posted 12 November 2012, 7.54am est

Promoting any new digital radio platform (whether it's DAB, DAB+, Sirius XM, HD Radio, or internet radio) is not a simple matter. Because, by and large, most people don't think they want it.

We don't think we want more choice
A typical listener to AM/FM listens to an average of 2.9 stations every week. Unlike the television world, radio listeners don't crave the concept of "more choice". 86% of radios in the kitchen, and 79% of those in the bedroom, never get retuned. A listener finds a station she's happy with, and sticks with it. And, by definition, a radio listener is not unhappy with the station choice that she makes - because, if she were, she'd no longer be a radio listener.

We don't want better sound quality
Unlike the difference between a widescreen digital TV and a hissy analogue picture, the difference in sound quality between a decent FM signal and a decent DAB one is negligible (and divisive). Most listeners enjoy radio on a small portable unit: mostly either in mono or with stereo speakers positioned so close together it makes no difference. For the vast majority of people, sound quality on their radio is 'good enough'. If it weren't, once more, they'd no longer be listening.

We're happy with our set's looks
Our radio set is not, unlike a television, pride of place in our living room. It's a more personal device - hidden next to the taps in the kitchen, or in our private cocoon of the bedroom. There's no social reason to upgrade it: no fashionable new flat-screen set; indeed, most radio designs haven't changed in fifty years. A wooden box with a speaker looks very much like another wooden box with a speaker.

FM/AM isn't flawed
Crucially, for most radio listeners, there is no 'problem with FM' that can be fixed by upgrading to DAB. If a listener already enjoys BBC Radio 2, Capital FM or KISS, then upgrading to DAB will give her no real additional benefit. She'll get less pirate interference, now-playing information on the screen, and a way of tuning in without needing to remember frequencies: but these are not fixing a massive problem that she has with FM - just a nice incremental improvement. There is no reason for a committed listener to an existing radio station to upgrade to digital.


This is the reason why digital radio is difficult to promote - and, by extension, why the take-up is slow. Because, by and large, there isn't a clear problem that needs fixing.

Digital radio promotion doesn't always get this. From an artful and clever 2011 campaign focusing on a nebulous idea of choice, to this week's new D-Love campaign promising sound quality, portability and the same un-demonstrated 'choice', it's clear to me that we're not, yet, on the right track with digital radio's promotion. Which is a shame: because digital radio is, once people get it, really valued.

And digital (whatever platform) is vital for the future of radio - because once someone gets digital radio, they listen to more radio. Digital Radio now accounts for 31.5% of all radio listening. 45% of people listen to digital radio (on whatever platform) every week. That's nearly half. Digital radio isn't failing - but I think we're not very good at promoting it.

So, how should we promote digital radio?

One of the simplest techniques in advertising a product is to identify a problem that a consumer has, and then help her solve it. These are "problem/solution" framed commercials, and research shows that they work.

There's no doubt that, on purchasing a digital radio, people report that they enjoy the 'improved' sound quality, the choice of stations and the additional information on the screen - as well as the ease of tuning. But this is not a "problem" that they have with their current FM radio, which is leading them to be dissatisfied. These are improvements that they've noticed once purchasing a new device. This post-purchase research is oft used by the digital radio industry to promote digital radio with; yet this research is not helpful as a driver for purchase. Indeed - I'd go further. It doesn't work.

With that in mind: here are a few problems with FM/AM that digital radio can help with:

I love 80s music. How can I hear more?

I'd really like to listen to the BBC World Service in the car.

Chcę posłuchać czegoś w języku polskim, a nie angielskim.

  • PRL 24 is on digital radio in London

There's never any comedy on the radio late at night.

  • There is on BBC Radio 4 Extra's comedy zone, every weekday evening from 10pm on digital radio.

Je veux écouter les chansons françaises classiques.

I want stuff my kids can listen to.

  • Then you want Fun Kids, only available on digital radio.

I want to hear the Arsenal commentary, not the Spurs game.

I wish there was a radio station that played classic rock.

Let's not promote a nebulous concept of choice, or confuse post-purchase research with reasons to buy. Let's promote positive reasons why the additional choice you get with digital radio is important. The question is whether the industry is brave enough to spend money promoting new entrants (like Fun Kids and PRL 24) rather than their own mainstream stations.

The content on digital radio is great. So, let's promote the content, not the platform.

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, 7 months ago

Observing family shoppers in John Lewis in Glasgow, the old fogies like myself will go and browse through the digital radio displays, but younger family member (the next generation of purchasers) are into smart phones, ipads and other eye catching devices. It is time to promote digital radio platforms equally between DAB, internet and television. If there is a promotional preference for digital radio, the internet should be the favourite, after all, digital radio is computer technology!
Young people want images and rich text with audio and are already receiving it on smart phones without purchasing an additional expensive radio with colour displays.
The reference of slow take up on DAB is a bit of a red herring because take up on currently popular FM took around 30 years to overtake AM on mass patronage (ILR still promoted Radio Clyde 261 and Westsound on 290 meters right up to the mid 1980s while FM came to the Kirk O' Shotts transmitter in 1956).
DAB or DAB+ devices will never replace all the FM tuners in operation, perhaps totalling over 130 million tuners in the UK. -Technology today has no single platform of audio delivery and people will choose their favourite, irrespective of what broadcasters want. Broadcasters like Absolute and BBC have already started chasing listeners online rather than waiting in vain for listeners to purchase a DAB radio.
Nobody dislikes digital radio because digital radio is piggy-backed everywhere and listened to, so there is no need to purchase a standalone device like DAB or DAB+ radio.
My preference is internet radio tuners with DAB/DAB+ integrated for back up. Most of the BBC stations and national commercial stations are in good quality stereo, rather than mono including BBC Radio 4 Extra and all the Absolute services. -Even our local student station UWS Radio is on the internet tuner at a good all rounder 128kbps stereo MP3 while its DAB output is compressed at 80kbps mono. When I tune into the Saturday night ceilidh programme on UWS Radio, guess what output I select? Well, its not the DAB version!
Kind Regards..Willie

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