LONDON — Back to the traditional in-person format after the pandemic, on Nov. 17, the WorldDAB Summit 2022 brought together global DAB+ experts to Kings Place, London. Online attendance was also possible, resulting in the first “hybrid” edition of this WorldDAB event. In his keynote speech, Patrick Hannon, WorldDAB president and V.P. for corporate development at Frontier Smart Technologies, pointed out three key action items each DAB+ stakeholder should focus on.
Three key actions
First, he said, the industry needs to provide both established and emerging digital radio markets with ongoing efforts to ensure proper guidance and follow-up to the migration trend. Second, even though, in Europe, almost all new cars come with DAB+ as standard, optimizing the listener experience in vehicles is still a challenge. Third, further progress in new markets (eastern and southern Europe, Asia Pacific, Africa and the Middle East) will secure radio’s path toward digitization. “Developing DAB+ is not a sprint but a marathon,” cautioned Julia Schutz, managing director and program director at ANTENNE NRW. “The audience still suffers from a lack of awareness and insufficient knowledge. We can’t do it alone. Awareness must rest on many shoulders across all stakeholders: Market players, politicians and associations.”
Before the recent dramatic rise in energy costs, broadcasters had few concerns about airing their content on both FM and digital, but the present impact of rising utility bills is resulting in more radio stations no longer considering the FM switch-off process as the big evil. So, after years debating whether, why and how to go digital, the industry is shifting focus to benefitting from a digital radio scenario.
Kenneth Andresen, V.P. and head of radio at the P4 Group, Norway, emphasized how expanding the offering of radio services is key to a profitable business. When asked why P4 agreed to the FM switch-off in Norway, he responded that it was a strategic decision to safeguard their business and radio’s position in Norway for years to come. In the analog era, Norway had only five national stations. “At that time, we had to plan huge FM investments to keep the network going,” explained Andresen. “But with just five channels (one commercial), will those investments safeguard radio in the next 10, 20, 30 years or do we need to have a broader offering?”
To this purpose, a trending topic emerged during the summit: With the FM spectrum shortage, many broadcasters have had few ways to expand their offering or target niche audiences. On the other hand, while IP streaming platforms are broadening their services, including ultra-niche channels to cover almost every gap in the audience market, they struggle with how to market their new offering to their potential, niche audience.
Developing DAB+ is not a sprint but a marathon.
Digital broadcasters share the same ease of creating multiple new or niche stations but have the added asset of their established brands. ANTENNE NRW, a commercial radio station from the Antenne Bayern group, started up as a new DAB+-only station at the end of October 2021. Within a year, it gained sufficient momentum to become a serious contender in the North Rhine-Westphalia state. “It was really successful because we focused on the power of the entire Antenne Bayern group’s stations,” said Schutz. “We used all the brands, and they all support each other because only together and in collaboration can we grow.”
Matt Payton, CEO of Radiocentre, the United Kingdom’s commercial radio body, emphasized how radio success is also a consequence of investing in new services and expanding choice. “After years of investments in growing brand extension and creating new stations, DAB+ and online are now providing true opportunities for stations of all sizes to extend their offering and build audiences around specific areas of interest and passions,” he said. As examples, he mentioned Absolute Radio’s “decade stations” and the digital-only services like Boom Radio, Virgin Radio and Planet Rock as a testimony to building successful services without an FM frequency in a way that it would have been impossible just a few years ago. Payton added that such stations had supported the overall growth of commercial radio in the U.K.
In-car listening is key for the radio industry. In Europe almost all new cars now come with a DAB+ receiver as standard, but larger and brighter glass-cockpits are stretching out across contemporary cars’ dashboards. Getting radio onto the digital dashboard, as well as securing radio’s prominence in cars requires sound metadata to feed receivers with ancillary information and to timely deliver high-resolution pictures and logos. In his contribution Joseph D’Angelo, senior vice president, broadcast radio at Xperi Inc. described how personalized radio can enable a vibrant in-car listening experience. During his presentation, he illustrated several examples of real-world dashboards playing real, properly managed digital radio broadcasts.
The author reports on the industry for RedTech from Bergamo, Italy.