MCRadio in the Spanish region of Campoo de Enmedio is on air with the AEQ Capitol IP digital console and AudioPlus automation system
LONDON — Initially scheduled to take place in Prague, this year’s WorldDAB General Assembly reshaped itself as a virtual gathering. On Nov. 3 some 200 delegates from across the broadcast, automotive and receiver manufacturer industries joined the virtual conference to discuss the future of digital radio.
The main topics of the 2020 edition included how to build an audience through digital radio, reaching the listener on DAB+, digital radio in the car, as well as an update on the latest DAB+ developments from around the world.
Patrick Hannon, WorldDAB president, welcomed the virtual community focusing his keynote speech on trending topics of DAB+ development worldwide.
“DAB+ is the backbone of digital radio and broadcasters continue investing heavily in extending their networks across several key markets,” Hannon said. “DAB+ is also growing elsewhere, not just in Europe and Australia but also in North and Southern Africa and the Middle East.”
Hannon outlined WorldDAB’s three key topics to successfully foster the growth of the digital radio standard. Firstly, he said, spread the word to regulators and broadcasters that “DAB is free-to-air, that is to say, free to everyone, with no gatekeepers managing what’s on air and what is not. It is important also to highlight the green benefits of DAB+ relative to other radio distribution platforms.”
Secondly, he pointed out that the radio industry needs all radio receivers — automotive and consumer — to have digital capability. Presently, 64% of all radio receivers sold in Europe are analog-only, thus limiting digital radio penetration. “Regulatory decisions have proved themselves to be really effective from this point of view — first, far cars and now for consumer receivers: In Italy the sales figures of DAB radio receivers have almost tripled since January 2020, when by law all radio receivers on the market must be equipped with DAB+,” he said.
And thirdly he emphasized the importance of bringing DAB to new regions and to markets all around the world.
DAB in Europe
In Europe, Germany launched its second national DAB multiplex Oct. 5. This extended the digital standard’s reach to 83% of the population. Overall DAB+ now reaches 25% of German households. In addition, all new cars in the country will be fitted with a digital radio receiver from December. “Consumers will benefit from the nationwide digital radio offering and great variety for consumers, together with more opportunities for advertisers.”
2021 will be a key year for French radio, celebrating 100 years since its first broadcasts, 40 years of FM and also readying for the launch of two national DAB multiplex next July. In addition, Nicolas Curien, head of radio at the French regulator CSA [Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel] announced the launch of a new radio industry festival in France (during the first week of June 2021), which he says will bring together private and commercial broadcasters through a variety of initiatives, and will be open for the audience, producing outside shows and concerts.
The nation’s so-called “Nodes and Arcs” phase will bring DAB coverage to the 50 largest cities and to the highways connecting them. Completion date is end of 2022. Then the so-called “Percolation Phase” will cover the lower density regions. Four calls for applications are expected by end of 2023 to reach 50 smaller cities and their surrounding areas. From the point of view of enhancing the digital radio experience for consumers, the CSA has initiated a forum with French broadcasters to discuss the DAB+ user experience.
In other parts of Europe, Switzerland, one of the early adopters of DAB, has confirmed its analog switchoff scheme. As per the schedule, public broadcaster SRG-SSR will switch off its analog stations in August 2022. Commercial broadcasters will follow suit in January 2023.
“SRG-SSR has already agreed to the plan, and private radio associations are seeking member approval by the end of November,” specified Iso Rechsteiner, project manager at the DigiMig working group. In addition, he said, OFCOM [Swiss regulator Office fédéral de la communication] supports the digital switchover initiative, and will endorse campaigns to support receiver sales and encourage automobilists to install DAB+ receivers in their cars.
As of Spring 2020, in Switzerland DAB+ accounted for about 39% of all radio listening. According to Jessica Allemann, head of research at DigiMig, DAB is the most popular reception mode in German and French-speaking Switzerland. Today, only 13% of the population listens exclusively to analog radio.
DAB+ Beyond Europe
Beyond Europe, South Africa recently published a policy directive for the implementation of “digital sound broadcasting.” The country’s media regulator, Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) is now expected to prioritize licensing.
Other industry leaders spoke during the one-day virtual event. Radio consultant James Cridland discussed how DAB+ is advancing in Australia, questioning the type of content the industry should be focused on in the future. Bassil Zoubi, director of technology and development at the Arab States Broadcasting Union discussed DAB+ expansion in the Middle East and North Africa. He said that while broadcasters in MENA are facing similar challenges to those elsewhere, he sees the technology as a way of opening new horizons across the region.
The gathering highlighted a number of countries taking steps to establish DAB+. And while Europe seems to lead the way in that respect, the virtual meeting also offered insight into DAB+ development well beyond the old continent.