Broadcasters around the world are aiming to grow their audience, reduce costs and increase advertising opportunities. DAB+ offers all of that and more.
Joan Warner, Chair of WorldDMB Asia Pacific and Chief Executive Officer of Commercial Radio Australia explains how investing in a digital future by adopting DAB+ can provide new revenue opportunities and attract listeners.
Why Go Digital
Broadcasters should go digital because:
Investment in Digital Radio is “defensive investment” – defending the radio industry into the future. It is imperative that public and private broadcasters work together, so that there is one voice from the entire industry. One united voice is very powerful when talking to the government and regulators.
Digital radio policy needs to have something for everyone. Private broadcasters invested in DAB+ in Australia because the government provided incentives. Each existing private analogue radio station was given 128 kilobits – or 1/9 of a multiplex – free. In Australia we also negotiated no restrictions on formats or use of the bitrate, to allow broadcasters to create and test new innovative content.
Another major incentive for private broadcasters to invest in DAB+ was that the government agreed that no new digital only operators would be allowed for six years. This allowed broadcasters to promote DAB+ to their listeners and establish an audience.
The Australian digital radio policy also gave existing radio broadcasters the first option to own the spectrum and multiplex. It allowed private broadcasters to set up Joint Venture Companies (JVCs) to own and operate the multiplex licence, sharing the capital and operating costs making it cost effective in the long term.
Compare how DAB+ is best for broadcasters. DAB+ transmission, using a wider channel bandwidth, gives broadcasters flexibility to run up to 63 sub channels per 1152 khz.
In Australia up to 27 radio services are run in each multiplex, including data, text and slide show. For example in Sydney where there are three multiplexes, all run by existing broadcasters, there are up to 71 DAB+ radio services on air. Compare this to between one and up to seven services on a single frequency on the other digital radio platforms available.
DAB+ – less energy & space = less cost
Rising energy costs and the pressure to reduce costs makes the adoption of DAB+ very appealing. DAB+ can dramatically reduce the number of transmitters needed. With FM for example – 15 different FM stations require 15 transmitters.
With DAB+, only one multiplex and one transmitter is needed to broadcast up to 27 DAB+ stations on each multiplex. Less equipment, uses less space and less power and therefore reduces costs. DAB+ is estimated to be around 20% more energy efficient than analogue radio and those costs are shared amongst all the broadcasters on the ensemble.
DAB+ vs Internet
Some broadcasters may think we don’t need to spend the money on digital radio, when we use the internet. Radio stations all over the world already use the internet, Twitter and Facebook to reach and interact with listeners and to offer additional information and interactivity.
But broadcast radio is all about reach and keeping your mass audience and increasing your audience and reach. Using streaming to replace live free to air radio broadcasting to reach a mass audience of hundreds of thousands or millions, all at the same time in good quality, requires far too much bandwidth on the internet.
The bandwidth requirements increase as the number of listeners increase making it very spectrum inefficient. You could support around 1,000 listeners per server to listen at the same time in high quality, so 100,000 listeners would need 100 servers. Not saving space or costs.
Free to air broadcast radio must be available in emergencies
Internet radio is not the future of radio. The network is not efficient enough and is not cost effective. How many times has your phone dropped out when you are on a call or your internet connection doesn’t work? Telecommunications networks go down when too many people use them all at once. During an emergency situation, it’s important to have broadcast, free to air radio available to deliver one message to many.
Last year in Australia during the floods and fire season, broadcast radio was one of the only forms of communication available to many people that were cut off from television and telecommunications. A battery radio was in some instances the only way people were receiving emergency information.
Goals for DAB+ Coverage
There is no point in having great radio content with a poor signal. Australia runs 50 kilowatt ERP transmitters, which are the highest power digital radio transmitters in the world. The channel plans were based on a single high powered site to ensure there was good reception in vehicles and in buildings.
One high powered site gave great coverage of more than 94% of the population of each city.
After switch on there were a number of black spots and to fix them a low powered On Channel Repeater (ONR) was developed and tested. A rollout plan is now underway for each city to fix the black spots.
New content generates new listeners and more advertising opportunities
In Australia, exciting new content has driven the take up of digital radio. There are more than 38 new digital only stations. DAB+ offers the opportunity for broadcasters to try content that might be very different from their analogue format. A talk station can try a music station. A number one hits, station can try a completely different format, such as classic hits and attract a brand new audience.
Alternatively, some countries adopting DAB+ are now utilising the additional spectrum to create educational and cultural opportunites on radio. A new audience demographic provides new advertising opportunities and a niche audience becomes a very attraction option for an advertiser.
The current media landscape is very competitive and radio like all other media, must fight hard to keep costs down, increase audience numbers and attract advertising funds.
We hope by sharing information and experience with each other about what worked in one region can save everyone a lot of time and money.
Chief Executive Officer, Commercial Radio Australia
Chairperson of the WorldDMB Asia Pacific Committee