ABC Radio’s Kate Dundas responds to DAB+ doomsayer

Last Friday Crikey published a withering critique of digital radio, written by someone purporting to be a ‘radio insider.’  With commercial radio in their sights, they also took aim at the ABC saying, Most of ABC Local Radio’s rusted-on listeners are seniors who only listen to AM stations — they sometimes sneak over to commercial talk, but that’s about as adventurous as they get — and it would be cruel to suggest they spend their pension money on a DAB+ receiver.

The Triple J crowd are, of course, already tuning in to web radio on their smartphones and other mobile devices. While internet quality isn’t yet as good as DAB+, it hardly matters to most.

Aunty’s listeners outside of the aforementioned major capitals, won’t be getting digital radio any time soon (read: never). Even if they want the extra stations, they’ll have to get them online.

While commercial stations, wrongly, see DAB+ as an imperative, the ABC’s involvement in today’s OB and other digital-radio-related activities seems a bad way to spend its dwindling resources. Read all of it here.

ABC’s Director of Radio, Kate Dundas has filed this response

Firstly, it is not up to the ABC to decide whether or not to engage with digital radio. The Federal Government has mandated digital radio services and requires the industry to develop the platform.

Part of the rationale of course is that the new generation of devices are being launched without AM capability. Further AM sound quality is degrading over time as transmitters age and the sound table in the cities rises. In part then , it is no surprise that loyal ABC listeners, or those ‘rusted on’, are delighted to upgrade to the superior sound and features of the DAB+ digital platform.

There are though, more points to be made in response to the ‘Insider’s’ story.

  • Contrary to the suggestion that the audience for ABC Local Radio is rusted on to the AM band, the largest audiences by far for ABC digital radio services are listening to Local Radio on DAB+.
  • The implication that digital radio receivers are prohibitively expensive doesn’t stand up. There are now plenty of digital radio receivers available in Australia priced in the $40-$60 range, which is comparable to the cost of a decent table top AM/FM radio receiver. Furthermore, as more countries adopt digital radio – as they are doing – and demand for digital receivers grows, their prices will continue to come down.    
  • As to the suggestion that radio over the internet is a better experience for listeners, the audience response would suggest otherwise. Even though every radio station of any significance in Australia is available online, listening to radio via the DAB+ platform surpassed online radio listening back in March 2011 (Nielsen Survey 2/2011).  Furthermore, the average time spent listening to digital radio is around 12 hours a weekwhile the time spent listening to radio online is around five-and-a-half hours a week.
  • ABC Radio’s services are available on multiple platforms.  As well as delivering services to Australians via the web, analogue and digital radio, listeners can also use the recently launched ABC Radio App for easy access via mobile phone to nineteen ABC AM, FM and digital radio stations.
  • Audio streaming costs broadcasters money.  It’s far from free to send out and obviously, the more successful you are the more expensive it becomes. Additionally, internet platforms are still far from rock solid reliable. Given part of the  ABC’s trusted reputation depends on continuous service and robust alternative platforms, especially during emergency periods where audience safety is so important, multiple platforms are vital wherever these can be offered.

Ubiquity is a key feature of the digital media age. When everything and everyone can be virtually everywhere, then it’s up to the ABC to follow suit and ensure equity of service delivery to Australians. Just as users of its services don’t stick to just one platform or format, nor should the ABC. It’s not a matter of making a choice between digital radio or AM and FM or online; it’s a matter of being everywhere audiences want us to be.

While the future of digital radio remains a work in progress, this technology along with other channels and platforms will ultimately be judged by audiences. With these now at well over 1 million per week, so far so good.


                Kate Dundas

                Director, ABC Radio.


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