Commercial Broadcasters propose principles for DRB progress

The Commercial Radio industry has called for a full conversion model for digital radio, plus national spectrum reservation and a 20-year simulcast period, in a set of “key principles” which the industry hopes the Federal Government will adopt as a way of moving Australia forward towards the introduction of digital radio.

Commercial Radio Australia representatives visited Canberra last week to present the “Principles for the Development of Digital Radio Broadcasting in Australia” to Communications Minister Daryl Williams, who recently approved a rival digital radio trial by Broadcast Australia in Melbourne (see other story).

In a speech to be delivered to an Asia-Pacific symposium on digital radio broadcasting in India today, Commercial Radio Australia’s Joan Warner, will say: “it is vital that incumbent broadcasters in every country engage directly with Governments over regulatory policy.

“As broadcasters we must make Governments aware that for there to be any future for digital radio, it must be based firstly on a conversion model that allows for the needs of all incumbent broadcasters and their millions of listeners to be accommodated and to migrate over time to digital.”

Six of the key principles which CRA would like to see the government adopt are:

* Digital radio broadcasting in Australia is to be a full conversion model for incumbent radio broadcasters operating within the Broadcasting Services Bands.

* The rights and level of investment of the existing in-band broadcast community to be formally recognised and supported.

* Spectrum to be reserved nationally in VHF Band III and the LBand for industry driven digital radio trials and development projects and to ensure that spectrum is available in the future.

* No final decision on technology to be made until incumbent broadcasters have undertaken a full assessment of available technology and provided detailed advice to Government on preferred technology.

* For permanent conversion to digital radio broadcasting a period of simulcast for incumbent broadcasters to occur to allow for generational change of the over 40 million analogue radio receivers currently owned by Australians. The commercial radio industry proposes that this period should be for not less than 20 years.

* Digital broadcasting licences, when issued, to be permanent and granted at no cost to incumbent commercial radio broadcasters who have paid for the analogue spectrum they occupy.

Joan Warner says Australia does not have the same drivers for digital radio creating more services as may have been the case in the UK. Australians “already enjoyed a huge choice with more than 2,500 commercial, public and niche radio services operating within the Broadcasting Services Band for a population of 20 million.”

In her ABU speech Warner will encourage the Asia Pacific broadcast community to take an active role in the development of digital radio in their countries.

“Just because a policy, system or business model works in one country does not mean it is the right system for your country. Each jurisdiction is different, has a different history and regulatory regime.”

Warner’s speech is being given to broadcast leaders and government officials at a symposium in India hosted by the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union, an international association of television and radio broadcasters with over 100 members in 50 countries.

Sydney Trial:

Sydney’s digital radio trials will be launched on December 17, with major commercial and public radio stations to begin simulcasting in digital format from that date.

The 18-month consumer-focussed trial “will be one of the most comprehensive listener and advertiser driven tests of the new technology anywhere in the world,” according to CRA.

Digital radio will bring in the next profound change for radio since the introduction of FM broadcasting in the 1970s. Digital broadcasting carries a high-speed stream of information that allows the transmission of text and images and makes it possible for radio stations to significantly enhance the listener experience by eliminating hiss and crackle and providing CD-quality sound and interactive on-demand features.

With digital radio, listeners will be able to access lyrics and album information, interviews, special programs, sports and traffic information, and rewind and eventually replay programs.

The Sydney trials will aim to assess consumer reaction in the Australian market place using a range of portable, at-home and in-car receivers and new program content. Initially 100 listeners will be selected to participate in the trials, with plans to extend to 500 listeners as a greater range of receivers becomes available. The panels will consist of taxi drivers, youth, opinion makers, computer users and a racing panel.

Commercial Radio Australia’s trial will involve a consortium of 10 commercial radio stations, the ABC and SBS, and will take place on Channel 9A in VHF Band III.