Digital Radio Access Climbs in UK

With digital radio a big topic in Australia (see radioinfo story, 14/7/04), it has been revealed that the number of households in Britain with access to digital radio is on the rise.

Millions of listeners are already using their multi-channel television sets or the internet to tune in to the new stations, and the uptake of digital audio broadcast (DAB) sets is on the verge of take off. The number of DAB radio sets in UK homes is expected to double by the end of the year, with Sharp entering the market in May and other major manufacturers, such as Sony and Samsung, set to follow.

Advertisers will be encouraged because the much sought after youth market appears to be driving much of the growth.

There are almost 4.7 million listeners of digital only radio each week, but the total number is likely to be much greater, considering another 12 stations broadcast simultaneously in analogue and digital.

Richard Jacobs, head of radio at MediaCom, believes digital television will continue as the main platform for digital radio for the foreseeable future.

“Half a million DAB sets is OK, but there are 20 million odd households. Until manufacturers are selling them for 15 to 20 quid in Argos, we won’t see big take off of DAB.”

DAB sets, of course, are crucial for the future of digital radio because they duplicate analogue radio’s portability.

Quentin Howard, chief of digital radio multiplex licenser, Digital One, says people with a DAB set are spending far longer listening to digital radio than people accessing it through other formats.

“The problem is that, as soon as someone comes in and wants to watch TV, or there’s a typical TV junction, they’ll switch back to TV. People want a radio in every room in the house, whereas TV and internet force you to watch in a fixed location.”

In a multi-platform age, digital radio stations must cater for listeners on all formats, but Howard is confident DAB will be dominant within one or two years.

His view is backed up by predictions of more than a million DAB sets in the UK by the end of this year – more than double the 435 000 in use by last December.

The typical DAB purchaser today is aged 51 and male, but growth is predicted to come from the notoriously fickle youth market with its extreme sensitivity to price and fashion trends.

Crucially, the strong sales of DAB radios last Christmas has convinced Japanese electronic giants, Sony, Sharp and Samsung, to enter the market. These manufacturers will increase the range of DAB radios, offering much cheaper and more contemporary designs. Until this year, digital radio was more a cottage industry and the DAB sets on the market were typically conventional square boxes with no great youth appeal.