Riuscirà il DAB+ dove il DAB ha fallito?
Digital radio on the move
January 29, 2008
WITH a little more than a year to go before the legislated switch-on of digital radio, the industry is preparing to deliver what it believes will be a new listening experience for audiences. Listeners will be able to legally download music they're tuned in to.
On January 1, 2009 broadcasters will be required to start delivering services on the DAB+ spectrum, which in addition to upgrading the quality of the signal will make available many new channels that can be targeted at specific audiences. The DAB+ spectrum is able to provide high-quality audio as well as non-audio content (including pictures and text) because it can carry up to 256Kbps. The signal is stronger because it is rebuilt by the receiver.
"There are no restrictions on multi-channelling so stations will have their capability with the new technology to do an extra channel or an extra two channels," Commercial Radio Australia chief executive Joan Warner says. "They may choose to do an audio channel and then an extra data channel, which they can use for pictures, slideshows, text and all sorts of things like weather, maps, traffic. It's really opening radio to be a richer source of information and entertainment." The types of services Warner talks about emerging include a talk sports radio channel displaying the latest results, and images of the highlights of an event, or a music station creating stations targeted at specific audiences such as youth, classic and female.
A key feature for music radio stations will be the ability of listeners to legally download music they're listening to. Commercial Radio Australia demonstrated the purchasing technology at its conference earlier in the year. Youth radio station Nova has an early version of this, so listeners can go its website and see what tracks have been played and download and purchase those songs through Apple's iTunes online music store. This purchasing feature will be a part of its digital offering, but Nova group finance director Kingsley Hall says the broadcaster is still figuring out exactly what that will be. "I don't know if you'll find anyone who has nailed it down yet. We will continue to evolve exactly what it is we're going to do over the next year or so."
Warner says the devices will not be commercially available until the middle of next year, and prices for a standard unit will start at about $50. There's a range of products, including car kits, to convert an existing analogue radio and provide the functionality in an iPod. Discussions will begin with car manufacturers early next year about having them install digital units in various models. Intelligent Transport Systems Australia, which is in charge of facilitating the deployment of new technologies across all modes of transport, refused to comment on whether it would push for digital radio to be rolled out in all new cars.
Commercial Radio Australia is looking to get out the message about digital radio widely in the last quarter of this year, and it hopes to convince families to buy the devices at Christmas in anticipation of the technology being available in the New Year. Warner says it will only be after digital radio is switched on next January 1 and audiences start tuning in that broadcasters will be able to properly tailor their offerings and see what works and what doesn't. However, communications analyst Paul Budde says the date it is switched on is irrelevant, as the radio medium has already been superseded by MP3 players and podcasting. "The problem with digital radio is that it has been around for 20 to 25 years without achieving any market penetration. I think it's too little, too late."
He doesn't expect the Australian experience to differ that of from Europe and the US, where there has been very little take-up and the appeal is limited to niches. "It's highly unlikely that it will magically be turned around to become a success story. At the same time, we have podcasting, MP3 and a range of other services that are becoming available."
In Europe, car manufacturers install digital radios in luxury cars and broadcast their own radio networks, and without support from local car manufacturers digital radio is doomed to failure, Budde says. "The real benefits of digital radio are far more in the car, such as listening to the news when you want. Most of the applications in Europe are based on car radios, so unless they get the car manufacturers on board, everything else is unimportant," he says.