BBC: No DAB switchover unless Govt involved

BBC Chief Operating Officer Caroline Thompson called for the Government to help it meet coverage targets for DAB

The BBC has called for the Government to get involved with extending DAB coverage as well as putting pressure on car manufacturers to put digital radios in their cars.

DAB switchover was targeted for 2015 in Lord Carter's recent Digital Britain report.

Talking at the Priorities for Digital Britain conference in Westminester, BBC Chief Operating Officer Caroline Thompson, said "we will not do the analogue switch off unless there are some very big thresholds met, especially [concerning] car radios. And those are challenging thresholds."

DAB coverage is around 90 per cent currently, but estimates hover around the £100 million mark to roll out digital to the final 10 per cent of the UK that doesn't yet have coverage.

"The final 10 per cent, we need to discuss with the Government," continued Thompson.

Andrew Harrison, chief executive of the Radio Centre, the commercial radio trade organisation, also spoke yesterday. He painted a bleak picture of the commercial radio industry, saying that 80 per cent of local radio stations are either loss making or break even and that it was hard for commercial stations to make money on DAB.

Harrision also criticised the huge amount of regulation increasing costs for local radio.

"We welcome the report for the policy it outlines," said Harrision. "But we need these reforms now, they're critical to the survival of radio [including the] deregulation of cross-media ownership. This is the last opportunity to carve out a long [and] profitable future for radio in our digital economy."

Later switchover will cost more

An important piece of the switchover puzzle is making sure car radios will support DAB and Ford and Vauxhall have committed to making this happen by 2013.

Thompson made the point that having both DAB and FM switched on will cost the BBC more and the corporation was keen to do what it can to switch over as soon as possible. "Switchover in 2020 costs us more than a switchover in 2015." The BBC's director of audio and music, Tim Davie, was recently quoted in Media Guardian as saying that switchover so soon is a challenge.

"At the moment you can only buy a DAB set for £50-plus. We are never going to get switchover by 2015 unless we really focus minds. I said on current trends it won't happen in our lifetime, and I meant it," said Davie, speaking at the Radio Festival in Nottingham at the end of June.

"2015 helps us make it a reality. Will we make that date? I think that's ambitious. A decent DAB radio has to cost £15, not £50."


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