Tim Davie, Director, Audio and Music
Speech given at the Drive to Digital Conference, London
Tuesday 18 October 2011
Check against delivery
Good morning and thank you for coming to Broadcasting House.
I am sure that, later in the day, Jeremy Vine from Radio 2 will give you a briefing on the wonders of this location and more specifically our new building, but I do know that you will be one of the first ever external groups to enter what will become one of the biggest and best newsrooms in the world.
On top of the many radio broadcasts that take place, and are taking place, in this, the old part of broadcasting house – this site will soon be home to all of BBC TV news, radio programmes like Today as well as the whole of Radio 1.
Also, it is a building that will be broadcasting live to millions of cars every day for many years to come.
Perhaps a theme of preserving the best of the old but moving into a new world is an appropriate analogy for what we are talking about today.
Certainly Broadcasting House has always been a site where innovation has thrived: the BBC Dance Orchestra delivered our first ever broadcast from here in 1932. George V delivered the first Christmas Day broadcast to the Empire in the same year and John Logie Baird tested his experimental TV equipment here. And to this day many of the funniest and most original comics and actors have delivered their best lines in here.
Creative and technical innovation is certainly a suitable theme for us to begin a discussion on digital radio but an equally valid parallel is one of resilience and seeing things through. This is a building that has kept broadcasting through nearly a century of conflict, crisis and drama.
Since its introduction in 1999, DAB in particular has had to endure its fair share of challenges. As we are all aware, there has been debate about whether it was needed, whether IP would result in its demise and a general lack of confidence. It is worth noting that throughout these years, those using DAB in areas of decent coverage have always been very satisfied with their radio sets.
Perhaps there were doubts about radio itself during these years: would a converged world which offers infinite choice undermine radio?
The truth is that despite all these worries, linear radio is currently enjoying record reach. BBC radio delivers 16 and a half hours of programming to 68% of the population every week, up on year ago.
The power of networks, often live, curated by brilliant editors and controllers, not algorithms, has proved itself to be wonderfully resilient.
So what of digital radio and DAB ? Progress has been slower than many would like but it has been steady, indeed despite a lot of debate and some uncertainty, digital listening now represents over a quarter of all listening.
Now I believe that after a good two years of progress, not least due to the efforts of car manufacturers, we are arriving at a tipping point. Suddenly the game is changing and the route to a switchover is now clearer than it has ever been.
I say this because in four areas, things have changed. Those areas are: strategic alignment, coverage investment, new content and stronger marketing.
Firstly, as you will have ascertained from Ed's words, we have clear political direction and all the major industry players are aligned that we need a DAB broadcast backbone as part of radio's digital hybrid future.
On top of this, we are seeing a clear move to DAB and DAB+ in a number of European and international markets. This is a big change versus recent history.
Interestingly, those, like myself, who have interrogated DAB hard and questioned if we can move directly to an IP future, realise that if we are to serve car drivers with a robust free-to-air radio signal then we must deliver a digital broadcast solution. At a very basic level, if we want UK licence fee payers to hear services like 6 Music, which they have paid for, IP or FM will not suffice.
So the political will is there, the large industry players are aligned and the international picture has changed. There is a clear direction.
Second, we can confirm big news on coverage today. Currently we are just north of 90% population coverage but we know that we must go further to give a fuller uninterrupted service.
It is worth noting that transmitters continue to be built while we have been agreeing new plans. In 2010 we put up 30 new transmitters, and this year already a further 28 have begun broadcasting . We expect another two this week, with 16 more to follow before the turn of the year.
For example, last week we boosted transmissions for Stirling and a huge part of Shropshire – 55,000 people. This week, it's two new transmitters, one for Merthyr Tydfil; one for the area to the north of London around Stevenage and Welwyn Garden City – together another 104,000 people into coverage and better coverage for many tens of thousands more as well.
But that is not enough. We have previously indicated our intent to build national distribution to over 97% of the population and I can confirm that, despite the tough financial environment, this has been fully agreed. This will benefit all areas including Scotland, Wales and North Ireland.
To put this into perspective, we forecast that this will ensure that the UK motorway network has complete continuous coverage and primary road coverage is approaching FM.
In terms of indoor coverage, we expect every town or city with a population over 5,000 to enjoy DAB reception. There may be small pockets of poor coverage in some of these areas but we want to ensure totally solid coverage in the UK's top 25 cities.
For instance, we will be taking specific steps to improve coverage in London, Leicester, Glasgow, Coventry, Swansea, Liverpool, Manchester, Oxford and Belfast.
On top of this news about national distribution, we will be working hard with the minister and his team to try to agree a plan for further extending local coverage. As Ed outlined, more details of this will be announced as we move to agreement with government.
My third factor that indicates a change is the increased activity in delivering strong DAB content. We do not have a silver bullet such as Premier league football but powerful services are emerging.
The rebranding of Radio 7 to Radio 4 Extra, which the Minister referred to, has led to a huge growth in listening and we will be continuing to deliver strong cross-trails that send Radio 4 listeners to Radio 4 Extra for more content and new programmes.
Also it is excellent news that we are continuing to see more competitive commercial services on DAB.
Another piece of exciting news is our proposal to launch a temporary Olympics service on DAB. This service will go on air in July and August next year on digital platforms and allow listeners to enjoy even greater choice of live Olympic commentary.
Finally, I know that Ford Ennals will talk about the marketing of digital radio later today so let me just say that I think we are at a point that we need to move on from marketing in bits (BBC campaigns, different descriptions) to a unified industry direction leading on to the Digital Radio Certification Mark, the "tick", which Ed outlined. This is critical and will suddenly change the game for consumers.
Clearly, any switchover must be earned, not just forced, and a clear communication plan, which is more about carrots than sticks, is essential.
Let me finish by saying that you are critical to the future of radio. The support of car manufacturers over the last few years has been vital in taking DAB this far and the progress in the last 12 months is remarkable. The game has changed and material developments across the factors that I have outlined will transform the appeal for listeners of DAB.
Digital radio has always been inevitable: the question has been how we get there? Today the roadmap is a clearer than it has ever been.
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