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24 September 2014
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The future of radio is digital

Speech by Jenny Abramsky, Director, BBC Radio & Music, to the NAB Conference

Speech available in full

• Radio must go digital to avoid long term decline

• First BBC digital radio figures will be "modest"

• BBC share will fall as choice and competition increase through digital

• DAB digital radio vital in driving transition to digital

The future of radio as a medium is at stake unless it goes digital, claims Jenny Abramsky, Director of BBC Radio & Music, in a speech to the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) in London today (Monday 20 October).

"Radio is a vibrant cultural force to be celebrated," she says.

"But we can't take this for granted in a future where the next generation of radio listeners faces more choices than ever before about their media and how they consume it.

"While radio in Europe flourishes today we cannot complacently assume it will tomorrow."

She continues: "I believe radio must go digital if it is not to go into a long term decline.

"If radio were the only medium not to go digital it would soon become obsolete for future generations."

Jenny Abramsky also predicts that the BBC's first listening figures for its new digital radio networks, published by RAJAR on Thursday (23 October), will be "modest", stressing "these are very early days".

She also acknowledges that it is important not just to launch new services but to develop them post-launch.

"These stations need time to find their voices, to grow their production and presentation talent, to build - and build an understanding of - their audiences.

"The BBC will provide an environment for these stations to do just that by investing for the long term and ensuring that they do not wilt, neglected in the shadow of the five established networks."

She adds that whatever the audience figures may be, they will be many times greater than those envisaged when the digital stations were first proposed within the BBC.

"Then I was prepared for audiences of a few thousand in the early years.

"The phenomenal growth of listening through the internet and digital television as well as the recent rapid rise in sales of DAB digital radio sets means that we will surpass my own original expectations by a huge margin."

Talking about the increased choice offered by digital radio - from both the BBC and the commercial sector - Jenny Abramsky welcomes the increased choice which is "fantastic news" for the radio industry, radio professionals, advertisers and listeners.

She goes on to explain, however, that increased choice means increased competition which will inevitably lead to a decline in share of listening for BBC Radio.

"We don't expect that the BBC will start the next decade as it started this one - with over half of all radio listening to its stations.

"We expect that our share of listening will fall, but increased choice is the right strategy because we know that is right for audiences - it is what sells sets and is what will take radio digital."

She also stresses that the BBC recognises it should take the lead in driving the adoption of digital radio by the audience, the market and the industry.

Jenny Abramsky's speech highlights her belief in the vital importance of DAB digital radio in delivering the transition to digital.

"Over a billion hours a week of radio listening take place in the UK and the vast majority of these take place in the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, car and on the move.

"The internet and digital television have taken radio listening on to new devices and into new parts of the home and are growing radio listening in the UK.

"But the only technology that will take those billion hours of listening digital is DAB digital radio.

"It is a robust technology that enables affordable, high volume production and that can be embedded into a range of devices.

"It's radio as we know it - cheap, portable, reliable - only better."

Jenny Abramsky also stresses the BBC's commitment to marketing its digital radio portfolio, claiming the BBC's investment in digital radio content would be "squandered" without a complementary investment in promotion.

The BBC will run a major cross-media campaign promoting its digital radio portfolio on-air and off-air through December.

"We hope that by the end of the year almost 350,000 sets will have been sold," she says.

Speech available in full

Notes to Editors

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) is an American trade association that promotes and protects the interests of radio and television broadcasters in Washington and around the world.

NAB is the broadcaster's voice before Congress, federal agencies and the Courts.

The BBC has five digital-only radio networks, all launched in 2002:

• 1Xtra – the best in new black music

• Five Live Sports Extra - the home of live sport with exclusive coverage of live events

• 6 Music - the best of contemporary and classic rock and pop

• BBC 7 - the best of BBC comedy, drama and books from the archive

• the Asian Network - news and music from the British Asian scene.

The BBC's whole family of speech and music networks is also available on digital radio: Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 3, Radio 4, Radio Five Live and the World Service (in English).

Many BBC local radio services are also available on DAB.

The BBC is expanding its national digital radio transmitter network to cover 85% of the UK population by mid-2004. Coverage currently stands at 70%.

Ten new transmitters were switched on in August and September 2003 bringing around 2.4 million new people into BBC coverage.

Digital radio can be received on a digital radio via DAB digital radio broadcasts, and also through digital television (satellite, cable and Freeview) and through the internet.

There are currently 23 manufacturers producing digital radios for the UK market.

Sony Europe recently announced it will launch a digital radio in 2004 - the first major Japanese manufacturer to come into the digital radio market.

Digital radios are available as tuners (i.e. as part of a hi-fi), portables and as car radios. Prices start at £99.00.

Total UK digital radio sales have reached 200,000 sets (GFK data).

Digital radios are available from more than 3,000 retail outlets across the UK (both large high street chains and small independent retailers) and can also be bought on the internet.

Related releases

Major new campaign for BBC Digital Radio portfolio (06.10.03)

Ten new digital radio transmitters now on air (30.09.03)

All the BBC's digital services are now available on Freeview, the new free-to-view digital terrestrial television service, as well as on satellite and cable.

Freeview offers the BBC's eight television channels, interactive services from BBCi, as well as 11 national BBC radio networks.



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