The future of digital radio in Europe
20 October 2003
read by Simon Nelson, Controller of Radio & Music Interactive, on
behalf of Jenny Abramsky, Director of BBC Radio & Music, to the
National Association of Broadcasters
Thank you for inviting the BBC to come and talk to you today about the
future of digital radio in Europe.
is very sorry that she cannot be here today – so I am the poor
substitute. I'm Simon Nelson and I run BBC Radio & Music Interactive,
a unit set up to take the BBC's radio and music brands and content on
to digital platforms, such as DAB digital radio, digital television
and the internet, and showcase them to their best advantage there, making
use of each platform's particular strengths.
like a good time for us to reflect and consider the bigger picture as
we near the end of a hectic year at the BBC in digital radio terms.
of five new digital radio services is in its first year of life and
they are finding their voices with increasing confidence - and we are
enabling millions more to hear them as we switch on new BBC DAB digital
radio transmitters around the UK.
to this point has not been easy by any means. It has taken years of
informed and committed advocacy, first inside the BBC, and then to Government,
which granted us permission to launch our new services in 2001.
also meant considerable risk – of investment, of reputation and,
most importantly, creativity.
So in talking
to you about the future for digital radio in Europe, please be assured
that, at the BBC, we are under no illusion as to just how difficult
realising that future can be.
we are convinced of the need for us as broadcasters in Europe to undertake
that advocacy, to take that risk.
can be culturally risk averse – even more so in these uncertain
times - but with the future of radio as a medium at stake, it has never
been more important for us to be bold, and for broadcasters in particular
to show leadership. For
it is, in our view, nothing less than the future of radio that is at
here today, for our listeners across Europe, it may seem far-fetched
to conceive of a time when radio might play little more than a bit part
in the media lives of millions of Europeans. After all, radio is thriving
in Europe, with tens of thousands of stations and over two hundred million
listeners who spend about three hours every day with them.
radio is a vibrant cultural force to be celebrated and nurtured, which
brings together the many peoples of Europe and enables them to find
out about one another, their societies, their world. But we can't take
this for granted in a future where the next generation of radio listeners
faces more choices about their media and the way they consume it than
must go digital if it is not to go into long term decline. If radio
were the only medium not to go digital it would soon become obsolete
for younger audiences and future generations accustomed to a vast array
of digital choices when it comes to their media experiences.
sector and commercial market that did not have the space to expand with
new services in the digital space would stagnate and become less relevant
to new audiences. And less able to compete with that huge range of choice
in other media.
we might be used to listening to a very limited choice of radio stations
on crackly transistor radios to which we navigate by means of incomprehensible
numbers, future generations will increasingly see this as an archaic
isn't just threats that make the digital transition so important –
it's the opportunities as well. Opportunities to take the best of the
medium, make it thrive in the digital environment and enable it to grow
and become an even more important part of everyone's lives – current
and future audiences.
I'm going to frame some thoughts on the digital future for radio in
Europe in four sections: choice, enhancement, control and ubiquity.
It is a
digital future that sees radio securely positioned and thriving as never
start with choice because it is at the heart of the BBC's digital radio
strategy. We also believe it is the key to driving take-up of digital
radio in many parts of Europe, though not all.
the key benefits of digital technology is that suddenly broadcasters
and audiences alike are freed from their analogue straitjackets. At
the BBC, it means that we no longer have to corral all available listeners
into five national radio options plus a local radio option.
half of all radio listening in the UK is to BBC stations - local and
national. However, we have long been aware that while we offer an excellent
service to many people in the UK, there are many licence fee payers
whom we underserve, notably young people and ethnic minorities.
little or no relationship with BBC Radio and we wanted to use digital
as an opportunity to change that. In developing the five new digital
stations that we launched in 2002, we aimed to reach some of those underserved
audiences as well as our heartland and, in so doing, release more value
from licence fee payers' investment in radio sports rights and our world
famous archives of music and speech programmes.
launch in February last year was Five Live Sports Extra,
a part-hours overspill service that can offer uninterrupted or additional
commentary on sporting events when Radio Five Live, our existing news
and sport station, cannot.
followed in spring by 6 Music, the BBC's first new
music station in thirty-two years. It is a showcase for the gems of
the BBC's popular music archive, with opinionated presenters breathing
new life into them and juxtaposing them with the influential music and
musicians of today and tomorrow.
a cutting edge black music and speech station for a young, multi-ethnic
audience, was born in the summer and in autumn, it was the turn of the
Asian Network. Our regional service became a national
one, offering music, news and speech to a young British Asian audience.
time for Christmas came BBC7, packed with a wealth
of archived comedy, drama, readings and serials - and providing a home
for children's programmes. It was an instant listener success and has
already scooped its first prestigious Sony award.
of you who are visiting the UK, if you would like to find out more about
this content, please do speak to BBC Radio International, the hosts
of this evening's reception.
The five new stations double the BBC's portfolio of national stations
to ten at a cost of twenty million pounds – or thirty million
euros every year.
stations are going digital too and we are also able to make the World
Service easily available to a UK audience for the first time.
national stations and the World Service are available on DAB digital
radio, on digital television and the internet so that we can reach the
widest possible audience.
listening? And what does this mean for the future of BBC Radio? Well,
on Thursday, the first set of industry standard audience figures for
our new services is published by RAJAR and we will be able to see what
sort of impact our new services have made.
it to be a modest one – these are very early days. There are no
targets at this stage – these stations need time to find their
voices, to grow their production and presentation talent, to build –
and build an understanding of – their audiences.
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.
we have tried to do that is by investing in marketing. Our investment
in content would be squandered otherwise. As well as dedicated campaigns
on television, radio and the internet for the individual services, in
the summer, we ran a campaign promoting digital radio via our portfolio
of new services.
from potential DAB digital radio consumers has been very encouraging
and retailers have reported dramatically increased set sales in the
month during and after the campaign.
Christmas, we will run an even bigger cross-media campaign and we hope
that by the end of the year, around three hundred and fifty thousand
sets will have been sold.
of new radio services available is the main reason cited by digital
radio buyers for their purchase. In a recent joint industry survey,
one in five purchasers actually cited BBC7 as the reason for their purchase.
audiences our new services achieve come Thursday, they will be many
times greater than those envisaged when the stations were in development.
Then we were prepared for audiences of a few thousand in the early years
– but 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 those original expectations
by a huge margin.
for what this means for BBC Radio – well, it's not just the BBC
which has seen the enormous potential of increasing listener choice.
in commercial radio have also launched a plethora of national and local
services, across a range of genres.
seen new brands come to the airwaves – seizing the opportunity
for established brands, such as music magazines, to translate to radio;
or enabling successful local brands to find a new national audience;
or inspiring the creation of entirely new radio brands.
news for the radio industry, radio professionals, advertisers and, most
choice will mean increased competition, of course, and 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.
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.
falling share, we believe that we will still be able to offer something
of value to millions of radio listeners – not just by means of
the quality of our pure radio offering, but also by making use of one
of the other benefits of technology: the ability to enhance the listening
experience for those who want to do so.
as offering choice in the number of stations available to listeners,
we can also offer ways of enhancing that listening experience.
yet effective illustration of this is provided by the text display on
a digital radio set. Suddenly, the pain goes out of tuning. No need
to remember a frequency – you can tune by name. Once you've tuned
in, the text display enables you to find out the name of the programme
that you are listening to, the song that is playing, the guest being
interviewed, the helpline number, the website address – and much
of a blank screen when you tune into BBC Radio on Freeview, the UK's
digital terrestrial TV platform, you see the station branding –
which is particularly important for our new service brands which are
still trying to establish themselves – the website address and
the station strapline.
we added the live text that we produce for digital radio, thus releasing
a wealth of additional information. You can listen to a symphony in
digital quality on Radio 3 and have the score contextualised by real-time
information about what you are hearing. That makes for a richer radio
experience for those who want to take advantage of it.
digital cable platform, where bandwidth is more plentiful than on Freeview,
we are experimenting with offering content reversioned from our radio
summer, we started with Radio 1, offering DJ pictures, webcams, entertainment
news, schedule information and more, including the facility to email
suite of radio websites has set the standard in terms of enhancing the
listener experience. Again, the analogue shackles are off and listeners
can find out more about the programmes, the presenters and the stations.
discuss the music or continue the current affairs debate on the message
boards or in the chat rooms with other listeners – or with the
presenters and guests themselves.
think of a better way to connect with your audience.
always made for a personal relationship between the listener and the
station – now both parties can take that a stage further should
they wish. Listeners can interact with the programmes and the programmes
have a powerful direct line to their listeners.
sometimes it can be all too easy to forget about your audience when
you are wrapped up in making programmes for them – digital technology
of this kind brings you closer to them.
the best examples of listener interaction feed back into radio programmes,
from a music mix to an online short story-writing competition. But listeners
need not be confined even to shaping the output. Now, they can schedule
brings me to control, the third element of radio's digital future that
I want to touch on.
the most exciting – and scary - things we did in BBC Radio last
year was to put the listeners in control of the schedule. The BBC Radio
Player brings together over three hundred programmes from across national
and regional stations along with the World Service and enables listeners
to hear them on the internet for up to a week after they are first broadcast.
can schedule their radio listening around their lives rather than their
lives round their radio listening. They can look for programmes by radio
network or by category of programme, which can introduce them to stations
to which they might not usually listen or of which they may not be aware
– again an important way for us to promote our new radio services.
Player forms a stunning showcase for the wealth of specialist music
and speech content that the BBC makes, releasing better value for money
for our investment by increasing its accessibility to the audience.
cases, we can increase the reach of a programme significantly by offering
this 'on demand' service. For example, Radio 1's iconic dance music
show, Essential Mix, goes out at 2.00am on a Sunday when not all dance
music fans can hear it.
listening to it on demand can increase the reach of Essential Mix by
around thirty per cent – an astonishing figure.
It is not
just a young, technologically confident audience that is taking advantage
of this service, however. Our speech network, Radio 4, can add around
four per cent reach to its comedy programmes and two per cent to The
Archers, its daily drama serial.
Player was launched last summer and in about a year, over a million
programmes were being requested of it every week.
is not the only environment that makes this kind of listener control
possible. Already on the digital satellite television platform, it is
possible to record and store radio – and TV – programmes
on a personal video recorder.
is on the verge of launching a DAB digital radio which allows you to
pause and rewind live radio and provides storage capacity within the
DAB radio may be able to store hours of your favourite radio programmes,
chosen by you to suit your own needs and moods. There is no reason why
audio on demand cannot soon go mobile too.
to give listeners greater control of what they listen to and when can
be a daunting one for organisations such as the BBC, which are used
to scheduling what their listeners hear and when.
will not die – I firmly believe that live, linear radio will retain
a dominant place in the digital future. But audiences are growing to
expect greater choice, flexibility and control in their media consumption
and radio must embrace that.
do we believe we will grow the market and take greater share of media
consumption at those times of day when other media traditionally dominate.
theme is ubiquity. Possibly the greatest strength of radio as a medium
is its ability to slot into the lives of its listeners – from
bedroom to bathroom, on to kitchen and car, in your pocket, in your
will only help that. For instance, in the UK, the average household
has six radios. We all know that. But actually, in millions of households,
overnight that figure has increased. If you have a digital television
– and around half the households in the UK do – then you
also have a seventh radio because you can listen to radio through that
digital TV set.
have a PC with speakers and a soundcard, you have an eighth radio because
you can listen to radio online.
have a mobile phone with an FM receiver in it, that's nine.
of manufacture fall, you could find a DAB chip could be embedded in
all manner of devices – your handheld computer, your mobile phone,
your digital television set top box.
has deliberately taken a multi-platform strategy for our digital radio
development, using the advantages of each platform, be it digital television,
digital radio or the web, to deliver something of value to its listeners.
because we don't mind which platform they listen to us on – just
that they get access to our programmes and brands and the additional
services with which we are able to enhance the listening experience.
recognise that as broadcasters we need to take leadership in driving
the adoption of digital radio by the audience, the market and the industry.
long in the UK, the development of digital radio was trapped in a vicious
circle. Yes, we could see internet listening and digital television
on the horizon but none of us in broadcasting saw these as ways to take
the bulk of radio listening digital.
billion hours a week of radio listening take place in the UK. The vast
majority of those hours take place in the bedroom, the bathroom, the
kitchen, the car and on the move.
and digital television have taken radio listening on to new devices
and into new parts of the home or office where traditionally other activities,
such as television watching or silent work, dominated. They are growing
radio listening in the UK.
order to take those billion hours of listening digital we have recognised
that the only technology capable of delivering the digital transition,
in a way that retains the broadcast model of distribution, is DAB digital
It is a
robust broadcast technology that enables affordable, high volume production
and that can be embedded into a range of devices. It is radio as we
know it – cheap, portable, reliable – only better.
order to drive it and break out of that vicious circle, the UK radio
industry, working together to an extent of which we could never previously
have dreamt, has taken the lead in investing in new stations and programmes,
in infrastructure and in promotion to drive DAB digital radio awareness
have also shown leadership and taken the risk associated with moving
into new market segments. They have produced a range of affordable,
attractive sets in a range of formats, from tuners to pocket radios.
a result of this integrated approach, we believe the corner has been
turned and the 'tipping point' reached for digital radio in the UK.
countries now need to reach this point and other broadcasters, both
public and private, in those countries need to put aside their short-term
competitive differences and join together to secure the future of radio
in their countries.
is to be a coherent digital future for radio in Europe, rather than
a two tier approach, then other European broadcasters need to show the
leadership that the BBC and commercial radio have shown in the UK.
to invest in content as well as infrastructure and accept the risks
to their competitive situation that digital can bring.
and regulators need to enable and incentivise them to do this in the
same way that the UK Government has nurtured digital radio in the UK.
this, they will ensure that radio takes advantage of this opportunity
to revolutionise itself, to build further on its supreme strengths and
ensure that it is as relevant to the audience of tomorrow as it is to
the audience of today.
we can drink to that at the party that follows, hosted by BBC Radio
International – yes, that's the cue for the Happy Hour. See you
there – thank you very much.