Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, has told the UK radio industry that the Government fully supports the long-term transition to a digital future, but is not yet in a position to announce dates for a final switchover to digital radio. Vaizey plans to say more on the matter towards the end of the year.
Addressing the RadioCentre conference in London, Vaizey note that half of the world’s digital radio consumer sales take place in the UK. “Commercial radio alone reaches over 34 million people every week. Last year the sector generated revenues of almost half a billion pounds. Not bad for a medium that was declared dead just five years ago,” he observed.
“WHAT you broadcast isn’t the only thing that matters. Constantly evolving technology means that HOW you broadcast is also more important than ever,” he told delegates.
“In December, I said that it was not yet time to announce dates for a final switchover to digital radio but that we fully supported the long-term transition to a digital future. However, I am very much aware that FM and AM licences rolled over under the 2010 Digital Economy Act will start to come up for renewal at the end of 2017, and that Ofcom has no power to extend them further,” he advised.
“I am sympathetic to this issue and appreciate the long-term worries it is causing the sector. I can assure you that this is something that is very much on my radar. I have asked my officials to make this issue a priority over the coming months and plan to say more on this question towards the end of the year,” he confirmed.
Vaizey said he still wanted to keep up momentum on digital and had been working closely with Ford Ennals, CEO of Digital Radio UK and having monthly progress meetings. “So for example, my department has given OFCOM £500,000 for the Small-Scale DAB programme. This will test simple, cost-effective, small-scale applications of DAB. I want to see them deliver new ways to provide small commercial stations with a route to DAB.”
He noted that OFCOM had held its first stakeholder event to discuss the matter, with the regulator making it clear that the success – or otherwise – of the project would ultimately be dependent on gaining industry participation
He drew attention to the fact that OFCOM had advertised the licence for the second national commercial multiplex, D2, which .would double the amount of national capacity available to commercial radio, creating more capacity for new national services, and also open the way to the first DAB+ services, and reported “good news” on the coverage front.
“Thanks to the commitment of the Government, the BBC and commercial radio, another 4.3 million households will be able to tune in to DAB by end of 2016. That’ll take the coverage from 72 per cent of homes to around 90 per cent – and also bring almost 6,000 miles of roads under the DAB umbrella I hope that final details the plans will be announced in the next few weeks,” he advised.
He concluded by saying that he didn’t doubt that the entrepreneurial spirit that had underpinned digital radio’s success would continue to serve the sector well, allowing commercial radio to rise to the challenges presented by digital technology and to seize the opportunities it offers. “Be in no doubt momentum continues to be made toward digital through greater coverage, the work of the car industry, the announcement on D2 and progress on small scale DAB. We are still working toward a digital future,” he asserted.