The remaining partners in the 4 Digital radio consortium have held emergency talks following the exit of majority shareholder Channel 4, but the future of their proposed digital radio services looks bleak.
At least six of the 4 Digital group’s proposed 10 new national radio stations will now not launch, including the three Channel 4-branded stations, with serious doubts over the future of the remaining four.
4 Digital, BSkyB, Bauer, TalkSport parent UTV, UBC Media and Carphone Warehouse are discussing their options. BSkyB said it was “unlikely” to find the new partner it required to launch Sky News Radio. Bauer Radio is understood to have its plans for a digital radio spin-off of its successful women’s magazine, Closer, on hold. None of the three Channel 4-branded stations – Channel 4 Radio, E4 Radio and Pure4 – will launch following the broadcaster’s decision to pull the plug on its entire radio project last week. Three other proposed stations had already been withdrawn.
One reported possibility is the BBC could play an expanded role in the future provision of digital radio, akin to its role in resuscitating the ailing digital terrestrial TV platform. Following Channel 4’s withdrawal from digital radio, it is thought that BBC radio chief Tim Davie has been approached by commercial radio
As well as operating a DAB multiplex, the BBC also operates five DAB-only stations, plus its main analogue stations on DAB. Meanwhile, there is only one DAB-only commercial national station in existence: Planet Rock.
Tony Moretta, chief executive of the Digital Radio Development Bureau, said: “I know the BBC wants to launch more interactive radio services, so it could move one or two of its services from its own national multiplex to one of the commercial ones [Digital One or Digital Two], which would free up some slots for its interactive plans.”