The radio digital switch-over – a marathon not a sprint


Daniel Todaro, managing director of Gekko, takes a look at the challenges ahead as the nation prepares for the digital radio switch-over – from public awareness campaigns, to ensuring the auto-mobile industry is backing the plan.

In late 2012 the Government announced its commitment to turning off the FM signal. They have also insisted that the analogue switch-off would not happen until digital listening reached 50%; slightly delaying the process from the original expectations to beyond the 2015 target date.

Nevertheless, the benefits of DAB have been compared to the switch over from AM to FM as the preferred medium; digital radio offers greater choice to the listener with better reception and superior sound quality. From the public’s perspective, reactions have ranged from sheer embrace, indifference to outright resistance with the digital listening figure currently standing at 31.3%.

However, even though the move away from FM signal is proving a slower process than anticipated, Digital Radio UK has gone to great effort to get the ball rolling with a national communications campaign to boost public awareness. Now with government backing, the switch-over will no doubt prove a success.

It can be argued that the slow response from the public towards the radio switch-over is down to the fact that people simply don’t quite ‘get’ digital radio. However, given the learnings of the TV switch-over, this isn’t such a difficult obstacle to overcome for DAB.

People didn’t understand the TV process either; at first many viewers questioned why anyone would need more than five channels and was their television really not going to work after the change?

But through teams of highly trained specialists offering in-store advice and demonstrations, experts manning a call centre for extra support, and a national marketing campaign, the public were able to understand and embrace the process successfully.

‘D Love’, the digital radio ads airing currently on the BBC, aim to follow in the same footsteps as many the mascots which advocated new services to TV viewers, such as Digit Al and ITV digital’s ‘monkey’. Executing this campaign undoubtedly has got the ball rolling to spread information about the radio switch-over.

It’s vital to have an advertising and marketing campaign in 2013 to reach as many radio listeners as possible, educating them about the imminent changes ahead. This also applies to brands that can also push the cause forward. For example, radio manufacturers and retailers also need to be encouraged to champion the switch-over and aid that point of realisation amongst the public, underpinned by the D Love character and messaging.

Automotive marques have a large opportunity here too in getting on board early with the digital switch-over. It was recently announced that BMW is to now offer DAB radio as standard across its entire range from January 2013.

The car manufacturer is also offering owners of older BMWs the chance to upgrade their vehicles with a new digital radio. It cannot be understated what a significant move this is for the digital radio switch-over movement considering the previous reluctance of brands to drive the switch-over campaign; largely due to a fear of alienating consumers.

To have BMW on board at this early stage is a serious coup for Digital Radio UK and its senior marketers, who surely played a crucial role in recruiting the car-maker. This move will further promote digital radio and potentially drive a whole generation of car owners that will only know DAB, in turn applying the technology to their homes.

The triumph of the TV switch-over proves that while change is unsettling and the outcome unknown, in this context it’s a positive and proves that the public can embrace new systems if correctly guided. Yes, some people don’t like change, but the radio switch-over will successfully take place when more than the 31.3% listening figure exceeds 50%; this is evident after the slow insistence to adapt to digital TV. Today people can’t get enough of pausing and rewinding shows, on demand, and even 3D TV.

Through effective advertising, shop floor training and raising public awareness, we can say from previous experience with the TV switch-over that the model works. And so, with a renewed emphasis and investment from the authorities, the digital radio switch-over can be galvanised into further action to push DAB radio forward for a successful switch-over ahead of the planned 2015 deadline.

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