Is DAB still the future for radio? No, it’s the present – and history is repeating itself


It seems a long time since 2009, when Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report proposed a target of 2015 for phasing out the radio analogue transmission network. Disappointingly, this was dropped following a back-lash from sections of the industry in the Digital Economy Bill later that year. For a long time, resistance has varied from anger to plain apathy; to the point where many questioned whether DAB would ever achieve ubiquitous adoption before it was usurped by other technology.

Last week, the first digital radio switchover pilot concluded; a six week project in Bath, overseen by the DCMS. With 237 households switched to DAB, a staggering 92 per cent were highly satisfied, 80 per cent preferred it to analogue and 86 per cent would recommend it to another person. So what has changed?

The parallels that can be drawn between the current digital radio switchover campaign and the Digital TV version at the turn of the century are eerily close. It’s difficult now to even fathom a time without HD TV, let a time when analogue was the norm, but the sentiment at the time was identical. In fact, there was a digital TV household research pilot conducted 10 years ago in Bolton, prior to digital TV switchover, just like in Bath, with similar results.

What’s most fascinating about the pilot scheme is that when asked about the event of a radio switchover, respondents said they needed to know more about costs and how to convert their car. The respondents also recommended that Government should provide information about digital radio and the switchover, similar to communications they had seen about the digital TV switchover.

It appears that Ford Ennals has worked his magic for the second time, and therein lies the key to a successful switch: education and collaboration.

Momentum has slowly been built on multiple fronts in order to push the cause forward. Digital mascot, D Love (pictured) was introduced at the start of the year and we’re now entering the second phase of ATL activity, featuring specialised targeted communications linked to calendar hooks such as Fathers Day and the summer holidays to further build positive sentiment amongst listeners. In addition, Ennals has scored one major coup after another by recruiting Ford, Volkswagen, BMW, Audi, Mini and now Volvo to all fit DAB radios as standard.

Major media owners including Global Radio, the BBC, Bauer Media and Absolute Radio have all have come out in clear, strong support of DAB radio too. With a new TV campaign imminent and digital radio guides also being supplied to retailers such as John Lewis, the official switchover is legitimately imminent.

As called for by the Bath pilot participants, the next step is teams of trained specialists deployed to offer in-store advice and demonstrations, experts manning a call centre and a full national marketing campaign to ensure the public fully understand and fully embrace the process, much like the TV switchover before them.

Change can be a difficult proposition, particularly when the initial perception is that the benefits do not justify the inconvenience. But when managed properly, utilising effective marketing techniques to make that transition as agreeable as possible, anything can be achieved.

Daniel Todaro is managing director of Gekko.

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