feature: digital radio Well, that all sounds very logical. However,

broadcasters are very nervous about committing to an analogue switch off and some, the BBC for example, are firmly against setting a date for a move away from FM distribution. There is one key motivation behind this reluctance to archive FM and that is the fear that the listeners that currently consume their content via FM or AM will fail to follow the services onto a digital platform, resulting in broadcasters losing listeners, market share and, for commercial broadcasters, advertising revenue. Broadcasters accept an inevitable shift to digital platforms, and recognise the threat to their audience loyalty from alternative audio content and services, all of which are delivered digitally of course. The uncertainty lies in how to migrate listeners from old to new platforms without losing listeners to the breadth of competition who also use the digital platforms to distribute their alternative content and services. This reluctance to commit to a roadmap

for migration, and uncertainty as to what UK radio will look like in 5 years’ time and beyond is impacting negatively on the health of radio device sales, much to the frustration of device manufacturers and channel partners who rely on a clear consumer story relating to future services and technology from which to sell consumer electronics. Without such a story, consumers will stick with their current radios, ignoring the radio category in preference to new technology offerings such as smart speakers and connected audio devices. UK penetration of digital radio devices is high; over 27 million radios have been sold and 14m cars are now equipped with a digital receiver. GFK sell-out data shows that traditional radio

device sales remain in volume decline, circa 10% each year, as they have for several years. There also remain around two million sales a year of devices that contain only analogue radio receivers, clock radios being a prime category. That is significantly greater that the 1.2 million digital radio devices sold annually. Continually pushing analogue only devices onto the market is hardly likely to encourage Government to push through a decision on analogue switch off if they fear listeners (voters) will have devices that they have only recently purchased rendered obsolete due to a Government backed decision. Of course, you no longer need to purchase a

dedicated radio device to receive radio stations. Increasingly listeners are using smartphones and smart speakers to listen to radio via Apps. 26% of UK adults now own a voice activated speaker device and three quarters of them use the device to listen to live radio.

Reluctance to commit

to a roadmap for migration, and uncertainty as to what UK radio will look like in 5 years’ time and beyond, is impacting negatively on the health of radio device sales

The radio industry has reached a crossroads and decisions need to be made which will shape the future of radio in the UK. Failure to reach a consensus on a way forward is likely to further erode UK radio’s share of listening. Device manufacturers are now moving their focus away from radio-based devices to focus on categories with growing revenue streams, streaming based Bluetooth enabled speaker devices being one such example. Retailers are reducing the shelf space allocated to radios as the revenue and margin return continues to fall. Car manufacturers are moving to integrated audio interfaces where radio is just part of, as opposed to the primary feature of, in-car entertainment. And new audio music streaming services and the growth of podcast content is tempting us all away from previous habits of turning to radio stations as our first choice for audio entertainment. There is a belief from all within the radio

industry that the future can look bright for UK radio. Listeners continue to love radio and live radio stations remain our No.1 choice for music or speech-based content at home, or on the move. What the industry needs to do, is come together and agree how to shape the future of UK radio, how to distribute the content in a way that maximises reach and distribution efficiency and how to create and promote messaging that keeps radio at the forefront of listeners’ minds.

There is a belief from

all within the radio industry that the future can look bright for UK radio

UK Government promised to lead a review on the future of UK radio once digital listening passed the 50% share of all listening milestone. This target was breached back in May 2018, and industry stakeholders, including techUK, immediately called upon the Government to act upon its commitment and set up a radio review. Government have been slow to act, perhaps not surprising seeing how politics has been all consumed with a single-issue agenda

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for the past three years. However, at last we are making progress. Back in April, the then DCMS Digital Minister, Margot James MP, agreed that the review process would start. Led by the Department of Culture Media and Sport and involving stakeholders across all sectors of the radio industry, a radio and audio review project has now started. The project is likely to run for 12 months and will focus on a number of key topics that will shape the future landscape. Workstreams will cover listener attitudes and requirements, future network and coverage, technology and automotive. A cross industry steering group will provide oversight across the workstreams and support a cohesive set of outputs and recommendations at the end of the process. The overall objective of the review is to set a strategy and execution that can support and encourage a vibrant future for UK radio within the ever changing audio landscape and set in place concrete actions that can support the health of all sectors that support radio, including those the manufacturer and distribute radio and audio devices. techUK will be a key member of this review,

focussing primarily on the technology and automotive workstream, as well as supporting the steering board. Our objective is to represent the interests of listeners through our radio and audio manufacturing members and their channel partners. We have set our vision of what needs to happen to ensure a vibrant radio future as follows: Delivering a listener first approach that can

deliver a digital migration from analogue to digital, within a foreseeable timescale. We should be focussed on: • Building a defensible position for UK radio versus the global growth of streaming radio and audio services.

• Guaranteeing/protecting future choice for all UKL radio listeners.

• Delivering value for money and a return on investment for the UK radio industry and UK licence fee payers.

• Retaining UK manufacturing, technology leadership and investment in radio. A consideration of an analogue switch off must be part of this review. We may not conclude when that should happen, but we must at least understand under what conditions it could happen, and what needs to be delivered to allow broadcasters to be comfortable in signing up to a timetable that leads to a digital migration. A vibrant and strong radio sector benefits

all of us, as listeners and as stakeholders within the industry. Radio has been a core part of our lives for generations. Let’s not fail to grasp the opportunity to protect it for future generations.

September 2019

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