Why remaining on FM is more expensive than building DAB+ from scratch
By Gunnar Garfors - posted . See all Gunnar Garfors's articles
Building a brand new DAB+ transmission network to replace FM actually saves broadcasters money, says Gunnar Garfors.
They are wrong.
They forget to take into account that it costs a lot of money to run an FM network. You can build it, but it will not run for free. Far from it. An FM network costs more to run than a DAB+ network, a lot more if you want a selection of channels. FM needs one transmitter for every radio station while one DAB+ transmitter can broadcast up to 20 radio stations.
A real life exampleI'll give an example, using figures from Norway, where FM will be switched off in January 2017. Digital radio via DAB/DAB+ is already in place covering more than 80% of the population. By the end of 2014, DAB+ will cover more than 99.5% of the population with almost 20 radio stations. Only one radio station, the NRK's P1, currently covers the same amount of people.
FM nowLet's say that to transmit the NRK radio stations on FM costs 1,000 kr a year (the real figure is many thousand times higher). For this 1,000 kr, NRK gets one station (P1) to 99.5% of the people while P2 reaches 99% and P3 reaches 95%. Two additional radio stations (NRK mP3 and NRK Always News) reach 30% of the population and only those in the biggest cities.
FM upgrades needed if not phased outTo keep it broadcasting, the FM transmission network needs a total makeover if it was to be continued past 2016. The price would then increase to 1,400 kr per year from 2015. This is a cost that is almost always forgotten by those not in favour of going digital.
DAB/DAB+ nowTo transmit up to 20 radio stations (NRK still has not decided exactly how many radio stations they will offer) to 99.5% of the people in 2015 will cost 1,030 kr. That's only 3% more than FM now, but with up to 300% more stations and all those stations to everyone.
Given the maintenance required, this is 36% cheaper than if staying on FM! And I repeat, with DAB everyone gets the same stations, and many more so than with FM. Much more democratic and much more friendly to those living in the countryside.
Double distributionOf course you will also have to take into account double distribution, of both FM and DAB/DAB+. The FM costs will be the same as mentioned above, although somewhat reduced the last two years as it is being phased out, saving 1,400 kr as opposed to continuing with FM only. NRK currently has 15 radio stations that reaches over 80% of the population via DAB (coverage increases monthly and will reach 90% by the end of 2013 and 99.5% by the end of 2014).
To transmit DAB in addition to FM costs an equivalent of 250 kr in 2012, 600 kr in 2013 and 870 kr in 2014 (before reaching 1,030 kr per year from 2015). This additional cost of DAB for the five years of 2012, 2013, 204, 2015 and 2016 adds up to 3,780 kr. NRK will however save 1,400 kr in the same period on FM as it is being phased out. The real extra cost of double distribution for those five years is therefore 2,380 kr.
As DAB (1,030 kr per year) is cheaper than an upgraded FM (1,400 kr per year), NRK will start seeing savings by 2017, while the accumulated costs will be lower five and a half years later, in June 2022 - with a much more modern network, with many more stations to everyone. And modern radio that can handle parallel and additional services too. Both NRK and the listeners win.
Governmental reassurance is neededOf course, NRK could not gamble on increasing DAB coverage to 99.5% unless the Norwegian government had actually decided to switch off FM in January 2017 (they decided to do so in May 2011). That decision made it possible for NRK to plan how to manage its distribution costs in order to give a much better offering to its audiences. Governments and broadcasters in other countries may find a useful lesson in the Norwegian example.
Work together and save moreWhat if you do not need up to 20 radio stations? Well, work with someone and cut your costs in half or less! Again, with FM, you will need one transmitter for each station, with DAB+ you can have 20 stations per transmitter. If you need 10 stations, work with someone else on the technical distribution and save 50%. If you need fewer stations than that you can save even more. Work together on distribution and technical issues, compete on content. Your costs will go down, your margins will go up.
And no. The internet will not take over for broadcasted radio.
Note: For this example's sake, a price of current FM distribution was set to a notional 1,000 kr per year. All other figures can be seen in relation to this. They are based on NRK figures.
Garfors is CEO of Norwegian Mobile TV Co. (NMTV) and President of International DMB Advancement Group (IDAG), an organization promoting digital radio and mobile TV, with members on 4 continents. He also deals with distribution for Norwegian Broadcasting Corp. (NRK) and often presents or debates at conferences around the world.
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