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How the industry could be promoting digital radio

Another year, another digital radio promotion on the TV, on radio, online. But how could we promote digital radio even better?

Promoting any new digital radio platform (whether it's DAB, DAB+, Sirius XM, HD Radio, or internet radio) is not a simple matter. Because, by and large, most people don't think they want it.

We don't think we want more choice
A typical listener to AM/FM listens to an average of 2.9 stations every week. Unlike the television world, radio listeners don't crave the concept of "more choice". 86% of radios in the kitchen, and 79% of those in the bedroom, never get retuned. A listener finds a station she's happy with, and sticks with it. And, by definition, a radio listener is not unhappy with the station choice that she makes - because, if she were, she'd no longer be a radio listener.

We don't want better sound quality
Unlike the difference between a widescreen digital TV and a hissy analogue picture, the difference in sound quality between a decent FM signal and a decent DAB one is negligible (and divisive). Most listeners enjoy radio on a small portable unit: mostly either in mono or with stereo speakers positioned so close together it makes no difference. For the vast majority of people, sound quality on their radio is 'good enough'. If it weren't, once more, they'd no longer be listening.

We're happy with our set's looks
Our radio set is not, unlike a television, pride of place in our living room. It's a more personal device - hidden next to the taps in the kitchen, or in our private cocoon of the bedroom. There's no social reason to upgrade it: no fashionable new flat-screen set; indeed, most radio designs haven't changed in fifty years. A wooden box with a speaker looks very much like another wooden box with a speaker.

FM/AM isn't flawed
Crucially, for most radio listeners, there is no 'problem with FM' that can be fixed by upgrading to DAB. If a listener already enjoys BBC Radio 2, Capital FM or KISS, then upgrading to DAB will give her no real additional benefit. She'll get less pirate interference, now-playing information on the screen, and a way of tuning in without needing to remember frequencies: but these are not fixing a massive problem that she has with FM - just a nice incremental improvement. There is no reason for a committed listener to an existing radio station to upgrade to digital.

So.

This is the reason why digital radio is difficult to promote - and, by extension, why the take-up is slow. Because, by and large, there isn't a clear problem that needs fixing.

Digital radio promotion doesn't always get this. From an artful and clever 2011 campaign focusing on a nebulous idea of choice, to this week's new D-Love campaign promising sound quality, portability and the same un-demonstrated 'choice', it's clear to me that we're not, yet, on the right track with digital radio's promotion. Which is a shame: because digital radio is, once people get it, really valued.

And digital (whatever platform) is vital for the future of radio - because once someone gets digital radio, they listen to more radio. Digital Radio now accounts for 31.5% of all radio listening. 45% of people listen to digital radio (on whatever platform) every week. That's nearly half. Digital radio isn't failing - but I think we're not very good at promoting it.

So, how should we promote digital radio?

One of the simplest techniques in advertising a product is to identify a problem that a consumer has, and then help her solve it. These are "problem/solution" framed commercials, and research shows that they work.

There's no doubt that, on purchasing a digital radio, people report that they enjoy the 'improved' sound quality, the choice of stations and the additional information on the screen - as well as the ease of tuning. But this is not a "problem" that they have with their current FM radio, which is leading them to be dissatisfied. These are improvements that they've noticed once purchasing a new device. This post-purchase research is oft used by the digital radio industry to promote digital radio with; yet this research is not helpful as a driver for purchase. Indeed - I'd go further. It doesn't work.

With that in mind: here are a few problems with FM/AM that digital radio can help with:

I love 80s music. How can I hear more?
- Absolute Radio 80s is on-air only on digital radio

I'd really like to listen to the BBC World Service in the car.
- With digital radio, you can get BBC World Service 24/7, wherever you are

Chcę posłuchać czegoś w języku polskim, a nie angielskim.
- PRL 24 is on digital radio in London

There's never any comedy on the radio late at night.
- There is on BBC Radio 4 Extra's comedy zone, every weekday evening from 10pm on digital radio.

Je veux écouter les chansons françaises classiques.
- You'll rather like French Radio London, then - only available on digital radio.

I want stuff my kids can listen to.
- Then you want Fun Kids, only available on digital radio.

I want to hear the Arsenal commentary, not the Spurs game.
- There are additional commentaries from BBC London 94.9, BBC Radio Five Live Sports Extra, and Absolute Radio Extra on digital radio

I wish there was a radio station that played classic rock.
- You'll be wanting Planet Rock, Absolute Classic Rock, or The Arrow - only on digital radio

Let's not promote a nebulous concept of choice, or confuse post-purchase research with reasons to buy. Let's promote positive reasons why the additional choice you get with digital radio is important. The question is whether the industry is brave enough to spend money promoting new entrants (like Fun Kids and PRL 24) rather than their own mainstream stations.

The content on digital radio is great. So, let's promote the content, not the platform.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the 'cry' ad campaign ran in 2009.

Later: Ford Ennals responds

James Cridland is the Managing Director of Media UK, and a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business.
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67 comments

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Recommendations: 0
Peter Nicholls
posted

I want to listen to Five Live in the car, but I find the sound of AM so difficult to listen to and understand. In fact, it gives me a migraine.

Recommendations: 0
Michael Cook
posted

But the problem with selling DAB radio on the promise of Fun Kids, French Radio, PRL or The Arrow is that they’re only available in London.

Unless we’re not selling DAB, but the whole of the category “digital radio”, which is a bit like setting up a campaign to sell “smartphones” or ‘tablets”.

Recommendations: 0
James Cridland
posted

Michael: first, we’re selling digital radio here; but secondly, geo-targeting advertising is not the world’s hardest thing. ;) Thanks for your comments.

Recommendations: 0
James HugoHorton Martin
posted

I’m afraid I’m with Fru. We need to stop ramming it down people’s throats. I have a DAB radio and even I’m not quite sure what extra stuff I benefit from, apart from KISS, Touch FM Coventry in rubbish quality, Absoloute Radio Inset Decade Here and the BBC stuff.

Recommendations: 0
Maco Euan McAleece
posted

I had a DAB in the car but because I live on the South coast I could only get the stations I wanted on top of ‘Beachyhead’, and in the Highlands I got nada.

Totally agree with your point however surely DAB is just one aspect of digital radio!
If I connect my smartphone and use the radioplayer app I can hear 6music in the car. (most of the time)

However for me the car has now become the time for BBC Radio 4 on FM or if I going on a longer journey I load up podcasts.

We should be promoting the variety of ways one can listen to digital radio and why these are different from FM.

Recommendations: 0
Tim Nice
posted

Totally agree with everyhing that James says here, but I was specifically told by the DAB ‘powers that be’, admittedly a couple of years ago, that they wanted to promote the services as a whole and not single out specific services as it would not be fair to the others stakeholders… Perhaps it’s time for a rethink on this one… Anyway a holistic campaign could be devised to highlight every service available in some way – although I suspect that, if the logic of the campaign was clearly laid out, they would agree regardless.

Recommendations: 0
Paul Rayment
posted

The problem is that this should have been sorted almost a decade ago. I listen to digital radio but I don’t use a digital radio, I listen through my iPad, Android Phone or Sky box. This is mostly to Absolute stations but I don’t have an actual radio in the house.

The idea of selling a radio now must be as hard as selling a camera, people already have the means to do all this with the tech they have.

I also agree with the pro London comments, we need local reasons. Saying that, I can’t stand local radio so I don’t think I’d be an easy sell.

Digital Radio is far from dead but digital radios are.

Recommendations: 0
Kevin Hunt
posted

I think you have explained exactly why we don’t need DAB James. More choice – good / less sound quality and coverage – bad. As one who signed the petition to save BBC 6Music, I commented on “how best it might be improved?” by writing, “by putting it on FM”! ( Just try listening to the difference on any hi-fi system or half decent radio, by switching from DAB to FM on any channel, say Radio 3 or 6Music – a huge and improvement in quality and depth of sound.) By all means let us have DAB as an extra, if we must, but let us retain a full service on FM – and we won’t be rendering some 300 million UK radios obsolete ( perhaps 6-10 per household ) which, if portable, also work almost anywhere in the world.)

Recommendations: 0
James Cridland
posted

Hi, Kevin – no, this post is about digital radio on all platforms, not about DAB. 6Music can’t go onto FM because there aren’t the frequencies. That’s the point.

Recommendations: 0
Christopher Woods
posted

Until DAB+ becomes ubiquitous and available across the length and breadth of our country, the already-ubiquitous Internet will always beat digital radio into submission. I can listen to any station in the world online from my smartphone, and it’s more portable than a digital radio. Added bonus: I don’t need to buy a digital radio. (NB: I was a relatively early DAB adopter, I was listening long before BBC 1Xtra started)

The quality of online radio, even a 128kbps MP3 stream, is usually far better than equivalent 128kbps MP2 stream on DAB. That’s if the station even deigns to pay for a 128kbps slice of bandwidth… My favourite online stations are either 192kbps / VBR Ogg or at least 128kbps AAC (Beeb). Realtime metadata, enhanced goodies like Listen Again and a better soundsystem on my PC (where 95% of my listening is done) than on my FM radio, what’s not to prefer?

The only issue remaining with online radio is the unicast nature of IPv4. IPv6’s multicast functionality will help alleviate that (and may also bring an end to unsynchronised streams on multiple devices to deliver a more FM-like synchronicity for the pips!), but we’re not running short of internet bandwidth any time soon. DAB bandwidth is a notably finite resource which still appears to be grossly overpriced given the cap. ex. involved in running the network. I couldn’t believe it when I found out that the DAB infrastructure and standard doesn’t have an easily implementable upgrade path either, all those receivers set to become obsolete when we (finally) adopt DAB+... I stopped recommending people buy DAB radios several years ago when 3G and smartphones began to gain traction, I saw what was on the horizon and it seemed (still does) like a much better way forward.

DAB needs to be taken round the back of the shed and put out of its misery, then we can start fresh. Heavily rebate people who have DAB receivers, take the hit now and establish a strong userbase with OTA (or USB) upgradeable receivers that become an investment instead of a simple ‘thing’ festering on the kitchen windowsill. Get people cherishing their sets again (and give them the quality they deserve, for when they decide to plug big speakers into their little receivers) and that sense of investment will in time be transferred to the network and the stations. At present it’s still far too impersonal with little obvious benefit.

Public humiliation sidenote: Absolute Radio streams in beautiful Ogg FLAC but makes a mockery of the entire process with their shoddy processing, adding horrible harmonic distortion to the broadcast feed (that trick works for FM but it’s just horrible when your frequency response is up to 20 khz). Absolute’s been off my listening list for a while now because of that.

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