The next DAB hand at digital radio?

27/03/2015

According to the latest RAJAR results, half of all UK adults live in a household with a DAB radio set, accounting for a quarter of all radio listening (up 6% YoY). Beyond the home, the UK is at the forefront of in-car DAB, with 60% of new cars having DAB installed as standard, according to a survey from WorldDMB. Against this backdrop of increasing uptake of DAB, the battle to secure the second commercial digital radio national multiplex* has intensified, with Ofcom now deliberating between two rival bids.

The original DAB multiplex is at full capacity, broadcasting 14 digital stations including household radio brands such as Absolute 80s, Magic, LBC and talkSPORT. The question of providing listeners with greater choice via a new national commercial DAB multiplex first reared its head back in 2008 when Channel 4 won, and subsequently returned, the license. It simultaneously closed its three digital radio services, E4 Radio, Channel 4 Radio and Pure 4, thus formally bowing out of the DAB race. When Ofcom re-launched the bid for second commercial DAB multiplex last year, two consortium opponents emerged to vie for the license – Sound Digital and Listen2Digital.

Sound Digital is a joint venture between Arqiva (the owner of the existing D1 multiplex), Bauer and UTV and they propose using the multiplex for 15 digital-only stations, six of which will be new stations, mostly extensions of existing radio brands. The proposed new stations are talkRADIO, talkSPORT 2, talkBUSINESS (all from the talkSPORT stable), Magic Mellow (a new sister station to Magic), British Muslim Radio and the re-launch of Virgin Radio.

Listen2Digital is owned by Orion Media and a number of partners and it proposes using the new multiplex to transmit 18 stations, none of which would be new but would extend the reach of regional or niche stations such as Chris Country, Gaydio and Gem 106, as well as a number of confidential stations. Listen2Digital positions itself as a champion for new entrants into the digital radio market.

All parties involved see the establishment of a new DAB multiplex as a key opportunity for the UK’s digital radio sector. Its creation promises a platform for fresh and innovative programming, providing listeners with greater choice which should ultimately drive incremental uptake of DAB listening. Regardless of who comes out victorious in the battle and secures the license, more DAB stations will open up new opportunities to target listeners nationally for advertisers alongside a more diverse range of content.

This morning saw Ofcom announce that Sound Digital had won the battle because of its technical roll out plan, confirmed station line-up and ability to cross promote DAB on analogue radio. Ford Ennals, CEO of Digital Radio UK, said: “The award of the second national commercial DAB network to Sound Digital is a defining moment for digital radio and an unprecedented expansion, which will more than double the number of national commercial stations on DAB.” The multiplex will launch within 12 months and will spend £15m promoting DAB over the first six years.

*Radio multiplex: A discrete portion of the airwaves needed to broadcast radio stations

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