dab digital radio

4Radio – expectations are high

Channel 4 have been awarded the licence to operate the UK’s 2nd national commercial radio multiplex. Their application was overflowing with enthusiasm and new ideas for DAB Digital Radio, and now the expectation is high that they’ll inject a timely new impetus to DAB uptake.

I’m hoping that they’ll follow through on the promises in the application to develop services that will take advantage of the wider range of DAB functionality, rather than simply migrating an analogue radio experience onto a digital platform. Their E4 radio service is the perfect platform to develop a youth-orientated media offering, centred on radio, but exploiting technology to create a new kind of audio interactive experience. It’s the kind of thing I was hoping Core would be able to do, but DigitalOne have shown markedly less enthusiasm for allowing their service providers to innovate and deliver new ideas. The DigitalOne approach was to launch a mobile TV service (BT Movio) in an attempt to create a trojan horse to get DAB digital radio into mobile phones. Time will show whether or not that was a gamble that will pay off.

If 4Radio can work closely with smart radio producers, and innovative device manufacturers (like iRiver and their B20 device), it could be exactly the kind of service mix that will spark interest in younger people, and MP3 manufacturers, and ultimately lead to a growth in mobile DAB listening and mobile DAB delivered data services. (I note from their application that they’re planning to build a very substantial transmission network which should offer the best mobile DAB coverage we’ve experienced so far).

There were good elements to National Grid Wireless’ bid, and they should be commended. Their openess in positioning themselves as a neutral enabler, encouraging innovation with their service proviers, is in stark contrast to DigitalOne’s position of retaining very tight control over their multiplex. I suspect there is the potential for some of those control elements in the 4Radio business too, and I feverently hope that Nathalie Schwarz and her team have listened to the frustrations that exist in the DAB industry and will allow innovation to come from the service providers.

The other good element to NGW bid was their proposal to move the BBC Asian Network from the BBC National Multiplex, in order to free up capacity. Whilst no doubt there would be a wailing moan from a small number of people about improving audio quality, I rather think the BBC could have done some rather interesting new media things on DAB, particularly for BBC Radio 1. I hope they find a way of doing that still.

4Radio has the potential to be a catalysing element for the next stage of development of DAB Digital Radio, and for the ongoing growth of DAB, that potential must be realised to the full.

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