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Economy Crashes, Digital Radio Keeps Going

Woolworths New Malden the Last Days (cc) Fred Dawson @ flickr

The DRDB has released Christmas 2008 sales figures for DAB Digital Radio, and I think they tell a remarkable and positive story.

Obviously, if you were a bit bitter or a bit cynical, you’d focus on the fact that growth slowed down in 2008, and that “only” 2.08m Digital Radios were sold in 2008, rather than the target of 2.6m which was set in January 2008

I think they’re remarkable numbers.

Since January 2008, the bottom has fallen out of the world’s economy. I’d love to know of any comparable sector that has achieved its annual sales figures set “pre-crash”. People are losing their jobs, and even if they’re not losing their jobs, they’re reining in their spending to be on the safe side. Consumer electronics, as a sector, is down 5% in value (year on year), despite a slew of “must-have” gadgets.

But amidst the economic turmoil, the uncertainty, and the cutbacks, people are still buying radios – digital radios. 510,000 sets in the run-up to Christmas, and by all accounts, catching some retailers unaware. The sector shrank 5%, but DAB sales grew by 3%. That’s not a blip, that’s bucking the trend.

It’s interesting, because 2008 couldn’t have been a worse year in Medialand for DAB. The headlines have been dominated with sad, bad, and depressing stories on the fate of DAB. It’s been a struggle to find the shafts of sunlight.

Some of the DAB turmoil has been felt in the real world too. theJazz and a number of other stations disappeared off the dial. FUN Kids had to drop its coverage on DAB outside of London after being disposed of by GCap. Planet Rock’s future was uncertain, also when GCap announced its disposal. More and more voices were heard extolling the virtue of connected radios.

I hope that 2008 was DAB’s Annus Horribils, and that 2009 will mark the starting point of a new phase of DAB in the UK (of which more as soon as I find out what I can talk about publicly). There’s no doubt that whatever sales predictions were created for 2009 will need revising in the light of the current economic situation, and it will be miraculous if we manage to beat 2008’s numbers in 2009.

But maybe this is the point where we see that DAB is resilient, and something that consumers really want to have in their lives.

Photo: Woolworths New Malden the Last Days (CC) Fred Dawson @ flickr

An E-mail to Which?

Query (CC) amortize @ flickr

I wrote this e-mail on Saturday 24th January, to the editor of the Which? website. Which? is the UK’s consumer champion.

Dear Sir / Madam,

I would like to raise an issue with the article on your website entitled “In Store Sales of DAB Radio Could Be Misleading“.

I fear that you have been the victim of a scare campaign, orchestrated by one or two people.

It is true that some stores have had boosters installed to provide a good quality signal to DAB radios on display, but that should be framed within a context that virtually all electrical goods stores provide specific “repeated” signals for Televisions (and in Car Audio shops, for FM Radios too). In particular, you will find that all Digital TVs and Set Top Boxes are connected to cables and boosters from an external antenna. Therefore it seems unreasonable to say that sales of DAB could be misleading; the same is equally true of Digital TV, and I’m sure you will remember that there were issues with this a few years ago.

Electrical retailers tend to be based in metal-skinned buildings, creating what’s known as a Faraday Cage effect – which cuts off all radio and tv signals. It is therefore a necessity to bring signals in through repeaters for any radio or TV device to work at all.

The Radio Industry provides a very reliable “postcode checker” for coverage, at www.getdigitalradio.com – which you have failed to mention, presumably because the person or people who “tipped you off” about this story didn’t see fit to tell you the whole story. In addition, I am not aware of any retailer or manufacturer who has refused to take a return (of a properly boxed device) if the consumer subsequently finds they have inadequate reception.

I am disappointed that you don’t seem to have checked these facts with anyone from the industry representative bodies, and may I suggest that you contact (-) at the DRDB on (-) to get a more balanced view. I look forward to seeing an amendment to the article imminently.

Regards

Nick Piggott

I’ll leave you to find the offending blog article for yourselves, as they aren’t worthy of linking to.

Update – 26th January

The Which? website has been updated today to include a response from the DRDB, which does now include reference to the postcode checker, and explains why it is that some retailers need to have repeaters to get signals into the building. Well done Which? for updating so promptly.

Photo: Query (CC) Amortize @ flickr