At Folder Media, digital radio is a big part of our business. We created, and now manage the MuxCo network of multiplexes as well as working with UTV on the management of their network. We run a digital radio station – Fun Kids. We have also worked with lots of different digital radio operators – Planet Rock, Jazz FM and many more – on a variety of projects.
The nature of the sector is very different to seven years ago when we set up the company. With stations like Fun Kids profitable enterprises, more and more operators want to get involved with digital radio. On our MuxCo network we’re really pleased that we’ve got the non-heritage commercial broadcasters on board – stations like Dee 106.3 with Dee on DAB and Sunshine Radio, but also now new entrants too. We’ve worked with stations like Redstone FM in Surrey and South London and Wirral Radio on Wrexham, Chester and Liverpool to find ways to get them on-air. Over the next six months they’ll be more stations like these joining our networks as well as three new multiplexes in Somerset, North Yorkshire and North Wales going on-air too.
One of the questions we’ve been getting from potential new service providers is the viability of launching stations in DAB+. The benefit of DAB+ is that you can squeeze in good audio quality in less space. This means that something that was 128kbit/s in DAB could sound similar broadcast at 48kbit/s or 64kbit/s with DAB+. As capacity on digital radio is charged on how much you use, this would seemingly reduce costs for new operators. However, one of the issues is that most of the legacy digital radios ,those old Evokes you’ve got in your kitchen next to your best vacuum sealers, don’t pick up this new flavour of DAB. So, your costs might be lower, but so is your potential audience.
At the moment around 20m digital radios have been sold. Of that, we believe that 3m are DAB+ compatible.
Looking at the number of radios that will be sold this year – 2million, we’d expect nearly all of the in-car sets to be DAB+ compatible as well as the vast majority of radios from Pure and Roberts. So let’s say we’ll be adding 1.5m new DAB+ sets this year.
Overall, to us, it seems that DAB+ is likely to be a good option for broadcasters, but perhaps not for a little while. Unless, that is, a multiplex only has a very small amount of space left and someone’s very keen to get on. However, as a manager of multiplexes we need to be ready to accept stations that want to broadcast that way.
Whilst DAB+ is in operation in many countries – including Australia and Germany – there has only been a small amount of testing in the UK. We’ve decided to do some real world testing from now until the end of the year.
This morning we started the broadcast of our children’s radio station, Fun Kids, in DAB+ (initially 64kbit/s) on our Wrexham, Chester and Liverpool multiplex. This multiplex has one of the most advanced multiplexers in the UK and is able to cope easily with the broadcast of both DAB and DAB+ alongside each other. We thank our partners in the multiplex and out transmission provider VDL with their support for this test.
Our aims of the test are three-fold:
- To measure listener response to the service – do people pick it up, what radios are they listening on etc. We’ll look at people who ‘find’ the station, but we’ll also talk to Fun Kids’ listeners in the area through the station’s mailing lists.
- To observe whether there are implications of running DAB/DAB+ services alongside each other
- To observe any reception differences between DAB and DAB+ services, particularly in marginal areas.
If you’re in the Wrexham, Chester and Liverpool area – have a look on your radio for FunKids+ – and tell us what you think. My email address is email@example.com.
The over-arching reason for the test comes back to how we feel about digital radio at Folder Media. We’re still as excited about digital radio as we were when we set up the company. We think it’s great that listeners now get more choice from many different platforms – whether that’s DAB, the internet, mobile or digital television. In the UK our radio listening figures are holding up because of the variety of content from the BBC, commercial radio and community radio and that stations make it available on lots of different platforms.
We continue to be big believers in DAB because it’s the easiest way for new radio stations to reach large numbers of people. At Folder, we’ll continue to find new ways to make it easier for radio stations to reach all of these listeners and things like this DAB+ test will increase our knowledge that we can share with the rest of the industry.