Minister renews Government support for radio's transition to digital

Margot James MP, Minister for Digital and Creative Industries at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, today urged the radio industry to continue with the outstanding collaboration to support a successful digital radio transition.

The Minister’s comments came via a video message at Drive to Digital 2018: The Future of Radio, a major radio industry conference sponsored by Arqiva, which was held at the British Museum in London, attended by 300 senior executives representing radio broadcasters, radio manufacturers, car manufacturers and retailers.

Margot James, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, said:

“Radio’s transition to digital has helped the medium stay robust and relevant in a digital age, and I’m passionate about ensuring the industry continues to grow and succeed. Now is the time for a strong commitment to a collective vision for the future from the many organisations involved in getting digital radio this far.”

In her video message, the Minister said that Government will need to examine carefully the progress made on digital radio and to work closely with all partners, including the BBC and commercial radio, Arqiva, car manufacturers, the supply chain and listeners. She said that she hoped to be in a position shortly to announce how Government plans to take the work forward.

The message was welcomed by broadcasters and the supply chain, and in a conference panel, senior executives from the UK’s leading radio broadcasters, BBC, Global and Bauer, said that they are fully committed to delivering radio’s digital future and looked forward to working closely with the Government.

Ford Ennals, CEO, Digital Radio UK, said: “Today we’ve heard how the success of digital radio has helped transform UK radio enabling it to be a more robust, relevant and competitive medium than ever. The completion of UK radio’s transition to digital will bring significant benefits for listeners, broadcasters and industry and we welcome the opportunity to collaborate with Government and stakeholders to continue to accelerate digital progress.”

Tom Wrathmell, Head of Radio & Education Strategy, BBC, said: “The move towards digital has allowed radio to thrive and it’s crucial that we continue to innovate to ensure that radio remains accessible and robust. We are committed to a digital future for radio, and in the immediate term we continue to support hybrid delivery of DAB and FM running alongside new IP innovations such as BBC Sounds which brings together live and on-demand radio, music and podcasts into a single personalised app.”

Will Harding, Chief Strategy Officer, Global: “Global continues to invest heavily in digital. We spear-headed the investment to improve coverage of local DAB networks and in the last 5 years we have launched 7 stations onto national digital radio including new digital-only stations such as Heart 80s, Smooth Extra and Heart extra as well as taking LBC, Radio X and Capital XTRA national. DAX, the digital audio exchange we launched in 2014, now gives advertisers access to an audience of 160 million worldwide. Last year we launched the innovative new Global Player, home to all Global’s stations on mobile and connected devices.”

Travis Baxter, Content and External Affairs Consultant, Bauer Media, said: “As we celebrate ten years of Absolute Radio in the same year as also launching the UK’s newest national digital station, Hits Radio, Bauer Media has consistently been a pioneering and innovative force in digital radio content and delivery. We welcome the Government review of next steps and look forward to completing the transition to digital.”

Senior executives from techUK, representing the technology sector, and the SMMT, representing the automotive industry, said that the digital radio review is an important milestone which they hoped would provide an actionable plan to accelerate the transition to digital that the supply chain, radio industry and DCMS can collaborate on.

Elsewhere in the conference agenda, the progress made by digital radio and the achievement of the 50% digital listening threshold was celebrated, with speakers highlighting a series of major innovations and investments in digital radio content and coverage, including the return of Chris Evans to Virgin Radio and the expansion of the Sound Digital DAB network.

Jimmy Buckland, Strategy Director, Wireless, said: “The return of Chris Evans, the biggest name in UK radio, to Virgin Radio, is one of a series of hugely exciting developments for our portfolio of digital radio brands. In recent months we have acquired the exclusive rights of England’s cricket tours of Sri Lanka and West Indies and brought two of the UK’s most popular chat and talk show broadcasters, Matthew Wright and Jeremy Kyle, to talkRADIO. We look forward to continuing to grow and strengthen our proposition through our investments in DAB, digital content and streaming audio services.”

Speaking on behalf of the Sound Digital consortium (Bauer Media, Wireless and Arqiva), Arqiva’s Laurie Patten announced that 19 new transmitters, which will increase coverage of the UK’s second commercial DAB network to 83% of the population from 77%, will be switched on in the coming weeks. This means that almost 4 million more listeners in areas such as Kent, East Anglia and South West England, will be able to listen to Sound Digital’s 19 stations, including Virgin Radio, Planet Rock and Absolute 80s, on DAB digital radio for the first time.

Laurie Patten, Director of Strategy, Ventures, Product & Marketing, Arqiva, said: “The Sound Digital proposition has established itself strongly in the two years since its launch, and it was always our hope that we would be able to expand its reach to some of those parts of the UK that were not initially in coverage. We are delighted to now be bringing the network’s diverse range of content to almost 4 million new listeners, and are proud of the role we have played extending the national and local networks over the last 3 years to allow millions more people to receive DAB.”

There was also a focus on new initiatives and innovations in the areas of connected cars, smart and voice-controlled audio, and podcasts.

The conference culminated with former Digital Minister, the Rt Hon Ed Vaizey MP, taking to the stage to present awards to the nine Digital Radio Hall of Fame inductees for their outstanding contribution to digital radio progress across the past 20 years – Dame Jenny Abramsky, former BBC; Grae Allan, Bauer Media; Ralph Bernard CBE, former GWR and GCap Media; Michael Hill, Radioplayer; Quentin Howard, former Digital One; John Kempner, former John Lewis; Rashid Mustapha, Ofcom; Ian O’Neill OBE, DCMS; and Sir Hossein Yassaie, Pure.