Car makers are being given a key role in speeding up the adoption of digital radio in the UK after the Government said it had scrapped its 2015 deadline with the switchover from FM.
Additional initiatives, developed in partnership with the car industry, are being introduced to accelerate the transition. Ford unveiled a tie-up with online listening service Radioplayer to bring digital radio into Ford cars, while Halfords said its car radio products will be “100% digital” by 2015.
A deal has also been struck between Digital Radio UK, the DVLA and the driver and Vehicle Standards Agency to provide people with information about how to upgrade their car radio to digital.
The Government announced the measures to speed up the switchover to digital radio but has not set a date for its completion warning the industry that more is needed to persuade listeners to switch from FM before progress can be made.
It is ramping up investment in DAB coverage and adding a second multiplex – which will allow broadcasters to create new national digital stations – to give listeners greater access to the format.
The Government said the switchover would not start until the number of people tuning in via digital radio sets was 50%. It currently stands at 35.6% of the listening audience.
Steve Nash, chief executive of the Institute of Motor Industry, believes the retail motor sector could play a vital role in helping to meet the Government target for DAB – providing the sector is effectively equipped to carry out conversions. He said that if garages and dealerships commit to adopting a single standard for digital conversions, then this could be a real boost to their business in the next few years.
“By moving the switchover deadline this will undoubtedly solve part of the conversion challenge for the retail motor industry”, said Steve Nash.
“As manufacturers are now starting to build digital receivers into new cars, the number of vehicles needing conversion will certainly diminish.
"However, given that motorists with car radios account for about 20% of the total listeners to radio, they certainly are an influential group in reaching the Government’s target.
"It should therefore be a goal to get motorists converting their current car radios now. But this will only be achieve if technicians are properly trained – to a single standard – to carry out conversions.
“It’s a little known fact that there is more qualification required to change a plug in someone’s home than to work on a car. And this could be a big issue for motorists seeking to get their radio converted for the new digital network.
"Car owners need to have the confidence that the technician working on their car has the experience and expertise to do the job properly – and without risk to the operating systems of the vehicle as a whole.”
Speaking at the Go Digital Conference yesterday Ed Vaizey, the minister for culture, communications and creative industries, said he wanted the measures to improve the service, reach coverage and listening criteria to ensure the “digital future of radio”.
He said: “We cannot go backwards. The radio listener will get a much better service, and better functionality. There will be far more choice, with many more stations. The UK is at the forefront of developments in digital radio. This package of measures is intended to cement this and herald in a digital age, as and when the consumer is ready.”
The Government has been hesitant to commit to a digital switchover date following earlier concerns the provisional 2015 target would not be met. The reluctance has caused tension with commercial radio trade body the Radio Centre, which has been pushing for an extension of digital switchover date to 2018 – but there are even questions as to whether this date is achievable or not.