Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Which Country Next for FM Switch Off?

The UK is among the countries I believe will decide to switch off FM soon. Brilliant button @ Bob Bob Ricard, Soho.

The Norwegian government has decided to switch off FM in January 2017 (given certain criteria which will be fulfilled). And in neighbouring Sweden, a governmental report on radio and media in general was recently published. It clearly states that radio in Sweden will go digital and that the broadcasters will get extra money to do so. So, the future home of Julian Assange is set to follow in the steps of the Norwegians. The date is however uncertain, but probably by 2020. In the third Scandinavian country, politicians are expected to agree on a switch off in 2019. That is when the Danish FM licenses run out. The announcement can be expected as early as in October or November.

So, who dares go next? Two years ago no one outside the offices of certain broadcasters even dared utter the three words "FM", "switch" and "off" in the same sentence, let alone in that order. Now, to switch off FM is a clear goal being implemented in policies in more and more countries. Why? Because it saves broadcasters a lot of money that can be spent on better programs, it ensures the same radio offering to everyone whereever they live and it is much greener. Do you need more reasons? Here is a selection of articles. Help youself

My bet is that at least four out of the five countries below will follow suit and make an announcement of a forthcoming FM switch off no later than the end of 2014. The date of the actual switch off will vary, but a notice of 3-6 years is expected to be given. In reality, users should only be given two years. People are not stupid, they will get a new radio when one is needed. Not before. As is the case with a switch off of analogue television, most people wait until the last 2-3 weeks before the analogue signal goes off air until they buy the needed setup box. Consumers expect prices to fall while extra functionality will be added the longer they wait. Sales also pop up all over the place when retailers know something big is happening, so why buy now if you don't have to?

Great Britain
This was the first country to start a DAB trial, and DAB signals now reach 93% of the population. Coverage will be increased to 97% by the end of 2015. 40% of people in London listen to DAB every week, and the UK seems almost ready to take the plunge as the first big country. How about an announcement in 2013?

The Netherlands
DAB has been on air for years in the Netherlands, but with very little marketing and few devices in shops. This is about to change, and both the public service broadcaster and the commercial ones will have transmissions on air by September 1, 2013. In addition moile TV company MTVNL has mobile TV signals and updated traffic data on air via DMB. The government looks at the licensing of FM and DAB as one matter. If you're not on digital, you will not be allowed to remain on FM. The Dutch are more than ready to switch off FM relatively soon.

This might be a little bit of a surprise, given the reluctancy by the four big commercial broadcasters to go digital. They want to keep the competition away by staying on FM, milking it for what it is worth and sabotaging any attempt by the government to get going. Putting your head in a flower pot never helped anyone defeat hungry competitors, not even where cake should eradicate hunger. Frequency licenses are being handed out as we speak, and there are hundreds of applicants. The question is, will all the big four French dare not apply for digital licenses? What if one of them changes its mind two minutes before the deadline? Legislation is even in place to force all car manufacturers selling cars in France to add a digital broadcasting receiver in cars 18 months after regular DAB+ transmissions covers 20% of the country. This coverage level should be reached before the summer of 2013. 

The biggest economy in Europe last year introduced nationwide radio transmissions for the first time since WWII, via DAB+. Digital radios are selling reasonably well, and digital radio is attracting new players into the radio business. If you own a global company with a huge marketing budget, why not spend some of the money on a hip and trendy radio station? Did you mention DJ Red Bull?

This is an outsider, but given its proximity to Germany and it being the fastest growing economy in Europe, I think this may be the surprise country to announce a switch off relatively soon. They have already trialled both DMB and DAB+ with good results in Poland and the players there are innovative and forward leaning. 

Involvement  is a key criteria in any FM switch off plan, also in these five countries. Public broadcasters, commercial broadcasters, retailers AND governments must all work together to ensure success. In most of these countries, such processes have already started. And a switch off date is needed. No matter how many great new radio stations you add on digital, a fairly high percentage of the population will always be happy with what they already have. At least until they experience how much better the alternative is.

But what about all those radios?
Please don't use the awful excuse: "But everyone will have to buy new radios." You don't complain when you and each and every one of your family members, colleagues and friends buy a new Samsung or a new Iphone every 18 months, then brag about your new gadget on Facebook afterwards. One of those smart phones costs more than 10 times the price of an average digital radios and requires much more energy to produce.

You can also safely exclude another overused excuse: "But imagine the waste problem with all the radios that will be thrown away." Again, why not care equally about all those mobile phones, tablets and laptops that you throw away every other year? They contain many more chemicals and electronics than a simple FM radio. And a radio works "forever," so it has certainly done its duty compared to other gadgets that are old after a year or three. A radio also contains parts such as loudspeakers and antennas that can be reused with relative ease. Not to forget cheaper and cheaper adapter solutions that will actually pimp your old FM radio and make it a digital one.