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Sunday, 26 June 2005


Alex Saradetch

The success of digital radio in the UK (HD radio in the US) has been content driven. Interestingly, radio listenership in the UK is not hardware-specific. Content that was initially exclusive to digital radio stations such as BBC 7 was made available on cable television.

It was cable tv that gave many listeners their first taste of content that was exclusive to digital radio. The need to consume this content without being tied to the cable set-top-box instigated the buying action for an actual digital radio.

BBC 7's content is classic comedy that was first produced in the 50's and 60's which has a broad appeal across all age groups but most specifically, baby boomers. Another station that has done well in the digital radio stakes is SAGA Prime Time. Now SAGA began as a holiday company for retirees and pensioners, only to grow into the SAGA Group. Ethnic stations are also finding increased listenership numbers through digital radio.

Digital Radio is still in its infancy here in the UK. Yet the way the consumer market is developing would suggest that some level of critical mass has arrived where manufacturers are able to cut prices but more importantly, that early adopters are already replacing their first digital radios. As such, the replacement market has started to develop. Yet the figures from the Digital Radio Development Bureau seems to suggest that mass adoption has yet to arrive, as to date, only some 2 million plus radios have been sold. Having said that, in order to free up space on the analogue spectrum for other applications, there is a proposal to switch off the analogue signal for audio radio broadcasting in the near future which means 150 million analogue radios in the UK will become redundant. When that happens, I will have 6 in my house alone that will be useless.

A quick note on early adopters. There are 2 types: Radioheads and Content Lovers. The former being very much into every aspect of radio culture (technology, regulations, broadcast industry) and don't seem to dominate any single age group. The latter, is dominated by the over-45's in the UK.

For HD radio to take off in the States, the focus needs to be on content. Better use of past programme archives will be the key that unlocks the door to new listenership and what a cheap key that is! A 50% price cut in radio hardware will not see 50% more consumers rushing off to buy a digital radio. Especially if there is nothing new (or old as in 'Classics') by way of content.

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