Introduction of DAB+ welcomed by Radio Industry
Various players in the radio industry including the BBC, Bauer Media and Global Radio were responding to a recent Ofcom consultation setting out revisions to Ofcom's technical codes and guidance for DAB broadcasts. DAB+ is being rolled out in a number of countries and the newer standard allows more stations to be carried on a single multiplex.
In April, Ofcom proposed to allow a maximum of 30% of the forthcoming Digital 2 national multiplex to use the DAB+ standard. But while the industry is supportive of introducing DAB+, it has spoken against the 30% limit and against the limitation of DAB+ preventing existing multiplexes to convert broadcasts to the newer standard.
The BBC responded: "We would argue that, where a sound business and public interest case is made by an applicant for the second national commercial radio multiplex licence, there should be no limit on the capacity allocated to DAB+ services. Certainly, no evidence has been given as to why 30% would be the right level at which to set any limit or why this would not apply to existing commercial multiplex licences."
Bauer Media, who operate a number of multiplexes alongside radio stations including Absolute Radio and Kiss, welcomed the move to DAB+ and also wanted existing multiplexes to be allowed to carry DAB+ services.
Global Radio, the owner of stations including Heart and Capital, was more reserved. It agreed with the proposal to allow DAB+ on the Digital 2 multiplex, but it was concerned that any applicant for the Digital 2 multiplex licence that didn't plan to offer DAB+ would be disadvantaged. It said: "we do not believe that in its assessment of applications for the second national radio multiplex licence Ofcom should favour applicants intending to carry DAB+ services. The fact that an applicant offering DAB+ services would, on paper, be providing more services (and therefore might be considered to provide a broader range of services), would need to be balanced against the fact that many existing DAB listeners would not be able to receive these services." Global Radio made no comment about introducing DAB+ on existing multiplexes.
Arqiva, who operate the national commercial Digital 1 multiplex and a number of local DAB multiplexes noted potential irregularities between the treatment of DAB and DAB+ services. Its response said: "Arqiva would wish to see a level playing field for all national and local multiplexes, and would recommend that Ofcom permits the same degree of flexibility for Digital One and local multiplexes. It would seem perverse and unfair to have different regulatory regimes where it was possible for a DAB+ service to be automatically carried on the second national multiplex, yet for the same service to be carried on Digital One or any local multiplex would require Ofcom approval."
UTV, the owner of TalkSPORT and a local DAB multiplex operator said: "We believe that service providers are best placed to make the commercial judgement as to the merits (or otherwise) of whether or not to launch new services using DAB or DAB+, or indeed switch from DAB to DAB+ (or visa versa). We therefore believe that this decision be left to the market and Ofcom removes the requirement for existing DAB services to gain consent to switch to DAB+. Furthermore, we believe that the ability to allocate multiplex capacity to DAB+ services should apply to all existing digital radio multiplexes (not just the second national commercial digital radio multiplex), as many local multiplexes could use uncontracted capacity for new low cost DAB+ carriage offers to bring new services on-air, which would support the development of the platform in the United Kingdom."
Ofcom is now considering the responses before reaching a final conclusion on the revision of its technical code.