Digital radio report shows DAB uptake is growing slowly

The annual Ofcom digital progress report has just been published, and it has mixed messages for those wanting a nationwide switchover to all-digital audio broadcasting.

The report, covering the availability and take-up of digital radio, is part of the Government's Digital Action Plan, launched in July 2010, and setting out an aspiration to begin digital radio switchover in 2015.

But the Plan also has a requirement that, before any switchover starts, 50% of all radio listening should be on digital platforms, national DAB coverage should be comparable to that of FM, and local DAB should reach 90% of the population and all major roads.

So how are we doing? Well, the BBC national DAB multiplex now covers 94.3% of homes, the national commercial multiplex 84.6% and local DAB multiplexes 66.4%.

95% of all main TV sets can now receive at least some digital radio, and 77% of homes have broadband, and could thus access streaming internet radio services.

However, in the year to the end of June 2012, digital radio listening hours were less than a third of total listening, at 29.5%, although that's up 3.6 percentage points year on year.

64.9% of that digital radio listening was via DAB radios – so less than a fifth of all radio listening – with listening via TV accounting for 4.6% of all radio listened to (or 15.6% of digital listening), and just under 4% of all radio being listened to, or 13.3% of digital listening, using online services.

Top-performing digital-only radio stations were BBC Radio 4 Extra, with a reach of 1.6m listeners in an average week, BBC 6 Music on 1.4m and Five Live Sports Extra on 1.1m, that last one being a 34.7% year on year increase.

One problem facing proponents of an all-digital radio future is the installed base of radios in use in the country: it's estimated there are between 100m and 120m sets less than 12 years old out there – 35m in cars and other vehicles and 66-85m in homes.

Just 12-15% of that total is digital.

And while there has been some success in the car market – 25.9% of new vehicles have DAB as standard, double the proportion a year ago – in the home/portable market, thing look a bit slower: just 29.1% of all radios sold in the last 12 months had a DAB tuner built-in.

With a radio market down 18.3% year on year, that means just under 5m of the 6.7m radios sold in the last year weren't DAB-capable.

Current DAB radio ownership is estimated at 41.7%, with 19% of those not having a DAB set saying they were at least likely to buy a set in the next year.

However, half of those without a DAB radio at home say they're not likely to buy one in the next twelve months, suggesting there may still be some way to go before the switchover targets are reached.

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Andrew has written about audio and video products for the past 20+ years, and been a consumer journalist for more than 30 years, starting his career on camera magazines. Andrew has contributed to titles including What Hi-Fi?, GramophoneJazzwise and Hi-Fi CriticHi-Fi News & Record Review and Hi-Fi Choice. I’ve also written for a number of non-specialist and overseas magazines.