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Ireland should learn from costly mistakes made by British broadcasters in introducing digital radio and not repeat them. This was the message given to the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland Conference today by Nick Piggott, Head of Creative Technology, Global Radio.

“Digital Radio is a raging consumer success in the UK. Receivers are widely available and sensibly priced. The overwhelming majority of people enjoy their experience of Digital Radio. Over 8 million radios have been sold, Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) dominates new receiver sales in many sectors, and nearly 30% of households are listening to a radio digital. Listening to digital radio outstrips listening on-line by a factor of 5 to 1”, Mr Piggott said.

“But there are issues to deal with, and Irish broadcasters can use our experience to shape the digital plan to avoid those issues”, he added. “The approach to the implementation of DAB in the UK was over complicated and expensive. This was partly because the industry and regulator took the same approach to it as to the introduction of analogue commercial radio, and partly because of the lack of understanding in the industry of infrastructure costs.”

This over-complicated approach has lead to higher costs for the industry. “Ireland needs to be very cautious when making commitments in relation to building digital radio networks and infrastructure”, Piggott warned. “We now know that networks can be built a lot more cheaply than was the case in the UK. Switzerland and Australia are leading the way in this regard.

“In the UK we have a situation where we have four digital multiplexes across Swindon and Bristol, for example”, he continued. “That’s a distance of just 45 miles. Clearly, it would be cheaper to have just one multiplex. It might mean that listeners in Bristol would have access to stations from outside of their local area but this isn’t necessarily a problem in the digital world.”

He also cautioned against simply using the new technology purely as a new transmission channel. “There is no point in simply replicating FM radio services over DAB”, he contended. “The variety of devices that people will be using to listen to radio offer a much richer experience than that offered by standard FM radio. Radio is a mass market medium and DAB offers broadcasters to combine this with many of the benefits and rich experiences of the online world.”

The opportunities for broadcasters in this regard include the transmission of electronic programme guides to screens on the receiving devices; the broadcasting of advertiser logos to screens as well as the inclusion of other appropriate visual content.

“The perceived value of radio advertising is somewhere between static and declining”, Piggott notes.

“Already we have seen online advertising revenues exceed those of radio. The combination of online and radio benefits offers broadcasters an opportunity to reverse this trend. It allows broadcasters to adapt to sell a converged on-line/on-air proposition that stretches across all their digital platforms.”

The Independent Broadcasters of Ireland annual conference was held in the Four Seasons Hotel today. Sponsored by IMRO the conference was addressed by the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese.

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About the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland
The Independent Broadcasters of Ireland (IBI) is the representative body for Ireland’s independent commercial radio broadcasters. The mission of the IBI is to champion the agenda of independent broadcasters in Ireland and to be a distinct and coherent national voice in the ongoing campaign for competitive equality across the sector.

The independent voice of Ireland, 64% of the population tune into independent radio on a daily basis. This translates into weekday figures of 2.382 million listeners. With more than 1500 people employed in the sector, independent broadcasters make a significant economic, social and cultural contribution to the Irish economy. The IBI represents 2 national radio stations, 4 regional radio stations and 27 local radio stations. For more information please visit: www.ibireland.ie