Digital radio in SA could be stillborn, Primedia warns - TechCentral

Digital radio in SA could be stillborn, Primedia warns

The delivery of audio over the Internet could render a plan by communications regulator Icasa to license new digital radio broadcasters moot, Primedia, which already owns several commercial analogue FM and AM radio stations, has warned.

In a written submission to Icasa ahead of public hearings into the licensing of digital radio broadcasters in South Africa later this month, Primedia said the digital radio technologies, known as DAB+ and Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM), have “already been superseded by broadcast over Internet protocol (IP)”.

The broadcaster, which owns 947 and Radio 702 in Gauteng and KFM and CapeTalk in the Western Cape, said it is “concerned” that South Africa’s DAB+ trials have “mainly focused on the technical aspects and capabilities of digital sound broadcasting and no insight or detail has been forthcoming on the actual commercial benefits for sound broadcasters”.

For digital radio to be a success in South Africa, there must be buy-in from sound broadcasters and investment into technology and new content, it said.

Icasa, it added, must “appreciate the difficult financial conditions that broadcasters have to operate in as well as shrinking revenue in the sector”.

“Any broadcaster will be reluctant to take on any further financial commitment that will further reduce its profitability.”

Despite these warnings, Primedia said there is a need to introduce digital radio services due to the scarcity of radio frequency spectrum, which has led to Icasa placing a moratorium on licensing new entrants, particularly in community broadcasting services.

“The introduction of digital sound broadcasting technology will not only open up new opportunities for current sound broadcasting licensees, but will also enable the introduction of new players in the industry, by freeing up much-needed frequency spectrum in the sound broadcasting space.”

However, it said IP-based delivery of audio programming risks making any launch of DAB+ and DRM obsolete before commercial services are even available.

Convergence

“There have been major developments in the broadcast sector over the last five years or so, which have seen many international sound broadcasters adopting convergence of technologies to offer their audiences an array of services over and above what is generally available over analogue transmission. Convergence has allowed sound broadcasters to develop over-the-top (OTT) services such as mobile telephony applications and websites which stream content. The increase in broadband ubiquity and the gradual decline of data costs has resulted in broadcasters seeing an increase in the number of audiences using digital platforms for radio consumption.

“We are of the view that this trend will keep growing significantly, more so as we see a broader access to smart devices, car infotainment systems and satellite television. Sound broadcasters continue to make significant investment into their digital platform strategies, as demand for access to content on digital platforms grows. Primedia does not see the value of investing in digital sound broadcasting technologies, particularly considering that the success and benefits of digital broadcasting is dependent on the uptake of DAB+ and DRM receivers by the general public.”

Primedia owns Gauteng radio station 702

It said the cost of digital radio receivers — which it estimates to be between R750 and R3 000/unit — is an “inhibitor” to the successful uptake of the technology.

Citing European Broadcasting Union research, it said that even in countries that have seen good growth in digital radio, access to DAB+ receivers remains a concern. Even in Denmark, which is regarded as a leader in digital radio in Europe, only 46% of the population has access to DAB+ receivers.

Because of this, a “viable method” is needed to drive uptake of digital radio to avoid it “being rendered obsolete by OTT services”, Primedia said.

One way to drive adoption of the technology, it said, is to ensure that smart devices such as mobile phones include integrated DAB+ and DRM receivers as standard and that car manufacturers sell vehicles with receivers, also as standard. Icasa should also conduct a regulatory impact assessment to look at the cost of digital receivers to ensure they are accessible to ordinary people.  — © 2018 NewsCentral Media