Digital radio manufacturers tune in to 170 per cent rise in sales

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The Independent Online

Digital radio has become a "mass market proposition", the BBC and the radio industry said yesterday as the corporation launched a major promotional campaign for the new technology.

The Digital Radio Development Bureau, an industry body, released the first consumer research data on the medium, finding that digital radio sales are up 170 per cent on last year. There are now 175,000 digital radio sets in UK homes, with between 300,000 and 500,000 sales forecast by the end of this year.

The study found that 80 per cent of consumers bought the radios to listen to the new digital-only services launched by the BBC and the commercial sector. The corporation has five digital stations, including a comedy channel called BBC7. The consumer survey found that one in five digital radio buyers bought the sets to listen to BBC7.

Ian Dickens, chief executive of DRDB, said: "This is the first market data on why people are buying digital radios. It's because they're eager to listen to the new programming. They are eager for a greater degree of radio choice."

Digital radio also offers an improved reception, especially for stations broadcast on AM such as the BBC's Five Live and talkSPORT, the flagship station from the Wireless Group. The research found that women now make up 21 per cent of digital radio purchasers. The DRDB said this was "an indication of the move to the mass market as early adopters of new technology are traditionally male". Digital radios started to sell out in the run-up to Christmas 2002, as £100 sets became available.

Jenny Abramsky, director of BBC radio and music, said: "I think this research marks a watershed. For the first time it shows that digital radio is on its way to becoming a mass market proposition, rather than the preserve of audio enthusiasts."

The BBC had been waiting for there to be enough digital sets available in shops before launching a major on-air promotional campaign, which kicked off yesterday on television, radio and its websites.

The growing City recognition of the potential growth that digital radio offers saw shares in UBC Media, a leading digital operator, close up 25 per cent yesterday. The momentum behind the new medium is set to build next month when the biggest UK radio set manufacturer, Roberts, releases its first digital sets.