Switch to digital radio 'could happen in 2017'

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The UK could make the switch from analogue to digital radio as early as 2017 according to a Government-commissioned group's report today.

The Digital Radio Working Group (DRWG), which published the report, set out a path for migration.

The group singled out criteria which must be met to trigger this being able to happen, including at least 50 per cent of total radio listening taking place on digital platforms.

In the UK, 31.4 per cent of adults listen every week on digital, which gives digital platforms a total share of radio listening of 18.7 per cent, according to figures from radio body Rajar.

Nearly a million Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) sets are expected to be sold over Christmas.

The group has recommended that Ofcom should monitor progress and that a date for migration should be announced by Government, ideally two years after the criteria have been met.

They believe the criteria could be met by 2015 - so migration could happen as early as 2017.

Barry Cox, Chairman of the DRWG said: "With nearly a million DAB sets expected to be sold this Christmas period we know listeners are already benefiting from the choice of channels available at the moment.

"We have always believed in the future of digital radio and now urge the industry, along with Government and Ofcom to address the barriers to successful migration, so people can access even more choice and functionality in the future.

"Most importantly we need to see overall coverage for DAB improve, along with more focus to get motorists to adopt DAB so that it can be a real alternative to FM services."

The group proposes the Government relax some legislative and regulatory burdens placed on the industry, and is calling for more focus on encouraging motorists to adopt DAB in their cars.

They are also recommending that the Government considers with European colleagues a duty exemption for digital radios, to enable cheaper sets.

Culture Secretary Andy Burnham said: "This is a crucial time for the radio industry.

"I am pleased that the Working Group has been able to achieve such consensus and has recognised that there needs to be a strong consumer proposition for digital radio."

He said the recommendations would be studied very carefully.

The group recommended a three tier system of radio in the UK.

This would include a wide range of national digital radio services from the BBC and commercial radio, and a sustainable set of local digital services from the BBC and commercial radio covering as much of the UK as possible.

A third tier of small scale services serving the local community would remain on analogue in the short to medium term but move to digital at a later date.

The Digital Radio Working Group was formed in November 2007 by the Culture Secretary.

Mr Cox said the formation took place against a backdrop of a radio sector under pressure.

The economic downturn has been felt in the commercial industry, with advertising revenues falling around 15% this year.

Mr Cox said: "I find the radio companies' decision to commit to a drive to digital, as set out in this report, a strong testament to their belief in radio's digital future."

RadioCentre, the industry body for commercial radio, welcomed the report.

Andrew Harrison, chief executive said: "Clarity about digital radio is critical for commercial radio's future.

"We're delighted now to have an aligned plan along with other DRWG stakeholders and RadioCentre is fully committed to working with the industry to make that plan happen.

"The DRWG has done excellent work over the last 12 months in finding the best way to achieve this.

"We hope the recommendations in the report will be accepted by Government and will be reflected in their Digital Britain report next year."