News has been rushing around the web that the BBC has decided to retain FM frequencies for the foreseeable future. Now, let’s correct that, the BBC is controlled by OFCOM, so it’s not its call anyway.
That noted there are very good reason why the BBC would want to hang onto FM.
The BBC is in a terrible dilemma these days. If it increases its market share all the commercial boys come out of there ivory towers and cry in the arms of Government.
‘That nasty BBC is stealing our audience, it’s shocking, what can be done to help us?’
The direct answer, in my book, is NOTHING!
Commercial stations should up their standards and become such great services that they steal audience from the BB. Then I may have some sympathy for them.
Next enter Netcasters (online radio). In older thinking households I am sure the BBC will believe that by retaining FM they will retain market share. Plus, the commercial boys are desperate to hold onto FM to keep the ad agencies happy – and they know just about nothing as far as Netcasting goes.
So, a quick summary so far. The BBC are damned if they giveaway or retain FM outlets. The commercial boys will be in a panic as, should the BBC become a Netcaster, the commercial boys would have to run to Netcasting as well.
The down side for many commercial stations is that they fail to see the opportunities and how to reach out to where the audiences are.
One thing I can share is that you don’t find an audience through station web sites, so the commercial boys would lose a HUGE chunk of revenue from web sites – such a dilemma.
And what would happen if the BBC just switched off FM?
I’ll stand up and say, it would be a pirate radio free-for-all and much worse than in the 1960s. It would literally be a bloodbath, I can honestly see guns and knives controlling the airwaves on FM. The BBC just couldn’t be part of such a thing. Yes, I really do believe murder(s) would take place.
The way many broadcasters effectively abuse the Net is also a major problem. If all radio was to go over to Netcasting now, the UK’s internet would cope. However, if the FMers were to get up-to-speed with modern technology they could reduce the load on the Net and with a little investment from the likes of BT, Sky, Virgin Media and TalkTalk all could be good. The problem there is all the main players think someone else should pay for the required upgrades – so the switch may result in Netcasting in the UK falling behind the rest of Europe
This now brings us to DAB and why it hasn’t worked. Well, actually, it’s doing rather well considering the abuse its suffered since its inception back in 1981. But the first commercial DAB receivers were not available in the UK until 1999 – begging the question: what took them so long?
The truth is it was an old-school technical project where people just kept engineering rather than finishing the project. I recall standing in Broadcasting House and a BBC Exec saying to me ‘stand closer to the painting of Lord Reith, something may rub off on you’. I chuckled and replied whilst I respected him as the pioneer, pioneers should be put back in their respective boxes very quickly.
At the same event there were audio anoraks claiming the only way DAB would work would be via HIGH END audio streams – nearly four times higher than now needed to Netcast.
Their notion was nuts. But they claimed that sitting in front of a multi-thousands hi-fi proved their point. I chuckled again and walked away. What they were suggestion didn’t even make financial sense for the BBC let alone the commercial boys.
So why do I suggest the DAB has worked? In many areas it does – especially highly populated areas. One tower in a densely populated city makes the percentage of listeners look very good – that doesn’t help radio listeners in poor coverage areas in the rest of the UK though.
In fact, to cover the whole of the UK with DAB would mean it could cost many thousands just to reach 4/5 listeners – who is going to pay for that? Nobody.
Right now, the old guard are claiming a victory, but the digital versus analogue war isn’t over yet.
I have a feeling this could end up like the old black and white TV transmitters in London that were retained for years for a handful of people.