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UK broadcaster axes DAB stations: Is digital radio doomed?

British commercial radio company GCap Media has decided to axe two DAB stations -- theJazz and Planet Rock -- despite almost a million listeners, claiming that DAB was "not economically viable"

British commercial radio company GCap Media has decided to axe two DAB stations -- theJazz and Planet Rock -- despite almost a million listeners, claiming that DAB was "not economically viable."

Together, the two axed stations had 927,000 listeners, but FM's retention of followers, combined with the growing popularity of Internet radio simulcasts, has hindered DAB's growth.

Last September, the British trade body DRDB -- Digital Radio Development Bureau -- forecast (.pdf) household DAB penetration to hit 40 per cent by 2009, and almost 60 per cent by 2011. Perhaps with the continuing rise of Internet radio and the increasing uptake of broadband in the UK, these figures could be significantly lower than anticipated.

But manufacturers of DAB radio equipment are not worried. Crave contacted UK DAB specialist PURE Digital, whose digital radio products populate households around the country, and who has impressed our oft-critical editors.

Director of marketing at PURE Colin Crawford said, "There is a continued and sustained demand and enthusiasm for DAB that we see and hear from both retailers and consumers... [GCap's] announcement has nothing to do with the long-term health of DAB digital radio; it is the result of an individual radio group’s reaction to its adverse business conditions and we fully expect 2008 to be a positive year for DAB." PURE said it has seen a positive growth of DAB in 2007, with sales that reflect it.

The BBC and 4 Digital Group jointly announced today that they are committed to developing digital radio in the UK.  

Our eyes will be closely following DAB's movement in 2008. We're not convinced that it's about to crumble beneath our feet, but it's certainly in for a rough ride as more content becomes on-demand -- such as podcasts -- and with more programmes being simultaneously broadcast over the Internet. But there's no reason to avoid buying that new DAB alarm clock you've been considering. It's certainly a safer bet than an HD DVD player anyway. -Nate Lanxon