UK Gov report slams digital radio switchover plan

A report published today has slammed the Government's 2015 digital radio switchover deadline as "far too early", issuing a stern warning to both the radio industry and Government not to "bully" or "scare" consumers into investing in the new technology.

The report, Digital Radio Switchover: what is in it for consumers? has been prepared by the Consumer Expert Group for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

The group includes representatives of Citizens Advice, the Royal National Institute for Blind People, Age UK, Which? and the Voice of the Listener and Viewer.

Originally set up to advise government on digital TV switchover, its remit has been extended to overseeing the evolution of the UK's radio services.

But in a move that will alarm supporters of the planned switchover, the CEG has raised doubts over the very idea of switchover, stating that a "full cost-benefit analysis from a user perspective must be carried out as a matter of urgency".

The group described as "concerning" the lack of research into consumers' willingness and ability to pay for digital radio - and warned that so far, take-up of the new technology had been slow.

The group recommends that no date should be set for switchover until fewer than 30 per cent of radio broadcasts were being listened to via analogue. Under current proposals, switchover would be triggered when analogue listening dipped below 50 per cent of users.

"Given the slow speed of take-up so far, it is impractical to expect the remaining 50% to convert to digital radio in a two-year lead period," the report's authors state, adding:

"We are concerned that vulnerable listeners will be subjected to a marketing strategy to 'bully' them into adopting digital radio in the two years between an announcement and a switchover. This would risk considerable consumer resentment."

The UK currently lies some way from achieving even the 50 per cent target. According to the latest figures from audience measuring body Rajar, digital broadcasts accounted for 24.6 per cent of all radio listening in the UK. Over one-third of the adult population - 18.2 million - claims to live in a house with a DAB receiver.