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Radio's click-to-buy music service goes titsup

Another DAB failure

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More grim news for the music business, as another potential digital retail channel withers. Radio group Unique will close down its instant music purchasing initiative, blaming the slow take up of DAB for the decision, the FT reports today.

UBC Media described Cliq as its "biggest single project" - and it's been touted as the showpiece for the commercial potential of interactive radio. Cliq allowed DAB listeners to acquire a song as they heard it. It was launched two years ago, with the service embedded in standalone DAB radios, like these from Pure, and also ran as a Java applet on mobile phones. While songs were more expensive than on Amazon or iTunes, Cliq made acquiring music even easier than finding a web browser, or loading up Bittorrent.

In December, UBC said that Cliq was making an operating profit of £434,000, excluding investment costs of almost a million pounds. The FT reports that closing Cliq will cost UBC around £1.1m, but save £1.2m annually.

The long shadow cast by DAB thus falls a little further. It's been popular enough to have an impact on the marketplace - DAB receiver sales are still growing. Yet it hasn't been popular enough to convince advertisers and potential new service operators that there's a viable market.

Mobile handset manufacturers are reluctant to include the power-guzzling chipsets in their phones, when FM offers punters the same features. Yet well-implemented interactive services like Cliq are just what DAB needs to differentiate itself from FM. It's a Catch-22.

DAB has been all but ditched by radio giant GCap, although the BBC, Channel 4 (which has licenses, but hasn't yet launched any stations), and regulator OFCOM all say things are looking up. Enders analyst Grant Goddard summed up the DAB crisis at Radio World this week -

"With 6.5 million DAB sets in the market, on the one hand the technology has not developed sufficient momentum, but on the other hand it would cause a public outcry if it was turned off. The more you find out about the present DAB situation, the harder it becomes to see any sensible solution... it is hard to see a way out".

If you're a Cliq user, or have ideas on how instant music acquisition could work, we'd like to hear from you. ®

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