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BBC chief acknowledges DAB flop & internet radio

21st Century beckons

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BBC Trust Chairman Michael Lyons has called for a review of its radio strategy - acknowledging the failure of DAB and the Corporation's neglect of internet radio. It's a call for a new direction that comes from the top - but some of his executives might need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.

Lyons didn't mince his words.

"The BBC’s newer stations were designed in part to drive digital take up. By 2010, we can see that take up of DAB radio has been slower than expected ten years ago and the BBC’s digital-only stations have not achieved the audiences or impact that was then expected, although the intention behind the Digital Economy Act was to provide new impetus," Lyons writes in his foreword to the BBC Trust's strategic review.

"The BBC is already committed to playing a role in leading the UK radio industry to a fully digital future. A question remains about what that means in the longer term and what the potential is for internet-based radio platforms to evolve."

At one time it was so simple: the strategy could be summed up as "DAB or bust".

The BBC is already a major player in internet radio - it just doesn't like to talk about it. And since most media outlets simply recycle press releases, if the story isn't in the summary press release, it doesn't get told. Here's a good example. In February we learned that on average, an iPlayer user listens to radio for 163 minutes per month, and just 64 minutes to watch TV. Two thirds of radio usage was catch-up or on-demand radio. The figure doesn't include podcasts - another delivery method unique to the internet.

It's a great success - but the BBC doesn't do much to promote it. Here's another example.

If we go to the How to listen to Radio One page there's an iPlayer FAQ - or so we're we're told...

If you want to listen via Windows Media, Real Player or via your wifi radio then the iPlayer FAQ has all the direct links to launch listening.

But Real Player streams were ended ten months ago on Radio One (along with all other BBC stations other than World Service) ... and that FAQ link has been broken for several months. Listeners are discovering radio on iPlayer in spite of the BBC's help, not because of it.

Institutional change is hard at an organisation with as many levels of bureaucracy as the BBC, but Lyons has at least ordered the broadcaster to take the many modern forms of broadcasting - not just DAB - seriously. It's going to be a multiplatform world where analog radio, digital radio (of some kind) and internet radio all coexist.

Ultimately the decision to explore low-cost alternatives might be forced upon the Corp. Radio Centre's Andrew Harrison wants the BBC to stump up the cost of completing DAB rollout - a cost he estimates is £100m to £150m to reach 98 per cent coverage. That has just got a lot harder. ®

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