DAB+ technology has already gone through a trial phase in South Africa, and currently there is a discussion paper from ICASA on the table. Where to next?
Speaking as part of a panel discussing Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB+) at the recent Radio Days Africa 2018 conference, deputy minister of communications Pinky Kekana stressed the benefits and importance of South Africa introducing the new system to the country.
“The radio industry is in the midst of a significant period of transformation driven by a shift in technology to digital and by changes in the way listeners are consuming music and other content,” she said.
Calling DAB+ “a game changer”, she added, “It provides our citizens with better quality radio, and from a government perspective, it helps us broadcast important emergency messages on all channels simultaneously. From the perspective of the consumer, DAB gives listeners access to a broader selection of channels from commercial broadcasters and the SABC. More channels inevitably means more competition to create the best possible radio content, benefiting listeners.”
The next step
The technology has already gone through a trial phase in South Africa, and currently there is a discussion paper from ICASA on the table. “The next phase of our journey may require all the representatives present here today to contribute with their time and expertise and support the work of government, on the rollout of technology and equipment, preparing the market, assisting with the coverage and spectrum planning and joining government radio policy task groups,” Kekana stressed.
A public consultation workshop is scheduled for the end of this month to promote further discussion.
Lessons from abroad
Kekana was joined on the panel by representatives from organisations in various countries, which are further along in the DAB+ process than South Africa.
Norway’s Jørn Jensen (NRK) stressed, “Follow the content. If you make attractive content in a wide range, the listeners will follow. Our plan was to introduce from five analogue stations to 30 digital ones.”
The country faced the challenge of citizens being sceptical about placing digital receivers in their cars, but now almost every new car comes already fitted with one. “Don’t start with the mobile phones. Start with the kitchen and car radios and then the mobile phone will follow,” he added.
“More than 470 million people can get DAB services around the world now… Our receivers, there’s over 68 million sold now, including car ones… As more and more countries roll out DAB services, the price of the receivers is coming down. You can pick up receivers now for around the equivalent of R250,” revealed Darren Willsher (WorldDAB).
Kekana listened intently to the other panellists as they shared their experiences with and advice regarding DAB, and scribbled notes furiously throughout.
“It’s quite important that government and broadcasters work together on digitisation. And before you go there, broadcasters need to believe in a digital future. So broadcasters and government need to find each other,” advised Jacqueline Bierhorst (Digital Radio NL).
Explaining the benefits of DAB, panel facilitator Lynn Mansfield (SADIBA) described it as “far more spectrum efficient”, “a greener technology” and “will allow us to introduce far more services than we ever dreamed of on FM”.
Kekana concluded, “Sometimes change is taken in another light. People feel threatened and ask ‘what is the future of our radio station?’ Consultation is important”.
A consultation session with industry stakeholders will be held at the end of this month.
Michael Bratt is a multimedia journalist at Wag the Dog, publishers of The Media Online and The Media. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelBratt8