Norway begins digital switchover

A new era for radio is heralded this week as Norway becomes the first country in the world to begin the process of switching off national FM transmissions to complete the transition to fully digital radio services.

The FM-switch off takes place on Wednesday 11 January and will be marked by an international ceremony attended by senior radio and media policy figures including the Norwegian Secretary of State, Bård Folke Fredriksen; Paul Keenan, CEO Bauer Media UK and the Nordics; and Graham Dixon, Head of Radio, European Broadcasting Union.  During the ceremony at precisely 11.11am, a giant dial will be moved from FM to DAB to signify the moment of the transition.

The Norwegian switch off is to be implemented region by region across six regions, starting in the arctic city of Bodø in Nordland and ending in the northern regions of Troms and Finnmark on 13 December 2017.  Norway’s radio industry, including public broadcaster NRK and commercial broadcasters P4 Group and Bauer Media’s SBS Radio, have collaborated on a plan to ensure a smooth transition for listeners, with all three turning off FM broadcasts simultaneously in two regions and NRK Radio leading the way in four.

Ford Ennals, CEO, Digital Radio UK, said: “Norway and the UK both have a common vision of a digital future for radio to allow it to compete effectively in a multiplatform and connected world. Norway has opted to accelerate the transition to digital radio through a coordinated digital radio switchover. We wish our Norwegian colleagues a successful and smooth transition and will be watching their progress with great interest as we move towards the threshold of 50% digital listening.”

DAB digital radio launched in Norway in 1995, just ahead of its UK launch, and FM switch off was announced in April 2015. Since then digital radio progress in Norway has accelerated and DAB coverage is now at 99.7% and 74% of the population have access to DAB digital radio. 78% of new cars in Norway now come with DAB as standard. Including five new stations launching on the day of the switch, there are 30 national services broadcasting on DAB in Norway compared to just five national FM stations.

Ole Jørgen Torvmark, CEO of Digital Radio Norway, said:  “This is a historical event for the medium of radio. FM-technology lifted radio listening; now radio can continue its development on digital platforms. Norway launches five new channels on the day of the shift to digital, giving listeners 30 national channels. We are proud to be making the world’s first digital radio switchover a reality in Norway, a landmark made possible through collaboration across Government, broadcasters and supply chain. The digital area allows Norway’s broadcasters to bring their listeners more content and diverse radio services for the future.”

Paul Keenan, CEO Bauer Media UK and the Nordics, said:  “Bauer Media is seeing strong growth in all of its European radio businesses in the UK, Poland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Slovakia.  The digital transition in Norway is a global first and creates an opportunity for us to further extend choice for listeners and grow both reach and revenues. As in the UK, digital has unleashed exciting new innovation and creativity into the Norwegian market.”

Helen Boaden, President of the European Digital Radio Alliance (EDRA), said: “The members of the European Digital Radio Alliance share a commitment to making DAB radio the predominant means of distribution so I’m delighted to be supporting our Norwegian colleagues as they start the first switchover to digital radio. Norway has recognised, as many other European countries have, that digital radio brings significant benefits to consumers and this event sends a clear message that radio’s future in Europe is digital.”

The Norwegian switchover will affect all national radio stations and commercial local radio stations broadcasting in larger cities. Community radio stations and smaller local stations will continue to broadcast on FM for five more years after national switch off.

There are 5 million people in Norway and 2.4 million cars.  The critical challenge for the Norwegian radio switchover is to ensure that drivers convert their analogue radios with 70% of cars at the beginning of 2017 not having access to digital radio.

In the UK, Government continues to support a listener led transition to digital and has stated it will review the next steps for digital radio when the coverage and listening criteria are met. Millions more listeners are benefitting from improvements to the coverage of both the national and local DAB networks and the addition of new national and local digital stations. Digital radio’s share of all UK radio listening has grown to 45.5% and is projected to reach 50% by the end of 2017.  57% of the UK population has access to a DAB digital radio and 86% of all new cars have digital radio as standard.

Whilst Norway is the first country in the world to switch off FM, digital radio is making strong progress across Europe beyond the UK. Switzerland has confirmed a switch over between 2020- 2024 whilst Governments in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands have all also confirmed support for a transition to digital radio.

• Government criteria for reviewing next steps for digital radio are that DAB coverage matches FM and digital listening is at 50%.
• Digital radio coverage in the UK is 97% for BBC national stations; 91% (Digital One stations) and 77% (Sound Digital stations) for national commercial stations; and 91% for local DAB.
• 57% of the UK population has access to a DAB digital radio (Source: Rajar Q3 2016).
• 59% of all adults listen to radio each week on a digital platform (Source : Rajar Q3 2106 )
• 45.5% of radio listening hours in the UK are to digital platforms (Source: Rajar Q3 2016).
• 86% of all new cars have digital radio as standard (Source: CAP/SMMT Q3 2016).
• The key benefit of digital radio is extra station choice with 339 stations on DAB in addition to 122 local stations on trial small-scale DAB mini-muxes in 10 cities.
• Additional benefits are easy tuning, track and artist listings, and clear digital-quality sound.