While Canada leads the world in a number of areas, including being one of the most connected countries in the world, we appear to be a long way behind others when it comes to HD Radio. Just last week the C.R.T.C. commented in a targeted policy review of the commercial radio sector policy update that it is too early to develop a policy for HD Radio technology, given that it is still in its initial stages in Canada. The Commission will allow continued experimentation, voluntary participation in or transition to HD Radio technology, and will monitor developments and review its approach accordingly.
To date, only two radio stations in Canada – one in Toronto and one in Hamilton – have tested HD radio, but it seems there may be a few broadcaster’s thinking about this as companies like Nautel are offering new transmitters that are more efficient than ever. It’s the old chicken and the egg situation, where there needs to be enough HD receivers in cars, homes and offices to enable consumers to make it worthwhile. I have enough grey hairs to remember when AM radio was king and FM had not become mainstream. It took a while, but as more cars came equipped with FM receivers installed and consumers updated their home and office equipment, FM radio exploded and has not looked back. At this point it is hard to know if HD radio will take off in Canada, but the news from the other side of the pond looks encouraging. The latest ratings (Q1 2014) data listening data from RAJAR confirms that the long term drive to digital listening continues, particularly in London, with over 6.4 million listeners, or 55% of Londoners, listening to radio on digital radio platforms each week.
The London increase in digital listening is led by strong digital growth by stations including LBC with their popular Radio Academy award-winning Ask Boris phone-in, Heart, Kiss, Smooth and Magic. Analogue radio listening has fallen below 50% for the first time at 48.6%, down 10% year on year and analogue listening in-home in London has now declined to 38.9% of listening, while digital listening in-home is 50.9% in London.
Nationally, analogue radio listening share is at its lowest ever, at 57.8% of all listening hours. Across the UK, digital listening via a digital platform is up 7% year on year, in terms of hours, and is now 36.6% up from 34.3% last year. 51% of the population now tunes in each week (27 million people) up 4% year on year.
DAB is the most popular device for digital listening (65% of all digital hours), and 47.9% of adults or 25 million adults have access to a DAB digital radio, up 10% year on year.
DAB share of listening is 23.7%, up 5% year on year, online/apps is 6.4%, up 27% year on year and DTV is 5%, flat year on year.
The most popular digital-only station is BBC 6 Music with over 1.9 million weekly listeners, and the most-listened to commercial digital-only station is Absolute 80s with 1.1 million weekly listeners.
There was strong digital growth from the major National networks – Smooth, Kiss, Heart and Capital. For the first time almost 50% of all listening to Bauer stations is on a digital platform, and 78% of listening to the Absolute Network of stations is to digital platforms.
If Industry Canada, the C.R.T.C. and iBiquity Digital Corporation (who want a annual license fee based on revenue) will make it easier for Canadian broadcasters to experiment, perhaps some brave souls will try this out to see if there is a business model than can generate revenue and provide more variety for the listeners. Those who get in early may have some advantages depending on the technical parameters. For example, in the USA, broadcasters were forced to start out at -20 dB, but quickly found this did not give provide HD coverage anywhere near the foot print of their analog FM signal. Eventually they were allowed to increase power to -14dB which replicates the coverage of the analog FM signal. Now many American broadcasters have increased power to -10 dB which in some cases can provide even better signal coverage than the existing analog FM coverage. Currently in the USA there are 3,500 HD radio stations, but about 75% are rebroadcasting their current FM or AM programming at this point. The good news is there are about 117 different models of cars rolling off the manufacturing line with an HD radio fitted as standard. Click here to see a list of after market HD radios you can purchase, but you have to cross the border to do so at this point.
It is hard to know at this point if HD radio will be a thing or not, but we will keep an eye on this space and keep writing about it.