Does radio need another digital multiplex?

Is there demand among advertisers and listeners for the pending second national DAB multiplex, Arif Durrani asks.

The Government is among those hoping it will be second time lucky for renewed attempts to launch a second national DAB multiplex.

Last week, Bauer Radio and UTV Media became the first to announce a partnership with the transmission company Arqiva – which runs the first digital multiplex – to bid for the so-called D2 licence.

The original digital multiplex is full to capacity with 14 stations, including Bauer’s Absolute Radio and UTV’s talkSPORT. It is promised that D2 will be able to transmit at least ten new national stations.

The developments follow an aborted attempt to launch a second commercial multiplex in 2008, when a con­sortium led by Channel 4 pulled out of the venture after winning the licence.

It is notable that both Bauer and UTV were also partners with Channel 4 back then, alongside BSkyB and Carphone Warehouse.

UTV’s managing director, Scott Taunton, appears to reflect the optimism for DAB, calling the new licence "a vote of confidence for radio’s continuing relevance and strength as a broadcast medium".  

National commercial stations (D1) reach nearly 90 per cent of UK homes, and BBC national coverage is currently 94 per cent with a plan to expand to 97 per cent by the end of next year.

Local DAB has been criticised for having too many blind spots nationwide. However, the Government is committed to extending it to another 4.3 million households by the end of 2016.

The move will increase the footprint of DAB from 72 per cent to about 90 per cent of homes – and includes 6,000 miles of additional roads.

It is good news for motorists, and comes as 50 per cent of new cars sold in April had digital radios fitted as standard – up from just 5 per cent four years earlier.

Appetite for D1 is growing, helped by the success of stations such as Absolute 80s. Already ten million people tune into DAB and its share of listeners has increased 25 per cent in the past year.

Another sweetener this time around is that up to 30 per cent of the forthcoming multiplex can use DAB+, the new global standard for better sound quality.

More bids are expected to follow, after Ofcom opened the process at the start of July, with applications being accepted until 30 October.


YES Howard Bareham, head of radio, Mindshare

"Over the last two years, we’ve seen the drive towards national solutions and the growth in national quasi-networks. The appetite from advertisers for these national solutions will continue to grow. D2 will help feed this need."


YES Cathy Lowe, head of radio, PHD

"Digital listening is the future, but DAB is only one of several platforms available. How people consume radio is changing. The platforms offering the richest content and highest level of interaction will attract audiences and advertisers alike."


YES Michael Williamson, head of radio, Carat

"Radio listening will continue to grow if listeners are given a wider choice of stations. We have seen this with TV viewing over the past 15 years. The main barrier for D2 has been cost; it’s good to see Bauer and UTV working together."


YES Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries

"We want people to be able to choose from the widest choice of national commercial radio stations, like Classic FM. But that isn’t possible at the moment, because our current national commercial multiplex is full."

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