second part of an interview with (a member of staff of) european commissioner about "Information society and media"
2- The main difference between digital tv and digital radio is that digital tv (in Europe) has one standard (DVB-T), while digital radio has a lot of standards (DAB, DAB+, DRM, DRM+,IBOC,etc). Do you think that this is the reason behind the failure of the success of digital radio in Europe? Or should we blame the broadcasters?
Given that cable, satellite and terrestrial transmission all require different modulation schemes, there are actually different standards for digital TV, even if the Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) Group has made conversion between them very easy. Within the DVB-T standard, technological progress means that a more modern compression standard - MPEG4-AVC - is now being used alongside the older MPEG2 system. A new and more efficient standard called DVB-T2 is also entering the market in order to facilitate HDTV transmissions in scarce terrestrial spectrum. It is a myth therefore that there is a single standard for digital television. We have a family of co-existing standards, which evolve in the light of technological possibilities and market needs. The situation is not so different in digital radio.
So far, digital radio has been launched successfully in a number of EU Member States.
Radio is an important part of the cultural landscape in Europe and can be delivered over a huge variety of different platforms. Besides dedicated digital terrestrial transmission for which different standards exist, radio services are also transmitted over the internet, over digital terrestrial and mobile TV platforms, via cable and satellite and over analogue terrestrial FM and AM networks.
The most common digital terrestrial radio standard in the EU is Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB). The United Kingdom is by far the most advanced country in the EU in terms of penetration with digital radio using this standard. By mid 2008, 6.8 million digital radios had been sold in the United Kingdom (and 1 million in Denmark).. DAB has also been implemented in Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden.
Freeing up spectrum for new wireless applications and innovative broadcast services drives EU policy on terrestrial TV switchover. The current DAB standard for digital radio transmission does not provide a significant increase in the efficient use of spectrum over (analogue) FM radio. That is why so far there has been no spectrum efficiency argument for switching off analogue terrestrial radio.
Now, established market players and new entrants have a second generation of digital terrestrial radio broadcast standards available which use spectrum more efficiently. These standards facilitate innovation and interoperability. At the same time co-ordination around common solutions has become more complex.
France will introduce a second generation standard for digital radio, Digital Multimedia Broadcasting (DMB). Launch is planned for December 2009 in Paris, Nice and Marseille. In the Netherlands there are also plans to launch DMB radio, in combination with DMB mobile TV services before the end of the year in The Hague.
Malta has launched DAB+ services in 2008.
16 Member States have not yet introduced digital terrestrial DAB-based radio. All Member States still heavily rely on analogue FM and AM radio since receivers are cheap and almost omnipresent.
The WorldDMB industry group has developed receiver specifications which would integrate the first generation digital radio standard DAB and the second generation standards DAB+ and DMB in one receiver, thanks to the availability of more powerful integrated circuits (chips). These receivers facilitate the upgrade from DAB to DAB+ and DMB in a Member State and would allow the reception of digital radio services in foreign countries if one of the three standards is used.
This demonstrates the ability of the market to come up with solutions where different broadcast standards are used. Consumers and broadcasters are served best if the selection of radio transmission techniques is left to market forces, industry co-operation and well co-ordinated national policy initiatives in which all players are carefully consulted.
The Commission will continue to monitor technological and market developments closely and to discuss digital radio issues with Member States and industry.
3 - Do you think that Europe should help the transition to digital radio with public funds or leave it to the interaction among broadcasters, manufacturers and listeners?
Because of the subsidiarity principle, this question would have to be answered at Member State level. For digital TV switchover, there have been no subsidies at EU level.
Assistant to Martin Selmayr