Future Delivery of Radio: ACMA

Future Delivery of Radio: ACMA

The ACMA has released the long awaited findings on the ‘future delivery of radio’ inquiry

This outcome is a reasonably positive one - but highlights the need for our sector to increase our activities to ensure we have a strong voice in advocating for the future of radio.

Keeping the Status Quo

The outcomes are pretty much the status quo for the foreseeable future. This means that new licenses are likely to remain hard to come by, and new DAB+ services will not happen in areas without coverage unless national or commercial services commit to a roll out there.

The report reflects the reality that there is a marked reluctance of both government and broadcast operators to commit to major re-tooling, or invest in any one pathway, when technological change is so rapid.

This outcome is a reasonably positive one - but highlights the need for our sector to increase our activities to ensure we have a strong voice in advocating for the future of radio.

The findings in their report to the Minister are:

Finding 1
Australia’s geographic diversity and range of listening environments will continue to require a mix of radio delivery platforms.

Finding 2

FM and DAB+ cannot economically replicate high-power, wide coverage AM transmissions.

Finding 3

While listening to live radio remains strong and listening to AM rates well for older audiences, its audience base is gradually declining over time. Younger listeners are preferring music-based FM formats and online.

Finding 4

Rapid innovation in the current radio technology environment makes long-term network deployment decisions challenging. The radio industry seeks flexibility for a range of future radio delivery platforms.

Finding 5

AM broadcasting will continue to play an important role in the delivery of radio in regional and remote Australia for the medium to long term, in areas where other platforms cannot reach. AM radio plays a vital role in informing these communities during natural disasters and emergencies.

Finding 6

FM radio will remain a strong and viable radio delivery technology for the foreseeable future. There is no imperative for digital conversion of FM radio in the short to medium term.

Finding 7

FM is the commercial radio industry’s preferred interim stable solution for addressing the shift of audiences away from AM.

Finding 8

DAB+ remains the industry preferred long-term digital platform, given the level of investment to date. However, there are mixed views about the cost–benefit of DAB+ outside the capital cities. In the short to medium term, DAB+ is likely to rollout where a commercial licence area can be served with a cost-effective number of transmitters, and/or market pressures require it.

Finding 9

Internet protocol (IP) streaming will remain complementary to AM, FM and DAB+ for the delivery of radio for in-vehicle and portable devices in the short to medium term.

Finding 10

There are no current plans to phase out AM in non-electric vehicles in Australia. The automotive industry technology choices for in-car radio listening are likely to be influenced by both the Australian radio industry’s direction and by the desires of Australian car buyers.

Finding 11

AM to FM conversions will increase the demand for FM spectrum. There is insufficient FM spectrum to convert every AM transmission to FM.

Finding 12

Unused spectrum planned in licence area plans is generally of limited utility for AM to FM conversions. Whether such spectrum is best re purposed can be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Finding 13

While relaxing planning parameters may yield some additional FM frequencies, this needs to be balanced against likely impacts on listeners and licensees. Extending the FM band will require listeners to buy new receivers. Licensees are likely to incur additional costs for equipment re-tuning, or spectrum availability is likely to be reduced for other licensees.

Finding 14

Small-scale DAB+ is not feasible as a digital delivery platform for the FM sub-metropolitan community services because there is insufficient spectrum to accommodate all such services in a metropolitan area.

Finding 15

Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) for VHF-FM is suited to replicating the coverage of FM radio. It could be evaluated as a potentially more scalable and cost-effective solution for localised digital radio.

Finding 16

DRM for AM (also called DRM30) can match the coverage of high-power AM services. Hybrid chipsets, which include DRM for AM chipsets, are available and are being produced and installed in cars at scale for the Indian market.

ACMA sees their top broadcast spectrum planning priorities at this time as:

  • converting commercial, community and national services from AM to FM in areas where FM spectrum is readily available
  • improving coverage of national, commercial and community broadcasting services where spectrum is readily available
  • making digital radio channel plans for regional DAB+ where a commercial licensee or national broadcaster has committed to a roll-out
  • supporting trials of new broadcasting technology.

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