The scheduled launch of digital radio in Australia is to be delayed due to a lack of readiness by public broadcasters ABC and SBS, with the official commencement of regular digital programming and services in metropolitan areas now scheduled for 6 August. While some commercial broadcasters will commence regular digital programming in metropolitan areas from 15 May, the August date represents the second setback for digital radio, which was first scheduled for official launch in October 2008 and then again on 1 May 2009.

Digital radio, also referred to as DAB+, promises consumers improved sound quality, more channels of programming, and pause and rewind live radio. For retailers and hardware makers, digital radio represents an attractive replacement market for Australia’s 50 million estimated analog radios.

Infrastructure and content

The new August launch date was revealed yesterday in Sydney at a meeting of the Digital Radio Advisory Group, comprising broadcasters, receiver manufacturers, retailers and on-air talent. Chair of Commercial Radio Australia (CRA) and CEO of the Austereo network, Michael Anderson, and CEO of the CRA, Joan Warner, told the meeting that the ABC and SBS had advised the CRA they would not be ready with the infrastructure or content needed to start broadcasting until June or even as late as July 2009.

Warner says that “despite the two networks only accounting for 20 percent of the metropolitan radio listening audience, it would be better for both the industry and consumers if all networks were broadcasting a broad variety of digital content and services at the same time.”

No representative of the ABC or SBS was present at the meeting and no one from the public broadcasters could be contacted for comment at the time of writing.

Warner and Anderson explained that the commercial networks should begin broadcasting their digital services in mid-May in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. A caveat is that Brisbane may be delayed, as recent poor weather had made infrastructure installations problematic.

Both also stressed that the CRA and broadcasters in conjunction with manufacturers and retailers would be launching an extensive educational campaign in April that would promote to consumers that digital radio “is coming”. In May this would be changed to digital radio “is here”, followed by the industry-wide pre- and post-launch campaign for the official 6 August launch date.