Digital broadcasting helped revive UK radio: Ruxandra Obreja

DRM is only standard in world with which you can digitize any bandmedium wave, short wave or FM

Shuchi Bansal
Updated1 Mar 2014, 12:38 AM IST
Ruxandra Obreja says the beauty of DRM is that you don&#8217;t have to construct everything from the ground up. You could add digital components and turn the analogue sound into digital. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint<br />
Ruxandra Obreja says the beauty of DRM is that you don&#8217;t have to construct everything from the ground up. You could add digital components and turn the analogue sound into digital. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

All India Radio (AIR), the radio arm under the public broadcaster Prasar Bharti is gradually moving from analogue to digital signals for clarity and reach. Under the 11th Plan, AIR must install 72 digital transmitters. Of these, eight are currently operational and an additional 27 will become digital soon. Ruxandra Obreja, head of digital radio development at BBC World Service and chairman of DRM Consortium (Digital Radio Mondiale), is now urging private FM radio operators to switch to digital. She is in India to participate in a seminar on digital radio organized by Confederation of Indian Industry. In an interview, Obreja spoke about the benefits of digital broadcasting and how it has helped revived radio in the UK. Edited excerpts:

What has the Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) Consortium achieved so far?

DRM Consortium is an international not-for-profit organisation made up of over 100 radio broadcasters, equipment manufacturers, research institutes and others. We have members from all over the world – Brazil, South Korea, Germany, France, Switzerland and the UK. What has it achieved? A lot. It has put together a technology that is global, open and for all broadcast bands. It is the only standard in the world with which you can digitise any band – medium wave, short wave or FM. It works efficiently, uses less energy, offers more features and services.

Which are the important markets for digital radio?

The most important market is India. You have DRM in Bangladesh, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia and now Japan. You have DRM signals in Africa, Nigeria and lot of them in Europe. BBC itself is broadcasting in DRM to Europe and to Asia. We have less signals in North Amercia as it has its own HD standard.

But why should broadcasters dump their old technology? Is this move geared towards helping some manufacturers?

You don’t need to dump. You can make a transition from analogue to digital. If you are a multi-platform broadcasters and you have digital television and internet, are you going to keep your radio content (analogue) that does not fit into any other platform? More than that, a broadcaster gets more bucks for the money because in digital, the compression allows up to three channels and one data casting channel instead of one in analogue. And no, we do not support any companies. Companies do business on their own. I am absolutely adamant that no particular company will get advantage from the consortium. We are not-for-profit.

The beauty of DRM is that you don’t have to construct everything from the ground up. You could add digital components and turn the analogue sound into digital. You could even alternate the digital with the analogue signal as the transmitter can run both, or run them side by side until you have migrated listeners from analogue to digital.

Will digital radio help private FM operators?

You cannot digitize a country by just doing one sector — private or public, it has to be the whole ecosystem. AIR has realised that by digitizing it is creating a valuable asset in which the digital transmission capacity could be allocated, rented or leased to private operatos. That might be one of the ideas.

DRM has a mode for FM which is called DRM Plus. And as India goes into FM phase 3 with more stations and bigger networks, I think digitization will give more capacity, ad revenue and more streams to allow you to diversify your content. Digital broadcast quality is kind of stereo, surround sound. It does not fade.

We are talking terrestrial transmission. Isn’t satellite radio better?

Let me ask you, have you had satellite radio in India? Satellite radio is expensive. When you have satellite radio you are not mobile, you need an antenna and a dish. The quality is excellent but there is no mobility. You can be mobile but it has a very expensive antenna system.

Isn’t radio listenership shrinking worldwide?

No, on the contrary. In the UK, we have quarterly figures and they are going up.

They are trying to think why. Maybe there is a boom in children and more mothers are at home listening or there are more people at home umemployed. Or people are in the shift system — not in 9 to 5 jobs any more. I think in the UK digital radio has given an impulse to radio listening. They have create new channels. For example, the most listened to channel in the UK is Radio Four. They built a digital-only channel called Radio Four Extra which has all the old comedies from 30 years ago. It has huge listenership.

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First Published:1 Mar 2014, 12:38 AM IST
HomeIndustryMediaDigital broadcasting helped revive UK radio: Ruxandra Obreja

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