In a world that’s rapidly moving on to music streaming and podcasts, Norway has been left as a lonely beacon of digital-only broadcasting as the Scandinavian country switches off its FM radio network this week and other nations have abandoned similar plans.
European nations, which are starting to question the benefits of shutting down analog networks, are closely looking at the switch to digital audio broadcasting, a first for any country. Digital-radio plans have largely ground to a halt in the rest of the world and the success in Norway may be the last hope for enthusiasts and electronics retailers to revive digital-radio.
“Norway is a thought leader, certainly a technology leader,” Ford Ennals, chief executive officer of Digital Radio UK, said in a telephone interview. “In the U.K., we are definitely more cautious. We want it to be listener-led. We don’t want to force everyone to do this.”
Originating with its first digital broadcasts back in 1995, Norway’s blueprint to replace FM has been in place for years. Because it uses spectrum more efficiently, the technology is more affordable for broadcasters, offers better sound than analog FM and is easier to tune. But companies such as Spotify Ltd. and Apple Inc., and Pandora Media Inc. in the U.S., have been using internet radio and music streaming as in the intervening decades, this new technology has taken hold.
The trend isn’t likely to reverse. Through services such as Android Auto and Apple Carplay, new cars are routinely equipped with dashboards that connect to the internet and smartphones. While Apple Music counted 20 million paid users, Spotify had 40 million paying users worldwide at the last count. Streaming lets consumers create their own playlists, and they can pay to avoid commercials and these are some of the dozens of more services that this technology provides. Traditional radio stations have also gone online.
With the rest of the country to follow later in 2017, Norway is starting by winding down FM signals in Bodo, north of the Arctic Circle. Ole Jorgen Torvmark, chief executive officer of Digital Radio Norway said that for a sparsely-populated nation like his, keeping FM alive wasn’t an alternative. He said that in Norway, 74 percent of the population has one or more DAB radios.
“A prerequisite for investing in a new digital network and new channels was a closing of the FM net,” Torvmark said. “We wouldn’t have been here today with a new network and channels if we didn’t have a closing date.”
In Canada, after carrying out services for a decade without much consumer enthusiasm, regulators stopped renewing digital licenses after big cities like Toronto and Montreal. The picture is similar in Finland. FM is to be replaced by digital in a phased manner by 2024 in Switzerland. HD Radio, which can broadcast stations simultaneously in both digital and analog within the same channel, is the technology used in the U.S.
While still being five years away, Digital Radio UK’s Ennals believes Britain will switch.
“I don’t think the U.K. has ever wanted to be the first here and we’re very pleased we can draw on lessons from Norway,” said Ennals. “Norway being a success may embolden the government to say ‘OK, let’s get on with this.’”
(Adapted from Bloomberg)