Goodbye, radio via 3G – we can't afford you
Posted on Friday, June 11th, 2010 at 6:51 pm. #
The typical refrain of poor journalists and sub-grade radio consultants is that broadcast radio’s days are numbered. Talk to them and they’ll tell you not to bother with DAB, or HD, or whatever: because “the internet is the future of radio”.
In the US, 50% of total hours (TSL) is spent in a mobile situation, like in a car. In the UK, the figures are rather lower, but at least 25% of all total hours is spent listening to radio in a car. Yet, to my disbelief, they claim that the internet is the future even in a mobile environment.
Now, it seems, even the mobile operators are beginning to smell the coffee.
A while back, I linked to a French report that said that listening over mobile phones could be an impossibly costly broadcast medium for radio broadcasters.
Last week, AT&T, the US mobile phone network, removed its unlimited iPhone data tarrif. And yesterday, O2 removed unlimited data here in the UK. (Vodafone has never even offered it.)
New contracts – or upgrades to iPhone 4 – will limit your data usage. My 35-quid tarrif will only offer me 500MB of data a month, instead of unlimited data.
So, let’s do some maths. (Warning: maths isn’t always my strong point).
A 64kbps stream accounts for 8kB a second, or 480kB a minute – or, if you like it better, almost 5MB every ten minutes. (The rounding up’s fair when you assume radio is accompanied by additional metadata).
So, assuming I use my mobile phone’s data for NOTHING ELSE other than listening to the radio, I’ll get a thousand minutes – 16 hours – of radio listening a month out of it over 3G before having to pay extra.
The average amount of radio listened-to in the UK is 21.8 hours a week – 96 hours a month. The average amount of radio listened-to in the UK in a mobile environment is 24 hours a month: easily more than the 500MB cap on the new iPhone data contract. (And I believe people use their smartphones for other things, too).
Listening to radio over 3G will now cost our listeners money: or cost us our listeners.
It’s always been clear that radio via 3G has never been able to replace broadcast radio in terms of technical quality: the coverage and contention levels simply aren’t adequate in most parts of the UK (or, I discovered last week, most parts of San Francisco either). But now it’s clear that we’ll not be able to afford to listen to radio in this way either.
While the internet’s great for niche listening or for on-demand programming, BROADCAST radio – whether FM, DAB, satellite or HD – is the best way to reach hundreds of thousands of people at the same time. This doesn’t mean a lack of a back-channel – technologies like RadioDNS allow you to connect broadcast radio with IP – so you can upgrade a listening experience when listening to FM radio on your mobile phone, for example.
The future of radio is a multiplatform future. But as we watch journalists or so-called ‘radio consultants’ trying to tell us that the internet is the only valid future platform for radio, AT&T and O2 have both now given us more reasons to point out that at best this is simply wrong, and at worst this is deeply misleading and dangerous to our industry’s future.