Monday, October 25, 2021

New U-K Rules Aim To Mandate Smart Speakers Access to Radio

  • Makers of smart speakers could face new measures to protect listener access to radio services
  • Follows review of UK radio to benefit future audiences and continue sector’s success
  • Review also concludes there should be no FM switch-off until at least 2030

The Digital Radio and Audio Review found that smart speakers such as Amazon Echo and Google Home are owned or accessed by a third of all adults and now play a central role in many of our lives - despite only being available for around five years.

The report recommends new measures to protect UK radio stations’ accessibility so that their content is carried on platforms via connected audio devices such as smart speakers and car ‘infotainment’ systems. This will mean they can continue to reach loyal audiences as radio is increasingly listened to via tech platforms rather than traditional radio sets.

The review, commissioned by the government and undertaken with a broad cross-section of industry stakeholders including commercial radio groups, the BBC, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and techUK, looked at the challenges radio services are likely to face in the future from changing listening habits and new technologies.

Other recommendations include that there should be no mandated switch-off of analogue radio until at least 2030 - meaning that FM radio broadcasts can continue for at least another decade so the elderly, vulnerable and people in remote communities can access essential news and entertainment.

The government will consider the review’s recommendations as it prepares a Broadcasting White Paper and develops a new pro-competition regime for digital markets.

Media Minister Julia Lopez said:
British radio showcases some of our best creative talent and played a vital role in the pandemic bringing news and entertainment to those in need.

We must make sure this treasured medium continues to reach audiences as listening shifts to new technologies and that we have a gradual transition away from FM to protect elderly listeners and those in remote areas.

We will not have a digital switchover until at least 2030 and will consider new rules to keep our thriving radio sector at the heart of the UK’s media landscape.

Radio listening habits have changed markedly over the past ten years, with more listener choice than ever before thanks to the increasing availability of on-demand audio and the successful development of DAB digital radio.

There are now more than 570 stations available on DAB across the UK, in addition to thousands of online stations and more than 300 stations on analogue. Around 60 per cent of all radio listening is now via DAB or another digital platform, and the review concludes that DAB will underpin listening well into the 2030s and beyond. New small scale DAB networks are coming on air giving more and more small local stations the ability to broadcast digitally.

The review found that the ability of the UK radio industry to thrive in the long term is increasingly dependent on listeners having free access to the hundreds of different UK radio stations on connected audio devices. graphic

Sixty four per cent of audio consumed on a smart speaker is live radio and the review predicts that live radio will still account for more than 50 per cent of UK audio listening in the mid-2030s.

Amazon, Google and Apple currently provide more than 95 per cent of voice-activated smart speakers and the review notes there is nothing within the current regulations to prevent tech platforms from being able to limit or restrict access to UK radio services or to charge stations for carriage.

Other research undertaken for the review found analogue radio listening will account for just 12 to 14 per cent of all radio listening by 2030, but FM in particular remains highly valued by many listeners, especially those who are older or more vulnerable, drive older cars or live in areas with limited DAB coverage.

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