Time for Hong Kong to scrap analogue radio and switch to digital, analyst says

Media industry analyst blames an unsupportive policy framework for digital’s lack of success in the city, and calls for an imminent switch to the new technology

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 August, 2016, 10:49pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 August, 2016, 11:26pm

The demise of another digital audio broadcasting (DAB) has prompted calls for analogue radio services to be shut down.

A day after Digital Broadcasting Corporation (DBC) announced it was handing in their license and going off air, Peter Kwan Wai, senior teaching fellow at City University’s department of media and communication, criticised the government for its “laissez-faire policy” on DAB.

“The market is dying. If the government believes DAB is the right direction we should head towards, it should give more input to make the market sustainable, and not just introduce it because it sounds trendy,” Kwan said.

Kwan called on the Hong Kong government to follow countries such as Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Britain in setting a deadline to switch all radio services from analogue to digital.

He added that digital broadcasters should be granted access to the digital TV spectrum so as to make full of the city’s platform.

Kwan’s call to completely switch the city’s radio networks comes after Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung said there no plan to shut down analogue transmission.

“We can’t force residents to switch to digital audio from FM,” he said on Monday.

Kwan’s views were shared by Grace Leung Lai-kuen, a lecturer at Chinese University’s school of journalism and communication. However she said the rise of social media and internet radio in recent years had also made the DAB market difficult to sustain.

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“You don’t need a licence to set up an internet radio and do broadcasting online and they probably even draw more listeners than some DAB programmes,” she said.

“So why would you invest huge capital for DAB services?”

DBC announced yesterday that it would go off air from September 7 due to a poor outlook for the sector in Hong Kong.

DBC boss Loh Chan blamed the closure on a lack of prospects in digital broadcasting and government policies that failed to help digital radio reach a wider audience, causing difficulties in attracting advertising.

DBC co-founder “Taipan” Albert Cheng however said the business model and the government policy were not to blame. Instead, he said it was the station’s failure to produce content that people wanted.

“DBC is now too pro-establishment,” Cheng, who quit the company after a dispute with its main investor in 2012, said yesterday.

DBC is the second broadcaster to surrender its digital audio broadcasting licence in a year, after Phoenix URadio earlier returned its licence. It leaves just two others in the field – Metro Broadcast and government-owned RTHK.

Digital radio was first launched in Hong Kong in 2011. After public consultation, the government issued licenses to DBC, Metro Broadcast Corporation, and Phoenix U Radio, to provide DAB services.

The licences are supposed to be valid for 12 years.