Fresh content and more coverage areas are set to reboot enthusiasm in the Australian DAB+ digital radio market, according to Peter Blampied, director of sales for Pure, one of the leading suppliers of receivers in the world.

In Australia with Pure’s director of marketing Nick Hucker to meet with distribution partner Pioneer and to showcase some new product prototypes to major retailers, Blampied said that although the past 24 months have seen a slow-down in activity in digital radio, due largely to a lack of content development and expansion of digital radio coverage, excitement was due to ramp up again.

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Blampied also made the point that an aggressive approach to capturing sales, essentially discounting, had pushed digital radios into a commodity cycle. This was quite a fast descent from premium to passe, as DAB+ content was only switched on in Australia in August 2009.

“We need to start taking a long term perspective in the digital radio market and give more choice, more products and more education to consumers and the trade,” he said. “We need to educate the retailer and the consumer to demand more and to expect more from digital radios.”

Pure has been a global leader in this technology since the UK first started digital broadcasting in the mid-1990s. In advance of Australia launching DAB+ transmissions, Pure signed on Pioneer as a partner to handle sales and distribution, with Graeme Redman acting as a go-between in his role as managing director of Pure Australasia.

Although there was a premium placed on digital radios when they first launched, and some initial excitement leading to impressive sales, enthusiasm soon waned as too many potential customers were not in broadcast areas, there was a slow-down in new content development and the lack of switch-off date meant many consumers have not been motivated to purchase. One must only observe the frenzy to purchase flat panel TVs over the past 10 years as an indication of how powerful a deadline is to consumer action.

Now that price erosion has begun affecting the market, Pure has decided to invest in its design and technology in an attempt to reverse this trend.

Blampied’s thinking is that a poor consumer experience will lead to lower prices and suppliers chasing volume. People having a great experience, however will keep prices up. What makes a great experience? Blampied rattled off a number of trends the Pure development team are targeting:

  • Smaller spaces in new houses require smaller receivers that do not compromise on audio quality.
  • Bass port technology, more commonly seen in higher end speakers, being used to improve sound output.
  • Instantaneous start-up and playback through simple user controls (Blampied quoted research saying a major benefit of radio over streaming services like Rdio or Spotify is that you can be listening to music in seconds, rather than having to open apps and manually choose what music to listen to.)
  • Digital radios doubling as Bluetooth speakers, making them more attractive in side-by-side comparison to standalone speakers, such as the UE Boom or the Beats Pill.
  • Rechargeable batteries for portability.
  • Multiroom playback, such as what we are seeing at the premium end with Sonos and Bose systems.

While we have been sworn to secrecy on the specifics of Pure’s new range, it is a safe bet that having identified these consumer demands, Pure is addressing most, if not all, of them in their new range.

Design is also a major part of Pure’s plans. Blampied showed a prototype with an exterior pattern designed by on-trend UK/Cyprus artist Rob Ryan. Ryan describes his work as “consisting of whimsical figures paired with sentimental, grave, honest and occasionally humorous pieces of writing”, and Pure’s new Ryan-designed range embodies this technique.

At Pure’s premium end, the company is borrowing some of the designs from its  colourful range of  Jongo speakers for new Evoke models featuring interchangeable face plates. Marketing pro Nick Hucker said the company carefully studied the Pantone guide for the next 18 months, exclusively revealed on this website, to decide which colours it would include in the range. We saw two separate styles today: bright, vibrant tones and more subdued, earthy colours. Customers will be able to mix-and-match to best suit their needs.

One of the biggest threats to traditional radio broadcasting is online music streaming and online radio services. In addition to services like Rdio and Spotify, which include millions of tracks at the touch of button, either free with ads or on subscription, there are also several online radio services that learn a listener’s habits and then use these preferences to curate playlists. Pandora is the most famous of these services though Apple is moving in its territory with the recently launched iTunes Radio.

Blampied’s response to this imposition was interesting.

“In the morning, you get up and put on the radio because you want to hear the news, find out the weather and hear a traffic report and find out the overnight sports scores. For these purposes, no, it is not a threat,” he said. “But for long trips, studying or outdoors, then we start seeing an impact.”

Blampied also noted that many radio listeners enjoy the companionship of radio — someone talking to them — and for these listeners, Pandora-style services offer minimal substitute.

For the future, local boss Graeme Redman, who is planning on retiring mid-year, said the CRA must continue to lobby the Federal Government for expand spectrum, especially in major cities like the Gold Coast and Hobart, and to make permanent the trial statuses in Canberra and Darwin.