40 channels to be added to digital radio network next year
Over 40 additional channels will be available to Maltese listeners on digital radio next year, Digi B Network Ltd's managing director Sergio D'Amico told The Sunday Times.
An opera channel is currently running test transmissions, and a classic rock channel broadcasting from Malta, France International, and Deutsche Welle will also be introduced on the local network in the coming weeks. A festive channel broadcasting round-the-clock Christmas music will be launched in the next few days.
Malta has seen the fastest DAB growth in the world with over 8,000 radios sold since October 2008.
Meanwhile, Mr D'Amico's firm has just rolled out the first commercial DAB+ network, the latest addition to the digital audio broadcasting spectrum, making Malta the first European country to enjoy even superior audio quality. DAB+ was recently unveiled in Australia, France and Germany.
The company is also the world's first manufacturer of DAB+ enabled car stereos.
Mr D'Amico, who has been involved in the technical field of radio for over 19 years, said digital radio has revolutionised the medium's appeal and entertainment offering. Listeners need only acquire a digital radio and tune in by station name - rather than frequency - to have access to a wide range of local and international stations. Public broadcaster PBS recently joined the network with its Magic and Radio Malta stations.
Other local stations on the network include Radio 101, One Radio, RTK, Calypso, Campus FM, Radju Marija, and 897 Bay. The international line-up features Voice of America, BBC World Service, Groove, Smooth, Top Hits and Big Country.
In 2006, Digi B Network Ltd bid to obtain the right of use of the DAB spectrum for the Malta and was awarded a licence by the Malta Communications Authority. The company designs and manufactures digital radios under its own name.
Digi B Network, which is also involved in automation software development for broadcast, plans to manufacture around 30,000 radios for export to DAB countries a year.
"Good radio is one of the best forms of entertainment - digital radio is what radio should be. It exploits more of radio's potential by offering more choice and clarity," Mr D'Amico explained. "It also allows for several additional services. Scrolling text information could include programme and track listings, news headlines and even weather reports."
Radio, he adds, has fought off the threat of newer media over the years and has held its own as the latest technology and change in the media concentration legislation allowed listeners access to global niche broadcasters. Research has shown that one in two people listens to radio in Malta. In the UK, 80 to 90 per cent of the population are active radio listeners.
Mr D'Amico believed there was room for investment in local stations and the digital radio platform gives space to firms to operate more stations, which in turn, would help the local listener base to grow.
Digital audio broadcasting will allow new players to enter the market and could reshape the local situation. The technology is appealing to small operations, which will not face the drawbacks a large company would.
Newer entrants to the industry will also strive to inject more creativity and innovation in their shows, emulating the high standards offered by overseas broadcasters. Digital radio gives station operators the opportunity to expand their services.
Digi B Network is currently working on completing the local transmission network and Mr D'Amico promised that DAB would have 100 per cent coverage and would be available even where FM transmissions are not, particularly in problematic areas like Gozo. Indoor coverage is also being strengthened. Scrolling text would be attached to all shows, including Maltese broadcasts, and picture information, like album covers, will follow.
The company is now looking to launch a mobile TV service as part of the DAB network. Digital Mobile Broadcasting allows transmission of moving pictures; the service has proven particularly popular in South Korea, Germany and France.
"This is all good news for the industry," Mr D'Amico emphasised. "DAB is an opportunity for radio. No radio station has ever closed down in Malta. Stations have always changed hands. There is demand for innovation. But some players still consider digital radio a threat. Just like TV, digital is the next step."
The Mosta-based firm is currently marketing DAB+ car stereos around the world. Australia has ruled DAB standard criteria for car stereos and Mr D'Amico envisages most car manufacturers across the world will adopt it for inbuilt radios.
France is committed to introduce it on locally-made cars by 2013.
DAB+ car stereos will be available in Malta in January.