Source and entire item is from The Age 

Podcasting and the ubiquity of MP3 players have doomed digital radio before it even launches in Australia, one of the country's leading broadcasting academics says.

Existing radio broadcasters are relying on the upcoming digital services - set to launch on January 1 next year - to help them stay modern and continue attracting younger audiences.

Digital radio will initially launch only in the capital cities and requires listeners to buy new digital radio receivers. Radios already installed in devices such as cars and mobile phones will need to be upgraded as they are now analogue only.

But Jock Given, a professor of media and communications at Swinburne University, who specialises in digital broadcasting, predicts the industry will have difficulty convincing people to upgrade.

He said that, unlike upgrading from analogue to digital television, where there were clear image quality benefits, digital radio didn't add much to the digital audio offerings already freely available on the internet and painlessly portable via MP3 players.

Given's comments were sparked by GCap, one of Britain's largest commercial radio operators, announcing it would quit digital radio to focus on analogue and online services. GCap's reasoning was that digital radio was not an "economically viable platform".

GCap's move is a stinging indictment of the prospects of digital radio in Australia because Britain was seen as one of the markets in which the platform had been relatively successful.

"The idea that everyone is going to do it [upgrade] just because it's digital, I think that's naive, because the present is digital," said Given, who recently wrote the book Turning Off The Television: Broadcasting's Uncertain Future.

"The sorts of people who are most likely to be interested in new kinds of [digital radio] products seem to me to be quite likely the people who have already taken up new kinds of [online] digital audio products and may find what digital radio is able to offer them a bit underwhelming by comparison with what they've already got."

Digital radio will be accessed in a similar way to today's radio but can offer listeners additional features such as potentially better sound quality, access to images and text information such as track listings, news headlines and weather reports and, potentially, more shows.

Broadcasters have already committed to investing tens of millions of dollars in the initial roll out of digital radio and hundreds of millions more will be needed for a complete national roll out over the next few years

Given, a former member of the Digital Radio Advisory Committee, said the launch of digital radio had already been delayed significantly - the Federal Government first announced plans a decade ago - because local radio broadcasters questioned the commercial benefits of investing so much in digital infrastructure.

He said the issue would continue to plague digital radio as the distribution of digital audio via the internet was far cheaper. As well, while digital radio requires new receivers, consumers with a computer and the internet already had all that was required to tune into radio online.

"Here is this well-placed commercial radio operator in Britain [GCap] saying we're getting out of this game having stuck with it for 13 years, meanwhile here in Australia we're just getting started with it," Given said.

"We're a market that's a third of the size of Britain spread across a much larger land mass and so the job of financing interesting new services with this technology is tougher."

Digital radio has also struggled in Canada, with the communications regulator concluding a year ago that adoption by consumers had stalled and there were "only token efforts under way to promote the digital radio services that have been launched".

Given acknowledged that digital radio had the potential to offer higher quality broadcasts but said this depended on a range of variables, such as the data rates chosen by the individual radio stations.

"There's a trade-off between the number of stations and the quality of any individual station," he said.

Joan Warner, chief executive of the national industry body, Commercial Radio Australia, said like any new medium, digital radio would inevitably have detractors.

She did not respond to Given's claims any further other than to say digital radio would "be the most exciting innovation for the industry in many years and will provide listeners with clearer sound and a myriad of other great features".