Friday, 23 October 2009

FRANCE: Digital radio launch postponed to mid-2010


The launch of digital terrestrial radio in France has been postponed from December 2009 to mid-2010. “It will take us, I think, until the middle of next year,” said Rachid Arhab, president of the CSA [France’s broadcast regulator] digital radio working group. “I have learnt not to trust dates.” He continued: “What we had not anticipated was the impact of the credit crunch on advertising revenues, particularly in the radio sector, so the particular speeds of the different stakeholders are unknown.”

Speaking at the Siel-Satis-Radio event in Paris, Arhab switched on France’s first digital terrestrial radio transmitter and said: “The greatest difficulty is knowing if all the radio groups want to migrate to digital radio at the same speed.” “Today, I feel and I know that some of you are telling us ‘we are ready’. We are delighted. A few months ago, this was not the case.” “One must not be scared of analogue radio switch-off. Digital radio will not be a success if it has to co-exist with analogue radio for fifteen to twenty years.”

According to SatMag, at the beginning of November, there will be ‘round table’ meetings at the CSA with all the licensed digital radio operators, the set manufacturers, the transmission providers, and representatives from the Ministry of Culture & Communication and the Ministry of Finance & Industry. The CSA is awaiting two reports: one from Marc Tessier on the economic conditions for the rollout of digital radio and on competition issues; the other by Emmanuel Hamelin on the funding of community radio.

It is reported that licences have been signed, but it will take two months for the multiplex operating companies to be formalised for the launch of digital radio in the first three areas. The composition of the multiplexes has not yet been determined. The time period between which the multiplex contracts are signed and the content providers launch digital stations still needs to be fixed, probably around six months.

Elsewhere at the Paris event, SatMag reported that the issue of the T-DMB digital radio standard adopted in France was back on the table. Its report said:

“Is it right that, in France, we are using a standard that is different from the rest of Europe? Should we not be offering radio receivers that are compatible with DRM+? Alan Mear [of the CSA] says that this is not a taboo subject and will be revisited, but he also agreed with Mathhieu Quetel of SIRTI [the trade body for independent regional and local stations] that it was essential to launch digital radio and not to revisit the question of the adopted standard. Besides, Rachid Arhab agreed yesterday that the DRM+ standard was expensive and of no interest.”

“There was a big surprise from Michel Cacouault of the Bureau de la Radio which represents the main French commercial radio groups. Remember that it was they who said France had to adopt a particular digital radio standard as it was essential to transmit additional data. Today there was a complete turnaround. Michel Cacoualt reminded us that commercial radio had lost around 18% of its revenues in the credit crunch. Now, the owners want to cut their costs and are willing to choose a different standard that is less expensive. Those in the conference room familiar with this issue were amazed. Well yes! The credit crunch does makes you think. The cost of dual transmission [analogue and digital] for a single national network is estimated to be 2 to 4 million Euros [per annum], though what it will actually be we will only know when it happens.”

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