Wednesday, 21 October 2009

GERMANY: National public radio to end DAB broadcasts year-end

At the end of September 2009, the Radio Council of Germany issued a public statement in which it objected to the withdrawal of further funding for DAB radio by the KEF [the organisation that allocates funds for public radio] in July 2009 (reported here) and it made a direct appeal to the Prime Minister to create an independent digital platform for radio broadcasting. It said the rollout of DAB+ to replace DAB would now be cancelled. It argued that the phased closure of analogue radio broadcasting between 2015 and 2020 was realistic and that the government should adopt a legal framework for digital radio migration.

Now, in an interview this month with ‘Digitalmagazin’, the director of Deutschlandradio (German national public radio) Willi Steul confirmed that its two national stations will end broadcasting on the DAB platform at the end of 2009.

Digitalmagazin: ‘Deutschlandradio Kultur’ and ‘Deutschlandfunk’ will not be available on DAB radio after the end of the year. What led to this bitter decision?

Steul: We need to face up to the fact that the KEF removed funding for further DAB broadcasting, including the DAB broadcasts of our two channels. This is all the more regrettable because DAB will no longer be available for the digital distribution of our new, knowledge-based, educational station.

Digitalmagazin: To what extent does this sound the final death knell for DAB?

Steul: So far, not yet. However, DAB – although vital – is in intensive care and living a sad, hospitalised existence. A paradoxical situation!

Digitalmagazin: We are meant to be re-launching with DAB+. Is this country making the transition to the age of digital radio, or will Germany remain an ‘analogue island’?

Steul: At the moment, we are on the low road to becoming a glorious analogue island. In the medium- and long-term, there is no alternative to the age of digital radio. Let’s see when the powers will be prepared to take responsibility for media policy and offer some certainty.

Digitalmagazin: The Radio Council has criticised the KEF decision as “unacceptable interference in the broadcasting policy of the German states”. Why?

Steul: The role of the KEF is to identify the financial needs of the public service broadcasters. Its job is not to forge media policy, even when there are fiscal issues, as with DAB. This is unacceptable.

Digitalmagazin: But is it not the responsibility of the KEF, in the absence of sound arguments – and this seems to be the case with DAB – to pull the plug?

Steul: You mean ‘economically’? If you invest properly for the future, you cannot expect immediate returns on your investment. The essence of investing is that money needs to be spent on innovation and a process of transformation that will only bear fruit at a later date. The digitisation of radio is, in many ways, a lengthy process and so it is premature to pull the plug now and jeopardise the investments made to date. This is definitely not economical!

Digitalmagazin: The [KEF] budget for digital radio has not been scrapped, but assigned to new initiatives. What options are there now for digital radio?

Steul: Digital radio is already available via cable and satellite. Also, internet streaming has a great future. There will be further developments, particularly in mobile internet access. At the moment, internet ‘on the move’ – in spite of flat tariffs – is still a very expensive pastime.

[cut]

Digitalmagazin: The Radio Council considers it is realistic to propose a switch-off of analogue radio between 2015 and 2020. How will this be achieved, given the estimated 300 million FM receivers in Germany?

Steul: It will not happen without appropriate incentives for the transition from analogue to digital. Such issues are not the major responsibility of radio people. They are an issue for media policymakers and receiver manufacturers. When people are offered something of interest to them, they will give up their old FM radios. Examples from other sectors should encourage us.

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