Wednesday, 11 November 2009

FRANCE: digital radio rollout hangs in the balance

The much delayed report on digital radio commissioned by the French government from Marc Tessier, former CEO of France Televisions, was published on Monday 9 November 2009. It suggested that the planned launch of France’s first digital radio stations in mid-2010 was “implausible” and it proposed that an economic model for digital radio needed to be identified before an estimated 600m to 1bn Euros is spent over the next ten years on the rollout of digital radio in France.

The 54-page report raised queries concerning almost all the various aspects of digital radio implementation: the funding, the T-DMB standard adopted in France, the date for FM switch-off, and the cost of simulcasting on both analogue and digital spectrum for a ten-year period. It concluded: “There is still time to consider the appropriateness of pursuing digital terrestrial radio, at the point when several players are unwilling to endorse its prerequisites [coverage, reception quality] or to pay for the additional transmission costs for ten years”.

Interviewed in Le Figaro, Tessier was asked if digital radio should be halted altogether. “That’s for the radio bosses to decide. But I believe there is serious doubt over the desirability of a project that will take ten years, at a time when a new radio platform is evolving at great speed via mobile phone networks. Digital terrestrial radio has less to offer now than it did three years ago. Where will we be in five years time?”

Asked what the crucial issues are, Tessier said: “The coverage area and the number of stations available to every citizen would be the main benefits of the project. That is why each radio station owner must commit to covering at least 90% of the population, which involves huge costs at a time when radio advertising revenues are declining under pressure from new media. If we reduced the coverage area to cut the costs, the project would attract little interest”.

Also interviewed in Le Figaro, Rachid Arhab, president of the CSA [France’s broadcast regulator] digital radio working group, was asked if the report threatened the future of digital radio. “I am not bothered”, he responded. “This report is but one part of the digital radio project, and we are now awaiting the Hamelin report on the funding for radio groups. I recall that the letter to Tessier commissioning this report explicitly required it ‘to map out the successful path for digital terrestrial radio’ based on the notion of public funding.”

Asked whether digital terrestrial radio would be overtaken by other radio platforms, Arhab said: “Technology is evolving very quickly. But the longer we wait, the more difficult it will be. In ten years time, perhaps a significant portion of listening will no longer be delivered by radio waves. But that would pose a major problem in terms of platform neutrality. If there is no digital terrestrial radio platform, then public radio will be obliged to negotiate with the internet service providers for distribution. The CSA does not want to take digital radio away from radio receivers. For each new problem, we find a solution”.

Asked when digital radio will launch, Arhab said: “I can no longer give a precise date.”

The commercial radio owners started meeting the evening the report was published to draft their response, which they will deliver to the CSA by 23 November.

L’Express newspaper commented: “Without a huge effort from the radio industry, which right now does not believe in it, digital terrestrial radio is doomed to failure even before it starts”.


Anonymous said...

Some corrections : Mr Rachid Arhab is not the President of the French radio authority.

All radio stations had signed their contract with the French Radio Authority since a few weeks for the digital transmission.

Grant Goddard said...

Thanks for the feedback, Anonymous.

The text above says: "Rachid Arhab, president of the CSA [France’s broadcast regulator] digital radio working group ....."

Not perfect English, I admit, but not incorrect.