Saturday, 5 December 2009

FRANCE: Digital radio postponed until at least year-end 2010

After a period of uncertainty about a timetable for the launch of digital terrestrial radio in France, the regulator has finally admitted that the first transmissions, which had been scheduled to take place this month, will be postponed until at least year-end 2010.

During an online chat yesterday, Michel Boyon, president of the CSA [France’s media regulator], said: “While everyone recognises the need to act quickly, despite the current economic challenges, it will be year-end 2010.” He argued that “if radio does not go digital, It will slowly decline” and noted that “internet radio is very good, but it is totally inadequate to meet the demands of listeners.”

Nevertheless, the French press seems unconvinced that digital radio will ever happen.

Digital radio silence is delayed!” said the headline in trade magazine SatMag, which commented: “After having been delayed for years in favour of digital television, digital radio is taking too long and is being overtaken by other technologies.”

Too expensive, digital radio postponed indefinitely,” said the headline of Agence France-Presse the day before Boyon’s announcement. It added: “The latest figures from Mediametrie confirm the change in radio listening habits: almost 50% of listening takes place on the move, and a quarter of the population has already listened to radio via the internet. During the last year, the numbers listening to radio via mobile phones has increased by 50%.”

Has the internet killed the digital radio proposal?” asked the headline in rue89. Francoise Benhamou, professor of economics at the University of Paris 13, commented: “Consider that a cost of 600m to 1bn Euros [to implement digital terrestrial radio] over ten years is viable only if [radio] advertising revenues increase by 20 to 25%. Such a forecast would be very risky given the uncertain economic background and the competition from the internet for advertising revenues.” She added: “Many of us already receive radio broadcasts, live and on-demand covering a wide range of content, as well as associated interactive services, by connecting via broadband. Do we really have a need for digital terrestrial radio?”

Professor Benhamou concluded: “This situation does not please everyone, particularly the CSA [media regulator] who saw [digital radio] as an opportunity to extend their domain …”

It sounds all too familiar to us in the UK.

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