Wednesday, 8 September 2010

GERMANY: “The over-40’s will be listening to radio on FM for the next 40 years”

On the afternoon of 10 August 2010, a group of radio people from Germany, Austria and Luxembourg gathered in Erfurt, Germany to discuss the future of radio in the digital age. They had been invited there by the media regulator for Thüringer state (TLM) and some of the region’s broadcasters. The event was entitled ‘Radio 2020: a radio future between optimism and pessimism’ and followed on from a similar event held a year earlier.

This year, the final conference session tackled the topic ‘Radio and the day after tomorrow: new possibilities for distribution and exploitation of radio content on the internet’. A presentation by Dr. Klaus Goldhammer, managing director of the Goldmedia Group in Berlin, included the assertion:

“Radio broadcasting and internet radio are different markets.”

Goldhammer plotted the flow of daytime audiences in Germany for broadcast radio and internet radio on the same graph. It demonstrated that the peak broadcast radio audience between 0700 and 0800 corresponded with the lowest daytime audience for internet radio. Conversely, the peak audience for internet radio was between 1800 and 0000, corresponding with broadcast radio’s lowest audience of the day (see the slide below from his presentation).

Goldhammer noted that 31% of internet radio’s daily hours listened were consumed between 1800 and 2100. This appears to be very different from the US experience where a significant volume of listening to internet radio takes place during office hours in workplaces. In Europe, listening to radio (any radio) at work is still nowhere near as common as it is in North America.

Goldhammer noted that the growth of internet radio listening was still very slow in Germany, compared to the growth in available internet bandwidth. He concluded that:

“The over-40’s will be listening to radio on FM for the next 40 years”

Lars Gerdau, managing director of LandesWelle Thüringen, a regional rock/pop radio station broadcast on 14 FM frequencies, commented:

“We see the whole [internet radio] thing has become much more complicated than a year ago. Firstly, it is very expensive to stream a lot of radio programmes and, secondly, we have no claim to be first [in the internet space]. We have time and will focus first on FM.”

After the conference, Inge Müller-Seibel, a German radio sector commentator, noted that neither was DAB radio replacing FM as the main listening platform:

“After two decades of experimentation in Germany, the future of digital [terrestrial] radio remains uncertain. It was 1987 when the new DAB transmission technology was presented for the first time at the IFA in Berlin. Some ten years later, the German states listened to Brussels and recommended the closure of their terrestrial FM frequencies by 2015 at the latest. But almost nobody believes it will happen, and now the radio stations are putting more hope in new distribution technologies via the internet.”

And a reporter at this year’s IFA consumer electronics fair wrote:

“Digital radio is not a success story in Germany. Little more than 500,000 digital receivers have been purchased, a tiny number compared to the several million analogue FM receivers.”

A recent article in Die Welt newspaper asked ‘When will FM radio die?’ and explained:

“In fact, the [FM] technology should no longer exist. Originally, the abolition of FM was planned for this year. Instead, radio listeners across the country should have been receiving only digital signals. But the outcome has been different because most people are completely satisfied with the quality of good old FM stereo, and because of the inertia from an estimated 300 million FM radio receivers in Germany. Only a few geeks have so far bought digital radios with DAB technology.

Additionally, it is mobile phones, a symbol of the triumph of digital technology, that have supported the continuation of analogue FM radio. This is because most phones have a built-in FM radio receiver.”

[thanks to Katrin Penzel]

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