FRANCE: “2010 will be the last chance” to launch digital radio

2010 will be the last chance for digital terrestrial radio” to launch in France, said Alain Mear, vice chairman of the CSA [media regulator] digital radio working group. “If digital radio does not start in 2010, there will be no digital radio.” He was speaking at a roundtable meeting held 15 January at the Senate to discuss the future of radio, according to RadioActu. Mear argued that the government needed to set a deadline for the ending of radio broadcasting on FM and AM. “This is the moment of truth”, he said.

However, the view of some radio groups represented at the meeting was that radio in future would be delivered to listeners via a mix of platforms. Concern was also expressed about the financial cost of launching a new digital broadcast platform. Michel Cacouault, representing the commercial radio trade body Bureau de la Radio, predicted that there could be “no development without an economic assessment”. He stressed that the sector’s declining advertising revenues in 2009, resulting from the global economic crisis, had required “all the big groups to face re-organisation and downsizing.”

Arnaud Decker, director of corporate relations at media group Lagardere Active, said that “the authorities must ask themselves how the competitiveness of the national music radio networks can be maintained” when the launch of digital radio would increase broadcasters’ costs.

Jacques Donat-Bouillud, director of radio at transmission provider TDF, said that the cost of providing digital terrestrial radio to a population of 40m would be around 500m Euros per annum. For a single station requiring national coverage in France, he said that digital transmission would cost 3m Euros per annum, compared to 6m Euros per annum for FM transmission.

Pierre Bellanger, CEO of commercial station Skyrock, pointed out that “60% of mobile handsets are internet enabled” and cautioned that “there is no single correct answer to the question about the future of radio. The solution is a hybrid and, ultimately, the listener will be the winner.”

Bruno Patino, director of state radio station France Culture, agreed: “[State] Radio France must participate in the digitalisation of broadcasting. Digital radio delivered by IP will be there, but that will not kill the broadcast platform.”