Radio is going digital – but let´s not switch off FM!

Radio is going digital – but let´s not switch off FM!

Radio is going digital – but let´s not switch off FM!

In Europe we have different opinions regarding analogue switch off and going all digital. The radio markets in the different European countries are structured sometimes very different and have different histories and backgrounds. My home country is Finland. We are an European country and one of the Scandinavian countries. There is one main difference: Finlands private radio market is doing very much better than our Scandinavian neighbours.

In Norway, Sweden and Denmark the public broadcasting sector is very strong and the commercially funded private radio industry has a market share of the listeners representing something between 25 – 35%. They also have much weaker FM networks for private radios compared to the public broadcaster. In Finland commercial radio and public broadcasting have divided the audience 50/50 for many years. Commercial radio has a much bigger share for audiences under 55 and in the older demographics public broadcasting is the leader.

This market situation explains a lot why Sweden, Norway and Denmark are pro digital and keen on announcing switch off dates for FM. Norway was the first country to announce that in 2017 FM will be switched off. But there are conditions involved. 90% of the population needs to have access to digital broadcasing and over 50% of all listening needs to be digital before a switch off can be made. What will happen to the other 50% at that point? I do not think they will automatically go digital just because FM will be switched off. Finland has stated that there is no need to plan an FM switch off, but we have to closely monitor the development of the European and Global markets regarding broadcast and receiver technologies. We have a pretty good FM network and technical coverage for private radios in Finland.

Along with the Scandinavian countries fother countries like Holland and England have an strong digital radio agenda. England has been seen as the DAB country of Europe that is leading the way towards a digital future. But in my opinion it seems that it is not a walk in the park in England at the moment. Most of the other European countries like Germany, Spain, Italy and France are not strongly aiming for an FM switch off even with digital radio starting.

The listener

doesn't care about the technology that brings him the content.

Having said all that I need to say that I am not at all against digital radio. I believe that the future of radio is digital. As we all know radio is already digital in all its operations except for the FM signal from the transmitter to the FM receiver. But if stating FM switch off dates and forcing listeners to a single substitutive terrestrial digital technology can be very critical for the radio industry. Do we really think radio is so important to our audience that they will go through extra efforts and investments just to be able to listen to radio?

The listener doesn’t care about the technology that brings him the content. We as an industry need to help the consumer to have very easy access to radio. Like a former Nokia CEO said – content is King….. but distribution is King Kong.

If radio is not on your smartphone, if not available in your car, on your computer, in your home or at your summer cottage then everyone assumes that you can get your music, entertainment and news from other service providers and just as fast and it is too – mobile. This works as long as the mobile networks are not saturated and, most of all, as long as there is no natural or manmade disaster. One thing is sure: radio is no longer the only World Wide Wireless medium.

Radio needs to be on all platforms and accessible on all devices. Radio is a hybrid media that includes several broadcasting options. We must adopt and introduce new ones like we have done with applications and streaming on the internet. But why shut down one of the functional ones like FM really is? It is has relevance, reliability, and the sound is excellent. Let´s keep the FM band for radio also in the future.

Post by

Stefan Möller
President of AER – Association Of European Radios

President of AER – Association Of European Radios CEO of the industry body in Finland – RadioMedia

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