The economic crisis triggered by the pandemic (over 600,000 people have died in the South American country) has brought many broadcasters to their knees, and they have asked to reduce their transmission power in order to cut operating costs. So the Ministry of Communications has allowed radio and TV broadcasters to reduce their authorised watts by up to 30% for six months, at times when the audience is less busy. The president of the Brazilian Association of Broadcasters (Abert), Flávio Lara Resende, was satisfied and said ‘by accepting the sector’s request, the Mcom is showing itself sensitive to the moment of a financial crisis that the private sector is going through, driven by the coronavirus pandemic‘.
India’s broadcaster Prasar Bharati has ordered the Doordarshan television division, which is also in charge of infrastructure, to switch off analogue TV transmitters by March 2022. Channels have already been switched off in large cities, and in areas where the switch-off is planned, financial aid will be provided for the switchover. However, it has been calculated that by now 98% of the population already use digital channels or DD Free Dish satellite TV. With the switch-off, Prasar Bharati will be able to auction the frequencies that become free, thus increasing the supply of digital channels. The analogue frequencies will remain on air only in strategic areas: Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, Sikkim; the Andaman Islands, Nicobar and Lakshadweep. The shutdown will also have an impact on employment because the staff is redundant: 50% of the technicians will be dismissed and only a fraction will be replaced by more qualified elements.
Markus Weidner, an editor since 1999 of the telecommunications site teltarif.de, has published on his blog a report on the new car radios on display at the IAA Mobility in Munich, the fair that replaces the biennial Frankfurt Motor Show, overwhelmed (like the Geneva Motor Show) by the pandemic. According to Markus, after having integrated the car radio more and more into the car (making it difficult to replace with third-party products), car manufacturers are now limiting its functionality. In the most recent models, the receivers offer a list that integrates FM and DAB stations, updated in the background. The function is useful because it avoids searching and memorizing the station, which can be recalled (more and more often) with a voice command. Such an organized list is convenient for those who listen to the most powerful radio stations, but it limits the choice: if the signal is not strong enough or slightly interfered, or without RDS (in FM there are still some) it is completely ignored. Weidner suggests an expert mode that enables the old manual tuning in FM and DAB. Otherwise, this “rationalization”, prevents you from freely choosing the radio of your heart.
The transition to digital requires investments that not all broadcasters can afford. Especially community radio stations, which have little advertising (or are self-financing) and therefore lack the necessary resources. This is a common situation in many countries, but in Belgium, the association of independent voices Radio Z has launched a petition to urge the government of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation to take action. The stations it represents are followed by hundreds of thousands of listeners in the region, employ more than a thousand volunteers who inform, entertain and promote the territory and the community; and above all train presenters, technicians and journalists. Unfortunately, these independent voices are financially exhausted and would need to double their revenues to survive. Despite warning signs, the Wallonia-Brussels Federation is not taking action and the diversity of the radio landscape is in danger of being destroyed. By 2030, in fact, 50-60% of them could disappear, due to the lack of economic, technical and logistical aid and a penalising digital frequency allocation plan.
A four-point plan
The association calls for annual funding for independent radio stations, similar to that provided for the press and local television, which receive, respectively, 10.9 and 10.4 million EUR a year, not counting municipal, provincial, Brussels region and French Community Commission (Cocof) subsidies. More support and flexibility is also needed from the operators who will carry the DAB signal to avoid any stations being excluded. It is also necessary to immediately optimise the frequency plan, which today does not allow the proper broadcasting of independent radio stations. Finally, the procedure for allocating funding to guarantee the transition to digital broadcasting must be reviewed.
In anticipation of the switchover to digital terrestrial TV in 2023, three of the Asian country’s major broadcasters have teamed up to operate the national digital TV platform. After signing a memorandum of understanding in February, the agreement was finalized in August by Bayon Media High System Group, Hang Meas Group and Cambodian Broadcasting Service Co Ltd (CBS). The partnership resulted in the Cambodia TV Alliance, a public-private partnership (PPP) company that will manage the transition phase. The broadcasters will transmit in DVB T2 but will also keep analogue signals on the air for a few years, which are scheduled to be switched off by the end of 2025.
More details and statements from the presidents of the broadcasters in The Phnom Penh Post article.
A few months after entering the capital of the Lagardère group, Vivendi aims to take control: in recent days it has announced its intention to acquire the package of 18% owned by the Amber Capital fund and that it will then present the Opa. Vivendi, which already has 27% of Lagardère’s shares in its portfolio, has set December 15, 2022 as the time horizon, offering 24.1 euros per share, thus recognizing a premium of about 20% compared to the quotations. However, the transaction must obtain the green light from the CSA (Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel), the Autorité des Marchés Financiers and the European Commission. In order to finance the acquisition, Vivendi’s owner Vincent Bolloré sold shares in Universal Music (retaining a sufficient 10% to maintain control), before listing the music giant on the Amsterdam stock exchange. The listing was a success, because compared to the placement fee set at 18.5 euros per share, the shares rose to 26.45 euros (+35%), giving the group a value of around 45.5 billion euros compared to 33 at the placement.
In 2017, news that Norway was the first country to switch off the FM band in favour of DAB grabbed headlines. The idea tickled the imagination, so few verified it. But it was a hoax: the sensationalism of the news had overshadowed the reality. What abandoned FM was public radio NRK and, above all, the commercial networks. NRK occupied two frequencies out of three of those active in the country: 2000, compared to 1000 of all other radio stations, networks included. The main beneficiary of this operation was public radio: concentrating in a single multiplex four national networks, divesting hundreds of transmission sites (they were 700) and decommissioning FM transmitters nearing the end of their life, would have realized great economies of scale.
Towards a five-year extension
Of the remaining frequencies, 40% (400) have been switched off by private networks and large commercial radio stations, especially in the capital and in large urban areas. But the others are still on the air: 552 (data from www.fmlist.org) used by 100 radio stations, many of which declare on their website that they are proud to continue in analogue. Some stations have also switched on DAB muxes (there are several used by a single station, which at most host two or three thematic channels) to keep up with the news. Broadcasting will continue until at least 2026: Mari Velsand, director of the Norwegian Media Authority recommended the government extend the FM licenses another five years, believing that media diversity would be compromised if the shutdown occurred at the end of 2021, as planned.
Despite risking imprisonment of up to six years and a fine of up to US$54,000 for what the law calls “aggravated theft of the radio spectrum,” illegal stations proliferate in Peru, and the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MTC) is working hard to disable them. In the last five years, the MTC has filed 910 criminal complaints, made 714 precautionary seizures and seized more than 2300 pieces of equipment. Improper use of radio signals also degrades the quality of services received by citizens, and interference with aeronautical communications can create dangerous situations. And it is not only broadcasters who risk penalties, but also advertisers: airing commercials on an abusive station is a serious administrative offense, and the fine ranges from $11,000 to $32,000.
The exit from the scene of one of the last community stations in Finland is analyzed by Medamonitori, a site about Finnish media, which takes stock of the situation of community radios in the country. Pispalan Radio, which used to broadcast on 99.5 MHz near Tampere, has leased the frequency from July 2021 to Radio Pooki, a music channel of the Bauer Media Group (leader in Europe with more than 57 million weekly listeners in eight countries), which will use it until the end of the license period, expected in 2029.
According to Tero Toivonen, curator of the site, Pispalan Radio has lasted a long time on the airwaves, despite the difficulties in finding volunteers, thanks to the good coverage of the south and south-east area of Tampere (the country’s third-largest city with over 220,000 inhabitants). But the difficulty in finding those willing to “do radio” precipitated the crisis and Pasi Komsi, a co-founder of the radio station and editor-in-chief, resigned himself to closure. Toivonen, however, points out the contradiction that prompted an association radio station to lease the channel to a commercial station.
The broadcaster funded by the US Congress to “promote democratic values and institutions” has racked up fines of 169 million roubles ($2.277 million) for violating rules governing the presence of foreign media in Russia. This is an order issued by the Roskomnadzor (Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Connection and Mass Communication), which as of 23 September 2020 has required foreign media to preface messages and materials broadcast with the indication that they are produced by a foreign media outlet. The broadcaster has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to verify the legality of the application of Russian legislation for foreign media against them and says it intends to appeal all court decisions.
More details in the Interfax article.