The Confindustria Radio Televisioni association has published the “Economic study of the private radio and television sector“, which from 2020 presents in a single volume the national and local radio and television operators (previously two publications were prepared). The study examines the financial statements filed with the Chambers of Commerce by joint-stock companies (thus excluding community broadcasters, which are not required to publish them), providing a pictureof the most structured part of the radio and television industry, within which very different companies coexist. The sector is in a stabilization phase, after two economic crises (2008 and 2012), the entry of some reforms (including that of the fee and contributions to local broadcasting) and a changed competitive environment, due to the rise of OTT platforms that (like Netflix) distribute content via the internet. The financial statements are for 2018, as it was necessary to wait until a fair number were available for the study to be representative.
A summary of key trends can be read here, while the full volume can be downloaded here.
During the Cold War, the FM band in Eastern European countries was different. Radio stations transmitted between 65.8 and 74 MHz (except in East Germany), called the OIRT band; frequencies used in the West by television. As a result, citizens could not pick up signals from capitalist countries, and vice versa. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the band was gradually abandoned, but there are still several nations in Europe that have not switched off all their OIRT transmitters: Belarus, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine. In recent years, however, the decommissioning of the band has accelerated and the signals are now drastically reduced. In a number of articles, we examine the situation in each country.
Russia: in large cities the switch off goes slowly
In the report published in 2020, we talked about the decision of the government to move the broadcasters from the OIRT band to the CCIR (87.5-108.0 MHz). The state-owned Radio Rossii, which has already deactivated many installations, proceeds to switch off as soon as the communications authority makes available a frequency in the CCIR band. The switch-off has gone fast in the most peripheral areas of the endless Russian Federation, where the band is free, but it is going slow in the biggest cities, where the band is close to saturation. It also does not help that Russia uses a very “wide” channel spacing: in Moscow, the standard distance between stations is 400 kHz (while in many European countries it is 300 kHz, and drops to 200 kHz in some large Italian metropolitan areas). So in St. Petersburg, there are still four frequencies active in the OIRT: Rossii on 66.3 MHz, Radio Peterburg on 69.47 MHz, Orfey on 71.66 MHz, and Grad Petrov on 73.1 MHz. On YouTube you can listen to a scan of the OIRT band, recorded on March 27, 2021, and hear the four stations. In Moscow, only 66.44 MHz (Rossii from Ostankino), 68.0 MHz (Avtoradio), and 72.92 MHz (Radio Radonezh) are active. In the Kaliningrad Oblast (Russian enclave wedged between Latvia and Poland), 65.9 MHz and 66.02 MHz of Radio Rossii have been switched off, and only 72.11 (Radio Shanson) is on air.
Between May and June 2021 the British public broadcaster will switch off the medium-wave transmitters of another ten local radio stations, because the installations on this frequency range “no longer offer an advantageous quality-price ratio for British citizens”. The migration to digital had been announced ten years ago (in 2011): the first closures began in 2018, followed in 2020 by further deactivations in Scotland, Wales and England. Today, all BBC local radio is receivable on digital terrestrial TV and local DAB multiplexes, on FM or online (via smartphones, computers or smart speakers). Abandoning amplitude modulation will be: BBC Essex; BBC Radio Cambridgeshire; BBC Radio Devon; BBC Radio Leeds; BBC Radio Sheffield; BBC Hereford & Worcester; BBC Radio Stoke; BBC Radio Lancashire; BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Radio Foyle. Two other stations, however, will reduce their coverage area: Radio Wales and Radio Gloucestershire. Listeners are provided with a website https://www.bbc.co.uk/reception/ with alternative listening options, a help line and a telephone for listening advice.
Berlin-based Schlager Radio has announced the launch of its own visual radio station, which will be receivable via satellite on Astra and with a smart TV connected to the internet. The station’s intention is to offer additional information, such as displaying the title of the song being broadcast. “The aim”, says press spokesman Heiner Harke, “is to offer our listeners visual added value without being a TV programme“.
Boom in Italy
In Italy, on the other hand, live video broadcasts from radio stations are almost like television programmes and are becoming increasingly popular. In fact, around 19 million Italians now follow them on a screen (TV, smartphone or PC), 11 million of whom use TV. And according to the Censis research “La transizione verso la radiovisione” (“The transition towards radiovision”) “visual radio is strongly in tune with the expectations of Italians: 52% declare that they would like to have more and more the possibility to enjoy radio contents on different devices also in video format. And 50% of those who follow radiovision find it pleasant, 27.5% engaging, 24% innovative”.
A world first is about to be launched in the Netherlands. For the first time, listening will be measured by integrating all platforms (television, radio, press and online) into a single survey, replacing the current standards. This will be carried out by two market research giants, Kantar and Ipsos, which won the tender launched by the investors’ associations. The two companies will work closely together to create the NMO-Nationaal Media Onderzoek (National Media Research). In the course of 2021, the introduction of NMO will take place in phases and the first data will be published, which can be used immediately by agencies, advertisers and media operators. Several systems will be used to accurately map online viewing, reading and listening: for radio, there will be a smartphone app (MediaCell by Ipsos) that passively measures listening behaviour across all devices and platforms, as well as online behaviour with the smartphone. For TV, Kantar’s People Meter 7 will be used. For online, the Focal Meter, a router (with which the sample households will be equipped) will measure all distributed IP content. Additional datasets will be added on those who watch TV via websites and apps on devices other than TV or read newspapers and magazines online.
The decision by the German group Bertelsmann to sell two leading broadcasters in terms of ratings (TV M6and radio RTL are both in second place) has opened up competition between major French patrons. Four bids have already been submitted and the competition is expected to be fierce. There are also political interests: in 2022 there will be presidential elections, and the transfer of the two stations could reshape the media landscape. Especially if Vincent Bolloré, who has changed the political line of CNews (all news network) and shifted it to extreme right-wing positions, wins the elections. Details on the protagonists and the political balances at stake in the article of the Italian newspaper ‘Corriere della sera’.
This is one of the many stories of small local stations being overwhelmed by the signal of a more powerful station. In FM, such situations occur when the airwaves are not regulated, but it is surprising if both stations are authorised by the regulator. It is happening in Greater Buenos Aires, the metropolitan area with almost 15 million inhabitants, comprising 15 municipalities and 48 districts.
Since September 2020 FM Reconquista, a community station operating on 89.5 MHz in José León Suárez (7 km from the urban area) has been “covered” by Mucha Radio‘s signal. The distance between the two antennas is less than 14 km, but the difference in power is enormous: the community station, on the air since 1988, transmits with 1 kW, the commercial one with 40 kW. Yet both were authorised by Enacom(Ente Nacional de Comunicaciones), which regulates telecommunications in Argentina.
As long as Arpeggio FM (a classical music station, now closed) was on 89.5 MHz, there were no problems: its antenna was in a historic 18-storey skyscraper located at 651 Uruguay Street, 21 km from José León Suárez (7 km further than Mucha Radio’s), and according to FM Reconquista the station used a power of 5 or 6 kW (compared to the 20 kW authorised). This was explained by Margarita Palacio from the organisation that manages the station, in a lengthy interview that appeared on the website of Radio Gráfica, another station in the capital that broadcasts on a nearby channel, 89.3 MHz.
The repression of President Nicolás Maduro’s regime has claimed another victim: Selecta FM, which operated on 102.7 MHz from Machiques, in the state of Zulia, in the northwest of the South American country. It was deactivated by Conatel (Comisión Nacional de Telecomunicaciones) officials, who seized the equipment on the evening of Friday, 5 March 2021. This was reported by the SNTP (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Prensa), which wrote on Twitter that the station had already been intimidated on 26 February, when its premises were attacked during an interview with an opposition leader. More details in the Swissinfo.ch article.