A fire that devastated French repeaters on Italian territory has made it impossible to listen to various national and local programmes on the island’s east coast since 27 June 2021
Elba is a strategic location for illuminating the east coast of Corsica with radio signals. Mount Capanne is opposite Bastia and is about fifty kilometres as the crow flies from the Corsican coast, so much so that French public radio and television, in agreement with Italy, has repeaters on the summit since 1990.
The location is managed by the TDF group (a company set up in 1975 by the public broadcaster to manage the technical infrastructure), which broadcasts four radio channels from the site, including national and regional ones: France Bleu RCFM (an acronym for Radio Corse Fréquence Mora, on 88.2 MHz), France Culture (92.3); France Inter (96.8) and France Musique (99.8).
Forty years ago, Radio Corse Internationale was silenced
Mount Capanne was also at the centre of an obscure episode, as the Italradio website writes: the attack on several repeaters on 14 August 1980, two weeks after the Bologna station massacre. A book published in France in 2013 (Histoire politique des services secrets français, Editions La Découverte) relates the four explosions to similar actions carried out by the French secret services. Among the radio stations involved was Radio Corse Internationale, a station thatsupported Corsican independence. The French government tried to use diplomatic means to stop the station but was met with disinterest from the Italian authorities. The station stopped broadcasting in 1981.
To celebrate the centenary of the first radio broadcast and the 40th anniversary of the liberalisation of the airwaves, the CSA (Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel) has organised a festival to be held between 31 May and 6 June, 2021. Launched by the authority that regulates the French media system, the initiative will involve public and private broadcasters. 2021 marks the centenary of the first broadcast from the Tour Eiffel (24 December 1921) and 40 years since the liberalisation of the FM band (9 November 1981). But innovation will also be celebrated, as the first national multiplex in the digital band (DAB+) will be launched this year. History and archives, special programmes, media education seminars, lectures, open studios: many events will be organised during the week. Information is available here.
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’.
The grip is tightening on the Lagardère Group, propped up months ago (read more about it here) by injections of liquidity by Vincent Bolloré (owner of Vivendi, a multimedia group created around Canal+) and Bernard Arnault (owner of LVMH, an international fashion group). Bolloré would have set his eyes on Europe 1, a generalist radio station very much listened to in France, and would like to absorb it and, in view of the next elections, align it with the positions of Marine Le Pen. Arnault, instead, first hour supporter of President Emmanuel Macron, would be interested in the Journal du dimanche and Paris Match. So in the looming tug-of-war, the money may not be enough to get the radio station into Vivendi’s orbit. An extensive summary can be read on the webmagazine Succede Oggi (in Italian, consultation is free). Prima Comunicazione, on the other hand, also talks about Bolloré’s interest in theFrench group M6, which the German group Bertelsmann is interested in selling.
At 5pm on 5th of January 1971, FIP started to broadcast in Paris on mediumwave 585 kHz as “France Inter Paris”. This was the beginning of an incomparable radio station, which has still no limits in musical variety. You can hear classical music followed by rock music and afterwards some French chanson – but it is never incoherent or without a transition between the songs. It is a surprising and refreshing station that has survived several belt-tightening moves from Radio France.
And there were quite some changes and cuttings in the past 50 years: a lot of local stations of FIP closed in 2000 and the remaining local outlets had to close at the end of 2020. Several outstanding shows were cancelled (like “Dites 33”, where all songs were played from vinyl), the news flash and the traffic information were removed in the last years. Fortunately, they never removed the good music choice and the female announcers, called “Fipettes”, with their famous voices.
But there are some positive developments since FIP started to broadcast on DAB from Lille, Lyon and Paris. With only ten FM frequencies in bigger cities like Paris, Strasbourg and Marseille, FIP is the smallest FM network of Radio France. In the regions where FIP can be received, they have a big audience – hopefully growing with the upcoming nationwide transmission on DAB.
The 50th anniversary will be celebrated by FIP in its programme with a lot of shows and historical music. Today, between 5 pm and 7 pm, the history of FIP will be narrated with music and anecdotes. Starting on the 9th of January at 8 pm, 50 years of music in 50 hours will be presented each Saturday for 50 weeks at this time.
After speaking to the Italian radio editors, we asked French editors to tell us about the impact the pandemic has had on them. 97 radio stations replied, most of them community radio stations (83), giving us an insight into the reality they have faced which differs from that of the commercial radio stations monitored by SIRTI, the union that represents them. The radios have increased information (62%), organised fund raising and played a role in social solidarity. Advertising has halved (-49%) but the radio editors have survived the storm. To date only 1% of the staff has been laid off (34% in Italy), however 38% of the respondents have already applied for the advantages of the ‘partial employment’ scheme. Regarding energy consumption, which is a hot topic in Italy (45% of the budget goes in paying the bills), this is regulated in France and the cost is half (25%). At the end of the survey there are proposals made by the editors on how to come out of the crisis.
ARTICLE (EN FRANÇAIS)
Après avoir interrogé les éditeurs italiens, nous avons demandé aux éditeurs français de nous parler de l’impact de la pandémie sur l’activité de leurs stations de radio. Les deux systèmes de media sont différents: en France, ils exploitent environ 900 radios (CSA – Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel), soit 6% de moins que les radios italiennes (957). Mais seulement une sur cinq est commerciale (environ 200, 22%), tandis que les 700 autres sont “associatives”: formule qui prévoit qu’une radio reste autofinancée et bénéficie d’une aide de l’Etat, avec une publicité qui ne peut dépasser 20% des recettes (et certaines stations ne la fournissent tout simplement pas). En Italie, par contre, les ratios sont inversés: 65% des stations (624) vivent grâce aux recettes publicitaires et pour les 333 stations, il n’y a qu’une limitation du nombre de spots publicitaires à diffuser (10% par heure, soit 6 minutes : pas peu).
Plus d’une station de radio sur dix a répondu
L’enquête a été réalisée par 97 diffuseurs, pour la plupart des associations (83), dont 78 radios locales, 5 régionales, une multirégionale et une nationale. Cela nous a permis d’enquêter sur une réalité complémentaire à celle des radios commerciales, déjà contrôlées par Sirti, le syndicat qui les représente (nous en avons parlé ici). La réponse à l’urgence a été similaire à celle des radios italiennes : au-delà des Alpes également, les radios ont réagi en renforçant l’information, en organisant des collectes de fonds et en jouant un rôle de cohésion sociale.
Publicité (et recettes) réduite de moitié? Il est “coupé”, mais seulement en grands groupes
La publicité a été réduite de moitié en moyenne (-49%), ce qui reflète la situation des stations de radio multirégionales (-50%), tandis que les spots publicitaires (-72%) et les stations de radio nationales (-90%) ont souffert. Le “préjudice” causé aux associations, qui se concentrent moins sur la publicité, a été limité: pour elles, la baisse a été de 24%. Le renforcement des espaces d’information a été en moyenne de 62% (54% en Italie), mais comme nous l’avons observé en Italie, les radios et réseaux nationaux ont fait beaucoup plus, augmentant les nouvelles de 85 et 105% respectivement, contre 63% pour les associations. Un effort organisationnel autofinancé, non indifférent et soutenu. Les éditeurs, grands et petits, ont résisté à l’impact sans recourir aux licenciements: des petites réalités aux stations de radio nationales, seulement 1,34% du personnel a été licencié (en Italie 34%). Mais 38% des entreprises ont demandé un chômage partiel, en particulier les radios multirégionales (55%). Les associations et les commerciaux sont au même niveau (avec respectivement 40 et 41%), aussi parce qu’ils sont gérés en moyenne par 5 employés et 40 bénévoles. Les grands groupes, au contraire, ont déjà commencé à couper : nous en avons parlé ici.
Juste ce qu’il faut au frais de fonctionnement
En France, l’éther est planifié et l’énergie n’est pas gaspillée: les factures d’électricité n’absorbent qu’un quart du budget annuel d’un radiodiffuseur, alors qu’en Italie, elles sont presque deux fois plus élevées (45 %). Seul un faible pourcentage de répondants (10%) est favorable à la réduction de la puissance des systèmes, mais ils souhaiteraient l’appliquer à tous les émetteurs, même ceux de moins de 100W. Concernant la durée de la réduction, 54% la limiteraient à trois mois, tandis que 27% souhaiteraient la maintenir pour toujours.
De nombreuses idées pour redémarrer
Nous avons regroupé les suggestions des éditeurs par thèmes, en essayant de les transformer en propositions dont les associations devront être les porte-parole. Deux radios sur trois (66%) demandent une prime et un fonds de soutien, mais sur le reste des mesures, il y a une nette distinction entre les radios commerciales et associatives. Les premiers demandent une aide financière, une réduction des impôts (ou leur suppression pour 2020 et 2021) et des charges salariales. Il y a ceux qui pointent du doigt les droits d’auteur (gérés par la Sacem et la Spre) et ceux qui suggèrent au gouvernement de prévoir un crédit d’impôt pour les annonceurs, pour relancer la publicité (une mesure également envisagée en Italie). Les radio associatives, quant à elles, réclament des subventions exceptionnelles, une augmentation du FSER (Fonds de soutien à l’expression radiophonique locale) et des formes de soutien indirect, comme la diffusion de messages d’intérêt général (payés par le gouvernement) afin de faire rentrer de l’argent frais dans les caisses désormais vides. Mais aussi des solutions rapides, telles que la réduction de la TVA. En bref, le monde entier est un pays, même le fait que (comme cela s’est produit dans le cadre d’une enquête italienne similaire), un seul éditeur s’est déclaré satisfait de ce que le gouvernement a fait jusqu’à présent pour la radio.
In order to compensate for lower advertising revenues caused by the pandemic, the large networks are making savings like this: Altice has closed down the TV channel RMC Sport and laid off a third of its personnel, RTL has dismissed well known radio hosts and television presenters and NRJ has sold a stake to increase liquidity
In June 2020 the French subsidiary of the Altice group (a multinational with headquarters in Holland), presented a plan to the unions ‘in order to save the media group’. This involved all the divisions in the NextRadioTV group, including channels BFM TV and RMC. The goal is to streamline both organisation and programming by axing between 330 and 380 full-time staffers in addition to 200 freelancers. According to the union representing the employees at Altice CGT (Confederation generale du travail) ‘This drastic cut in personnel is incomprehensible for a profitable group in constant growth, which had a turnover of € 120 million in 2019, a 300% increase in 5 years’.
Unions jump into action
Following a number of strikes and union action, the company softened its stance on June 29th, 2020. It undertook to ‘offer voluntary redundancies to a maximum of 330 staffers and not proceed with layoffs until November 31st, 2021’. It will also try ‘to find alternative employment for staffers who cannot be placed in other positions inside the organisation and find a solution for freelancers’.
Capital gain of € 300 million in 2018
Up to a short time ago the group was flourishing to the point that the owner, Patrick Drahi, and Alan Weill, the Chief Executive Officer of NextRadioTV, made €300 million gross from the capital gain on the sale of some buildings. These four towers, located in the 15th arrondissement in Paris, are the headquarters of SFR (Societe francaise du radiotelephone, the second largest mobile communications company), BFM TV and the daily newspaper Liberation. The 85,800 square metres of floorspace accommodates 7,000 employees. Apparently in 2018 Drahi and Weill bought the buildings in their own names to then resell them to the group at a higher price.
RTL dismiss well known radio hosts and television presenters
The RTL group’s accounts for the first quarter this year closed with a fall of 3.14%. Two months later, the French headquarters announced the dismissals of a number of well known television presenters and radio hosts, the departure of the head of the political service and a cut in the budget of the correspondent in the United States. Details can be found on Jean Marc Morandini’s website
NRJ sells a stake to increase liquidity
Despite its leading position in the French market, NRJ is also feeling the pinch. On June 24th, 2020, NRJ sold a 5% stake in Euro-Information Telecom for €50 million. The company stated that the sale proceeds ‘will be used for the needs of the group’s business‘. See details here
Radio stations in France have also been hit hard by the impact of Covid-19 according to SIRTI, the union of independent radio stations, that has been monitoring the situation by carrying out monthly surveys. Up to April 2020 75% of the radio stations had not applied for the advantages of the ‘partial employment’ scheme (teleworking is not viable for 50% of the staff) because of the bureaucratic procedures being too complicated according to 39% of the respondents. No one had been dismissed (the 112 members in the survey answered) but if the crisis was to last longer, 55% planned to apply for aid from the solidarity fund that has been set up for businesses. More than half of the respondents did not have the resources to face further financial difficulty. After recording a drop of 56% in advertising in March (-32% for the national radio stations) a collapse was foreseen in April: -78% (-75% for national broadcasters).
The situation worsens
In the second survey carried out in May 2020, 72% were not confident of resuming normal business quickly, and 38% believed that the crisiscould jeopardise businesses in the short term. A return to normality, according to 95% of the respondents, would not happen before the beginning of the academic year, and for 21% not before the beginning of 2021. The reason for this was because advertisers, having been hit hard during the crisis, either cancelled their advertising campaigns or negotiated lower prices. More than one out of two radio stations have had to apply for bank loans and one in three has applied for aid from the solidarity funds or other means of support.
Cutting personnel is inevitable
In order to curb the number of dismissals, radio stations are considering implementing the partial employment scheme to balance their books and 32% predict extending this policy to the end of August 2020. 36% have not renewed or have terminated fixed-term contracts and have terminated employment for those employees working probationary periods. However these measures are not sufficient and if financial aid is not available by the end of the year, each radio station will most probably have to cut between one to three jobs. Due to the crisis there will be a reduction in events and concerts. 41% of radio stations predict reducing the number of events they organise at local levels.
Requests to the government
In June 2020 SIRTI estimated that three out of four radio stations will have to cut jobs in the next few weeks. Annual revenues from advertising could be down by at least 25% (€35 million) according to a more optimistic prognosis but could drop by €45 million if investments in advertising does not restart at the beginning of the academic year. The union is asking for a waiver of the last three months payment of both the employee’s and employer’s social security contributions. This is believed to amount to €10 million which could compensate for about a third of lost revenues.
Even in the midst of a global crisis, deals continue to happen. French mass media conglomerate, Vivendi, recently acquired 10% of Lagardère; a move that helped to strengthen the French position in the market. Following Vivendi, Groups Arnault also enters into Lagardere. In Italy, the Agnelli family holdings company sealed the deal on the acquisition of Gedi, endowing them with three radio networks.
After acquiring the initial 10% in Lagardère, in May 2020 Vivendi increased its shareholder equity to 16.4%. The move strengthens the position of Arnauld Lagadère, in control of the group, that had just foiled the attack of the Amber fund. The firm, and Lagardère’s biggest stakeholder, had accused him of bad management and wanted to change directors.
After the sudden death of Lagadère’s founder, Jean-Luc, in 2003, the multimedia empire has since shrunk. The following quote from Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera in the article ‘Francia, Sarkozy e Bolloré salvano (per ora) l’erede del regno Lagardère’ sums up the move well: ‘This acquisition is a long-term financial investment reflecting Vivendi’s confidence in the future prospects of the French group which enjoys international leadership positions in its businesses and which, like many others, is experiencing difficult times at the moment.’
To give some context to Vivendi’s owner, Vincent Bolloré is an accomplished leader. In December, 2016, he attempted to buy out the Italian Mediaset channel (publishing, three TV networks, pay TV and five radio stations), gaining up to 25.75% of the share capital and 26.77% of the voting rights.
Change of ownership for Italian radio networks
With the purchase of Gedi by the Exor group, three radio stations, (m2o, Radio Capital and Radio Deejay) will be passed onto the Agnelli family holdings company. Based in the Netherlands, Exor has a capital worth € 24 billion. In addition to owning Ferrari, they are also the largest shareholder of the FCA-Fiat Chrysler Group.
Wireless, a programme produced by John Walsh on Flirt FM in Galway, 101.3 FM, is back with a special edition on the crisis, that radio is facing because of the pandemic. They are presenting an overview of how European broadcasters in France, Spain and Italy are dealing with the impact that the crisis is having on radio stations. Their previous transmission covered the situation in Ireland which we spoke about in one of our recent articles.