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.
Families that cannot afford a decoder, political instability and broadcasters’ inertia are all slowing down the change to digital. It is a situation that, considering the proximity of the Presidential elections, is convenient for the political parties.
Initially planned for December 31st, 2017 (law nr. 167 passed in 2015) the transition to digital TV was then postponed to March 1st, 2020 (law nr. 8 passed in 2018).
However, political instability in the Republic of Moldova complicated everything when nearing the deadline. In June 2019 President Igor Dodon was suspended by the Constitutional Court due to him not being ableto form a government within 90 days following the elections. After this a combined diplomatic intervention by Russia, the United States and the European Union led to a partly pro-Russia and partly pro-Europe coalition government being formed. However, the pro-Europe, liberal Prime Minister, Maia Sandu lasted for only five months and was replaced by Ion Chicu, a technocrat supported by the Socialist Party. If you are interested in reading more about the specific phases of the crisis please click here.
Families do not have the money for a decoder
The main hurdle to transition, according to the Minister of the Economy and Infrastructure, Anton Usatii, is that a large number of families simply cannot afford to buy a decoder (the country has a population of 3.5 million and one of the lowest GDPs in Europe). In 2018 the government gave away 8,922 decoders but this supplied fewer than 20% of the families that receive social assistance (more than 51,000).
The State is going to buy them at € 12.50 each
The Minister set the deadline for the month of May 2020, also in order to resolve the problem of the national TV stations being behind schedule. Click here for more technical details by a media expert. He then invited families to make an official request for decoders and called for a tender in order to purchase 30,000 at the price of € 12.50 each. For further details click here and here.
But then politics interfered
A new crisis then changed the political framework. The government was led by the democrat, Ion Chicu (pro-Europe and centre left, but near the controversial oligarch, Vlad Pllahotniuc). Curiously, the government was sworn in on March 16th, 2020, the closing date for bids for the supply of decoders. The Ministry of Economy and Infrastructure went to the democrat, Sergiu Railean, who was to evaluate the bids (there were two). But notwithstanding the Covid crisis, even if the contract had been signed immediately, it would have taken two months for the decoders to have been supplied and they would have been distributed in the middle of the summer. The Minister has not spoken about a new deadline.
So the political parties are behind ‘the slowdown’?
The opposition fears that the delay is due to the fact that the TV stations that still transmit in analogue are those near the two parties in government. It would be convenient to not have competitors until November, when the new President of the Republic should be elected. However, even the stations are also reluctant because they believe that the rent for the band in the only national multiplexing transmission system is too high to support in absence of a switch off. They are talking about € 6,000 a month.
According to the pro-Russian press, on the other hand, everything is OK. In February 2020 the Secretary of State for IT & C, Vitalie Tarlev, asserted that the only DVB-T2 national multiplexing system had a 97% coverage of the country. And regarding the switch off, the date December 2020 is being thrown around because from 2021 even Moldava has to release frequencies that will be used for 5G. Find another article here.
Franco Martelli in collaboration with Sergiu Musteata.
It is a cry of pain and a heartfelt appeal that arises from 132 radiopublishers that were surveyed on the consequences of the pandemic by Radio Reporter blog. In the midst of an emergency, they enhanced information, promoted fundraising and played a role of social cohesion. But government aid is overdue and two out of three radio stations (65%) ask for further immediate and non-refundable aid (40%). The drop in advertising, moreover, is dramatic (-73%) and painful cuts were necessary to make ends meet, dismissing collaborators and asking for layoffs for part of the staff. To assess the impact of the crisis, Radio Reporter asked specific questions on these aspects and asked if to immediately reduce business costs, it would make sense to halve the power of the transmitters: energy consumption absorbs 45% of a radio stations budget. A solution that in addition to being cost-free for the government, would improve the quality of listening (reducing interference) and reduce electromagnetic pollution. The results of the investigation are published in Italian, to facilitate consultation by publishers and listeners.
article (In italiano)
È un grido di dolore e un appello accorato quello che si leva da 132 editori radiofonici interpellati sulle conseguenze della pandemia. In piena emergenza, hanno potenziato l’informazione, promosso raccolte fondi e svolto un ruolo di coesione sociale. Ma gli aiuti del governo sono in ritardo: dopo la promessa (cancellata) di 40 milioni di euro in febbraio, ne sono stati stanziati 50 il 19 maggio nel “Decreto rilancio” (complessivi, però, per radio e tv). L’operato del governo e le regole con le quali verranno distribuiti i fondi, però, viene approvato solo da un editore: due radio su tre (65%) chiedono ulteriori aiuti, immediati e a fondo perduto (40%). Il calo della pubblicità, del resto, è drammatico (-73%) e per far quadrare i conti sono stati necessari tagli dolorosi, congedando collaboratori e chiedendo la cassa integrazione per una parte del personale. Per valutare l’impatto della crisi abbiamo posto domande precise su questi aspetti e chiesto se per ridurre immediatamente i costi aziendali avrebbe senso dimezzare le potenze dei trasmettitori: i consumi di energia assorbono il 45% delle risorse di un’emittente, quindi i risparmi sarebbero superiori a un quinto del bilancio. Una soluzione che oltre ad essere a costo zero per il governo, migliorerebbe la qualità dell’ascolto (riducendo le interferenze) e abbatterebbe l’inquinamento elettromagnetico.
Ha risposto una radio su sei
I 132 editori del sondaggio rappresentano 101 emittenti commerciali, quasi una su sei (sono 624 per l’Agcom); di queste, 72 hanno una copertura locale, 22 regionale, cinque multiregionali e due nazionale. Ci sono poi 31 stazioni comunitarie delle 343 esistenti: va considerato, però, che molte non dipendono dalla pubblicità, come molte delle 184 di area cattolica associate al Corallo e quelle si autofinanziano, come le 33 radio evangeliche censite da FMLIST-FMSCAN (database mondiale della radiotv).
Bisogna agire in fretta: c’è chi sta per gettare la spugna
Il malessere è emerso da diversi editori, mentre presentavamo l’inchiesta: erano dubbiosi, sfiduciati e di stavano seriamente valutando di chiudere. E dal sud ci è giunta una lettera che testimonia la drammaticità della situazione (che riproduciamo qui). Tagli drastici e movimenti nell’etere, del resto, già si intravedono: come interpretare la sospensione dei programmi della ligure Radio Babboleo News, che da fine maggio ripete rete principale? O l’acquisto da parte di m2o di tre canali della pugliese Radio Giulia? Ma come abbiamo spiegato in un recente articolo le frequenze si sono svalutate e cederle non è facile, a meno che siano in zone dove hanno mantenuto valore, come in Trentino Alto Adige, dove un editore ci ha detto di essere in trattative con un network per cedere l’intera rete e chiudere.
Persi i tre quarti della pubblicità (e degli incassi)
Sul crollo degli spot sono tutti d’accordo: in media è stato del 73%. A risentirne meno sono le 22 commerciali di ambito regionale (-70%) e le 31 comunitarie (-71%). Va peggio per i network e le multi regionali (-80%). Ma questa è solo la punta dell’iceberg: dalle risposte degli editori emerge anche la preoccupazione per la crisi di liquidità dei clienti, che non riescono a pagare le fatture degli spot già messi in onda. Ritornare alla normalità non sarà facile, anche perché la sospensione degli eventi e dei concerti fa mancare un’altra fonte di finanziamento importante.
Superstation regine dell’informazione
Se il potenziamento degli spazi informativi è stato in media del 54% (per commerciali e comunitarie), sono le stazioni multiregionali ad aver puntato maggiormente sulle news, incrementandole del 70%, contro il 45% dei network nazionali. Uno sforzo organizzativo che ha spinto al massimo i motori di realtà grandi e piccole, che hanno investito risorse pur private del carburante della pubblicità.
Così si è proceduto ai tagli, soprattutto nelle grandi strutture
Se gli editori hanno congedato, in media, un collaboratore su tre (-34%), i risparmi sui costi del personale si sono fatti sentire soprattutto nelle aziende più strutturate: superstation (-48%) e network (-85%), mentre per le comunitarie l’impatto è stato dimezzato (-16%). Analogamente, la cassa integrazione è stata richiesta per un lavoratore su tre (-31%), con punte del -47% per le radio a copertura regionale, e ancor più elevate per superstation (-48%) e nazionali (-50%). A risentirne meno sono state le comunitarie (-18%), anche perché vengono gestite con meno di un dipendente (0,72): si basano sui collaboratori (5 in media) e soprattutto sul volontariato (7 persone, tra quelle interpellate).
L’energia? Un salasso, soprattutto per le comunitarie
Nel nostro paese si usano potenze di trasmissione troppo elevate. Un’eredità della guerra dei watt terminata nel 1990, che però pesa sempre di più sul budget degli editori (45%). Un valore che fotografa bene la situazione delle 22 radio commerciali regionali della nostra inchiesta (43%), che dispongono di una decina di ripetitori. Va un po’ meglio alle realtà più piccole (38%), con una media di quattro impianti, mentre per le comunitarie (con due frequenze) rappresenta un fardello pesante: assorbe il 64% delle risorse, anche perché i bilanci di queste strutture sono più magri (il 96% incassa meno di 50.000 euro) per i limiti di affollamento pubblicitario previsti dal tipo di concessione. Più le dimensioni aziendali crescono, invece, meno la componente energia è rilevante: si ferma al 25% per le multi regionali, al 20% per i network, a fronte di bilanci che, per entrambe queste categorie, possono superare il milione di euro.
Perché allora non ridurre le potenze di 3dB (dimezzandole), liberando risorse preziose in momenti come questi? L’idea, rilanciata in marzo da Lorenzo Belviso, editore delle emittenti pugliesi Radio Mi Piaci e Radio Popizz, consentirebbe risparmi superiori al 40%. Purtroppo la legge impedisce di ridurre la potenza (per alleggerire i costi, un editore ha detto di avere spento impianti minori dichiarando che sono in manutenzione o in avaria), ma in situazioni di emergenza, come quelle alle quali ci ha messo di fronte la pandemia, un dimezzamento generalizzato “da decreto” potrebbe fare comodo a molti. E a costi zero per lo stato. Apparentemente, il 52% degli editori interpellati non è interessato al “taglio” dei watt, ma si tratta di una media: dai dati emerge che i più favorevoli sono i network (100%), seguiti dalle comunitarie (61%) e dalle piccole commerciali (55%). In equilibrio le regionali (50%), mentre le superstation sono per lo status quo (80%).
Consumare meno, abbassando tutti
Su come ridurre le potenze, il 64% degli editori interpellati sarebbe favorevole solo se la riduzione fosse obbligatoria per tutti, escludendo gli impianti di potenza fino a 100 Watt (52%) impiegati di solito per illuminare le zone d’ombra nelle aree montane. Riguardo alla durata delle misure, la maggioranza (43%) preferirebbe che fosse per sempre.
Tante idee per ripartire. O l’etere verrebbe desertificato
Con 132 pareri, lunghi fino a 2000 caratteri, potemmo scrivere un libro. Dato che la risposta era libera, abbiamo individuato le tendenze trasformandole in proposte da indirizzare alle associazioni e al governo. Le radio commerciali si sentono mancare il terreno sotto i piedi. Dalle circa 5000 esistenti quando fu varata la legge Mammì, nel 1990, ora sono meno di mille: 967, come ci ha comunicato l’Agcom. Avrebbero bisogno di aiuti immediati, anche quelle che riceveranno una parte dei 50 milioni di euro (da dividere con le tv). Chiedono di ridiscutere le norme attuali (65%), erogando in fretta “soldi veri” e a fondo perduto (40%). Da distribuire “a pioggia” (11%), o a chi ha fatto informazione (6%) come alle piccole realtà locali (6%). Poi ci sono i sostegni indiretti: agevolazioni per l’energia elettrica (17%, quasi tutti con la richiesta di abbattere le tariffe del 50%); riduzione dei contributi per il personale assunto (12%); incentivi per chi fa pubblicità radiofonica (5%) ma riservati alle radio (il “decreto rilancio” li prevede anche per le tv, diluendo l’efficacia della misura); convogliare la pubblicità istituzionale sulle piccole realtà locali che si sentono abbandonate (5%). Qualcuno suggerisce ricette semplici, come tagliare le tasse (6%) e la burocrazia (5%). Altrimenti l’alternativa è che gran parte delle voci si spengano. Per sempre.
Cuts for five major broadcasters in Europe are on their way. While in Italy some radio stations are asking their listeners for help.
Austria: ORF is cutting outgoings
The director general of ORF, Alexander Wrabetz, has announced cuts of € 75 million are to be made by the end of 2021. These will be implemented in all areas in the company, from equipment to the cost of personnel. This year the broadcasting station is predicting losses that go from a minimum of € 28.6 million to up to € 54 million, should the worst scenario play out. The budgets allocated for major events will not be touched (€ 40 million for the rights of the European Football Championship and the Olympics). This is also the case for other investments which include digitalisation. Click here for more details from the article on Horizont.
France: Cost cutting plans for the public radio causes controversy
Cuts in the budget had already been decided on in 2018, in a period long before the present crisis. The Government had demanded a reduction of € 190 million in funds to public broadcasters (by 2022). € 20 million of spending cuts were destined for Radio France and in 2019 the CEO Sibyle Veil had prepared a plan that involved cutting 250 jobs. This provoked the longest strike in the history of public radio. The strike lasted 63 days (in total) during the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020. The trade unions consider the cuts unjustified and after a period of truce due to the Covid-19 crisis, the unrest could restart.
Germany: NDR raises the crossbar by € 60 million
The German broadcasting company Norddeutscher Rundfunk, NDR, wants to cut € 60 million more than the € 240 million that had been already decided on for the next four years. The director, Joachim Knuth, is not going to reduce personnel but will not be employing new staff for 200 vacant positions. Furthermore, programmes and a series of events will be cancelled. Among those to go are crime series, entertainment and game shows on TV. Click here for more details from the article on Der Spiegel.
Italy: Onda d’Urto is banking on subscriptions
Radio Onda d’Urto in Brescia has launched a campaign for subscriptions to compensate for the missing revenues caused by the probable cancellation of the Festival of Radio Onda. The event, that is to be held in August, is the main source of finance for the broadcaster and even if it is not cancelled, it will be much smaller.
United Kingdom: £ 125 million have gone ‘missing’ at the BBC
The coffers of the public broadcasting station, BBC, aredown £ 75 million due to a delay: Listeners over seventy five were due to pay TV fees from June 1st, 2020, but this has been postponed to August 1st, 2020. This amount rises further because of losses caused by a drop in advertising and the postponement of a plan to reduce the workforce by cutting 450 jobs. According to the director general, Tony Hall, the cuts need to total £ 125 million. Upper management salaries will be frozen until August 2021 and a freeze will be put on all recruitment that is not indispensable. Other TV stations are not doing any better. ITV, free-to-air, has made a cut of £ 100 million to their budget and Channel 4 (a public broadcaster) has made a cut of £ 150 million. Further details can be found here.
Spain: SER cuts cost of personnel
Spains main network, Cadena SER, owned by the Prisa group (they own the daily newspaper El Pais and have business interests in 24 countries) is reducing the cost of labour. Of the personnel employed by the radio, 256 workers have been laid off until July 12th, 2020, (on unemployment benefit) while another 924 have a salary reduction of 10% until December 31st, 2020. Cadena Ser has 202 stations and the Prisa group also owns Cadena 100 and Los 40 Principales. Click here for details in the article of El Español.
Everything will fade into past memories, but it is worth seeing some of the photographs taken in these last few months again. They include announcers and journalists broadcasting live from home, and courses for listeners on how to make their own radio programmes. It is also worth mentioning the vade mecums that have appeared in online magazines and on the websites of various associations. Their advice goes from how to choose equipment and software for a home studio to the procedures needed to protect radio station studios from contagion. There are even broadcasters that have put their studio disinfection procedures on show or have used their facemasks for self-promotion.
Radio stations broadcasting live from home
Belgium: While a lot of broadcasters, in spite of homely backgrounds, are narrowing the field of view with close-ups to give a professional touch, with the photographs of VRT Studio Brussel, a Flemish speaking public radio station, your eye tends to be drawn to the furnishings which reflect the personality of the announcer and goes from the large philodendron in the foreground to the bookcase on the right, and the door opening onto another room, making you wonder where it goes to.
Italy: When Roberto Zicchitella was conducting Radio3 Mondo live from his flat, his curious cat leapt onto his desk to sniff his tablet. The international news programme is on air on the public radio station, Rai Radio 3.
Spain: The SER network teaching listeners how to make a radio programme
The journalist, Pedro Blanco of Cadena Ser (a network of 202 radio stations we have spoken about in a previous article) on air with a radio workshop teaching listeners how to make their own programmes to then send to the radio station.
Canada: How to go on air from a distance
ARC, a Canadian alliance of community radio stations, explains how to equip yourself to produce your own show from home without excessive costs. They suggest a selection of hardware and software, some free of charge.
An antivirus guide for radio stations
This guide in the American magazine ‘Inside Radio’ lists 12 things to do in order to prevent contagion in radio stations.
And in Italy?
After disinfecting the Milan studios of Radio Millennium, the ‘ghostbusters’ pose for a photograph.
Radio Rock ‘designer’ masks: Back in the golden years of free radio, listeners used to stick adhesives of their favourite radio stations onto their cars. Today the Roman station, Radio Rock, has made face masks with their own logos on them. Will this become a fashion with other stations?
The ‘Relaunch Decree’, published late in the evening on May 19th, 2020, contained a wonderful surprise. The radio and TV stations, that have been broadcasting information on the pandemic, will be receiving € 50 million (in the first draft it was 20 million, which became 40 after protests made by the broadcasting associations). The allocation of the funds will be according to a points system, which is used by the fund that has the task to promote pluralism and innovation of the media. The only obligation for the broadcasters is to put government information campaigns on air during the Covid-19 health crisis. In addition, in order to relaunch advertising (that saw a fall of up to 80%) companies that buy radio and TV spots will be able to deduct 50% off their taxes (€ 20 million have been allocated, but considering that the deduction has been extended to national TV stations, the effectiveness of this measure will be largely diminished).
More advantages and simpler procedures
The decree includes other concessions for businesses which the broadcasting stations will be able to benefit from. For example, a tax credit of 60% on rents in March, April and May 2020 (for both studios and repeater stations) if revenues are not over € 5 million and there is a drop of 50% in turnover compared to the same period last year. There is also a postponement of tax deadlines from April 16th to May 16th, 2020, for companies with a fall in turnover of at least 33% in the months of March and April 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. Furthermore, companies will not be obliged to pay IRAP (Italian Regional Production Tax) in June 2020 (balance and advance payment for the following year) if turnover is not over € 250 million. The procedures for applying for furloughing of staff and for having a reduction in the electricity bills will be simplified. Some expenses (cost of energy transport, electricity meter management and general expenses) will be reduced for three months (May to July 2020), but this will not affect energy consumed, which would have been welcomed by the associations.
A breath of fresh air for broadcasters has arrived in the form of state funds, albeit years overdue. Outstanding government subsidies for both 2017 and 2018 were paid at the end of April this year. About a thousand community and commercial radio and TV stations benefit from this aid, which is calculated by following a points system. Further help has arrived through ‘extra revenues’ from the RAI license fees. Since monthly instalments of the public broadcaster’s license fee have been added to the citizens’ electricity bills, evasion has been reduced. This little ‘nest egg’ (higher revenues than before the law passed) is divided between RAI and the local broadcasting stations.
How the funds have been allocated
The attached documents show how the funds have been divided.
216 commercial radio stations have been allocated € 12,383,220.26 for 2017.
Some time ago radio stations that had multiple frequencies could sell them off to networks. In this way they could balance their budgets and, hopefully all being well, renovate their studios. However, due to the financial crisis in 2008 the going prices were more than halved and a surplus of channels on sale was created. The Florentine radio station RTR957 bankruptcy auction, that had no bidders on two occasions, is evidence of this. The prices the liquidator was asking for were those of the past, the quality control head of one of the large networks pointed out: € 118,000 for the Monte Morello station (in the municipality of Sesto Fiorentino in the suburbs of the Tuscan capital), and € 63,000 for the one in Poggio Ciliegio in the municipality of Carmignano in the province of Prato.
Luckily measures have been taken by some Regional Governments. Emilia-Romagna has allocated € two million for a campaign on the radio, TV and social media in order to relaunch the tourist season. While in Abruzzo (even though it is still a proposed bill) €300,000 are arriving to support local radio and TV stations, newspapers and online press.
Public radio stations ask Trump for help
The US$ 75 million received from Congress (we have spoken about in one of our previous articles) is not enough. The Corporation of Public Broadcasting, that distributes funds to about 1500 public radio and television stations, had originally asked for US$ 250 million and insists on having the other US$ 175 million, which is indispensable to guarantee the survival of the public and university stations.
Even in full crisis the radio stations are busy on all fronts with increasing information slots, adapting programme schedules to the changing needs of the listeners and … even fund raising. Here are some examples:
The national radio networks, Radio Italia (Cologno Monzese), the public TV and radio broadcasters Raiuno, RaiPlay (a streaming platform) and Rai Radio2 joined forces on a project called ‘Music that Unites’. The event included brief information interludes and previously unpublished live sets where the performers recorded from their own homes creating non-stop music to share. Funds raised came to more than € 7.5 million to be donated to the National Civil Protection Organisation (a government body that deals with the management of emergencies).
Discoradio in Milan (broadcaster covering Lombardy and Piedmont) and the Buzzi Foundation, that manages a research centre and children’s hospital, are raising funds to increase the number of beds in the intensive care unit.
Radio NumberOne (Bergamo) has taken part in #SostieniAMOBergamo and given their support to the Fondazione Della Comunità Bergamasca.
Radio Barbagia in Nuoro, Sardinia, has donated thousands of face masks to the city hospital with the help of their listeners.
Three Roman radio stations in the RDS group (Dimensione Suono Roma, Dimensione Suono Soft and Ram Power) have supported the capital’s hospital, Policlinico Gemelli, to create the Columbus Covid-2 Hospital by transforming an existing building into a hospital with 80 beds and another 59 beds in the intensive care unit.
The crisis funds to support local radio and TV stations are ‘totally inadequate’. This is how the associations representing broadcasters have branded the funds allocated for the sector in the draft copy of the ‘ Revival Decree’, which the Government is preparing in order to shore up the Italian economy which has been weakened by the pandemic. The Italian Publishers Association reaffirmed in a brief press release that ‘while undergoing a drastic reduction in revenues (often up to 80%) radio and TV stations have continually carried out the role of public interest nationwide’. Aeranti-Corallo, Confindustria Radio Televisioni and Associazione Alpi are therefore asking for ‘an adequate allocation of funds’. This is because the sector is ‘strategic in order to restart the economy, which is based on small and medium-sized companies that produce 58% of the turnover of industry in Italy’. The 40 million euros planned in the Cura Italia Decree (March 16th, 2020) were cancelled at the last moment.
The complaints have had an effect. According to the latest draft of the decree (May 19th, 2020) which has not been published yet, the funds have apparently returned to € 40 million. We will update you shortly.