RUSSIA: The market is not mature enough for DAB radio

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Produced by the Academy of the media industry, a report of 150 pages was drawn up by a team of academics from various universities and research centres
Produced by the Academy of the media industry, a report of 150 pages was drawn up by a team of academics from various universities and research centres
Source: Report on radio in Russia 2019

The annual report on the information industry in Russia covers many aspects of the media. Among these, we have focussed our attention on the move to digital TV, FM band migration and the increase in numbers of transmitters, and digital radio coming to a stop.

Analogue TV is dead! (but still operating alongside digital)

The television broadcasting network has 5,040 transmitters broadcasting 20 TV channels and three radio stations (Radio Rossii, Mayak and Vesti FM) covering 98.4% of the country.
The television broadcasting network has 5,040 transmitters broadcasting 20 TV channels and three radio stations (Radio Rossii, Mayak and Vesti FM) covering 98.4% of the country.
Source: Report on radio in Russia 2019

The switchover to digital was completed in 2019. It was proudly announced that the transition took ten years, which was faster than the United States (11 years), Australia (12) and Great Britain (14). In addition, with 98.4% of the population being able to tune in, Russia beats France (97.3%), Austria (96.0%), Switzerland (*) (95.0%) and Portugal (92.7%). However analogue TV is not totally dead. The national channels have been switched off, but the regional channels are still operating. And there are quite a few of them. Our FMLIST correspondent in the Republic of Karelia (east of Finland) confirmed that there are a good five of them in the city where he lives.

(*) Switzerland has switched off terrestrial TV via DVB-T in summer 2019

Radio stations move to FM

In order to listen to Radio Mayak and Vesti FM in big cities, new transmitters will be switched on and the present number of 1,167 will be increased to 2,000 by 2021. 572 have already been ordered

In order to listen to Radio Mayak and Vesti FM in big cities, new transmitters will be switched on and the present number of 1,167 will be increased to 2,000 by 2021. 572 have already been ordered
Source: Report on radio in Russia 2019

The state radio network will be moving from broadcasting on the OIRT band (between 65.8 and 74 MHz) to the European FM band  (87.5-108 MHz), where the commercial radio stations are already present. New licences will be granted to Radio Mayak and Vesti FM in order to allow them to broadcast in all cities with over 100,000 inhabitants. In order to manage the increase in number of channels, they are studying isofrequency networks used abroad in countries like Moldavia, where the radio station Inter-FM can be received with traffic information along the motorway. A solution based on a lot of low power transmitters would also not infringe health regulations that limit the use of high power transmitters.

‘The market is not ready’ for DAB

Digital radio is widespread in many European countries. From 2020 a European law has made it mandatory for automakers to equip all new cars with DAB radios
Digital radio is widespread in many European countries. From 2020 a European law has made it mandatory for automakers to equip all new cars with DAB radios
Source: Report on radio in Russia 2019

The development of digital radio in Europe is analysed in the report. But this ‘revolution’ will not be happening in Russia. Even though frequencies for DAB+ transmissions have been allocated, this does not mean that they will be activated. The Ministry of Communications believes that the advertising market is not mature enough yet to justify the increase in the numbers of radio stations that can use updated technology.

St. Petersburg is experimenting with DRM+

Digital broadcasting on 95.7 MHz FM enables more than one channel to use the same bandwidth as analogue radio and does not interfere with radio stations in the vicinity
Digital broadcasting on 95.7 MHz FM enables more than one channel to use the same bandwidth as analogue radio and does not interfere with radio stations in the vicinity
Source: Report on radio in Russia 2019

Therefore the aim is to develop broadcasting systems such as DRM+ that allow a radio station to also transmit digital channels on the same FM frequency, leaving listeners free to equip themselves to receive transmissions in high quality sound, but not being obliged to replace their radio with a new one (estimated cost of about $10 US). In July 2019 Comedy Radio carried out tests in St. Petersburg by digitally broadcasting three channels on 95.7 MHz FM. The first one was a repeat of their analogue channel with a bitrate of 33 kbps, the other two were Avtoradio (43 kbps) and Evropa Plus (20 kbps).

Moldova: 5G is at the gate but the analogue switch off is on standby

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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. 

The first page of the law postponing the switch off
Source

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 able to 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 article on realitatea.md analysing the reasons for delaying the transition to digital
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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 invitation to tender for the purchase of decoders can be read on MTender, the website set up by the Ministry of Finance of the Republic Moldava to give information on all public tenders
Source

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

The Prime Minister, Ion Chicu giving a public speech
Source

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’?

An article on the delays in the transition to digital TV appeared on Radio Free Europe’s website, a propaganda broadcaster financed by the American Congress 
Source

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.

Here are the points made by the opposition:
From the Radio Free Europe website
From the TV Moldova website

But they cannot go beyond 2021. 5G is on its way!

 
Vitalie Tarlev, State Secretary for IT & C, made an optimistic statement about the situation regarding TV to the pro-Soviet news agency, Sputnik.
Source

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.