After years of waiting, the long-awaited planning of the DAB band by Agcom has arrived. The regulator waited for the channels in band III to become free with theswitchover to DVB T2 and released the plan at the end of July 2022. There was no shortage of controversy, fuelled by rumours of the switch-off of hundreds of FM frequencies on the Adriatic coast due to interference caused to broadcasters in Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece. A problem due to technical reasons (installations in the mountains point towards centres on the coast), to the high powers used (Italy’s historical problem) but above all to tropospheric propagation. This is a meteorological phenomenon that occurs mainly in summer, when the lower layers of the atmosphere, compressed by high pressure, become denser and reflect radio waves.
Did they just try it?
The specialised periodical Newslinet reported in July 2022 that there was a plan to shut down hundreds of channels on the Adriatic coast because they were disturbing foreign radio stations. It is a problem that has been known about for decades and is due to the fact that since 1990, after the freezing of the airwaves brought about by the “Legge Mammì“, no planning has ever been done for the FM band in Italy. And the interference situations, not well managed by Italy also due to the absence (lamented by the associations) of the Italian delegation at the European planning table, now leave very narrow margins for manoeuvre. Hence the attempt to induce broadcasters to exchange DAB-FM or to scrap it in order to fall within the parameters of the Geneva regulations.
Associations on different levels
The position of the associations varied. Among them, Aeranti Corallo, which has always pushed to accelerate planning, continues to be critical, reiterating that the frequencies are not sufficient to allow the transition from FM to digital. On the other hand, ConfindustriaRadio Televisioni applauds the planning: will it be because the networks it represents already have one or more channels in the DAB band? But what does the plan say? It confirms the three existing national networks (Rai, DAB Italia and EuroDab, for a total of about 50 channels) and envisages 54 local ones with regional coverage, of which 27 can be broken down into sub-basins, and another 36 in the local areato cover one or more provinces. Beyond the technical data, in some provinces there could be space for six multiplex (for a total of about 120 channels), but not in the southern Adriatic regions, due to interference problems.
Listeners consider radio as a trustworthy source of news, at times much more so than other forms of media, in contrast to the fake news that is going around on the web
Various market research companies have carried out surveys on the reliability of the means of communication during the pandemic. In Greece, according to a survey by Dianeosis and Metron Analysis, the winner was radio. In answer to the question ‘How much do you trust each of the following types of media’, radio got 56.4%, followed by the internet (46.5%), newspapers (33.8%) and television (32%). The complete results are here. The Spanish have a different opinion according to UTECA (an association of commercial TV stations that transmit in the clear on DTT), that commissioned a survey carried out by Barlovento Comunicación and Deloitte. On the Iberian peninsula the most trusted means of communication is television (55.3%), followed by the press (36.3%) and then radio (24%). Here is a PDF with the results.
After replacing their transmitters (we spoke about this here) they are tackling organisation, radio formats and regional radio stations.
The public radio station has an antiquated, boring style. Their news reporting is not very objective and they have lost 10% of their listeners in the last 10 years. This is a summary of the grim analysis in the presentation given by Grant Thorton, the international consultancy firm chosen to guide them towards the future (see PDF below).
Compared to the 2009-2010 budget, the 2020 budget has been halved (from € 300 million to € 150 million) and investments have been decreased (with the exception of sport). The personnel has been reduced by over 50% (from 4,550, 1,000 are on open-ended contracts, to the present 2,180) and this is in line with other public broadcasters. However, the average age of the staff is high (50 years old), and they are not very flexible. The organigram also needs to be reviewed. It is not easy to recruit competent managers because manager salaries have been cut by 200-300%, thus losing appeal.
The aim is to increase advertising by 50%
According to the Thorton consultants there is a great deal to do in order to capture the public’s attention and gain their trust. The broadcaster’s image needs to be changed, starting from the logo (tenders for redesigning it have already been called) to the formats of the television channels and radio stations. The organisation will be completely overhauled. Six divisions will be set up to produce a more dynamic structure. The objective is to increase advertising by at least 50% by 2022. Today the public broadcaster has only a 3% share of the pie chart comparing advertising volumes (investments in the media in the country), covering only 5% of the costs, whereas other public broadcasters in Europe cover about 20% of their costs with advertising.
In 2020 the personnel nearing pension age will be offered incentives to take early retirement so that the broadcaster will be in a position to recruit between 100 and 150 applicants on fixed-term contracts. Following this, they will try to attract competent managers by offering special benefits packages. Regarding the format of the TV channels, ERT 1 will be a general channel covering information and entertainment, ERT 2 will concentrate on the arts and culture, and ERT 3 will be dedicated to information about Greece. The radio stations will see fewer changes, apart from ERA2 which will play Greek music of all genres, and ERA Sport which will no longer only talk about football. The regional stations (19 today) do not risk closure but will be subdivided into 11 administrative regions. Time will show: Since the 2009 crisis Greece has become a case study and the population has made enormous sacrifices to stay attached to the European train. The country has picked up and is now trying to make up for lost time. Covid-19 permitting.
Due to the health crisis, the authority that supervises and regulates the radio/television market in Greece has prolonged the amount of time for radio stations to send in their annual documentation to the department that supervises transparency of ownership. The new dates fixed by the ESR, the National Council for Radio and Television, are as follows: from June 3rd to June 17th, 2020, for transmitters in central Greece, the Peloponnese and the Ionian Islands; from June 18th to July 1st, 2020, for Macedonia, Thrace and Epirus; from July 2nd to July 16th, 2020, for Thessalia, Crete and the Aegean Islands. Click here for the official declaration.
Five years after reopening, the Greek public broadcaster is renewing its installations and image. On June 11th, 2013, ERT Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation was closed because of austerity measures following the sovereign debt crisis, and was reopened by the Tsipras government on the same day two years later.
The board of directors called for tenders for the replacement of 162 FM transmitters (71 with outputs of 1kW, 20 of 2kW, 51 of 5kW and 20 of 10kW, costing € 2,606,000), for digital transmitters for TV (tender amount of € 3,924,000) and for redesigning the logo of the broadcaster. Click here & here for more details.
(From our correspondent in Thessaloniki, Zacharias Liangas)