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  • Writer's pictureGunnar Garfors

Finally French Fast Forward on Digital Radio

CC licensed by McPig.

The evolution from analogue radio via FM to digital radio via DMB/DAB+ is picking up speed by the day. Germany launched nationwide radio for the first time since WWII in August via DAB+ while Norway in May decided to switch off FM. The signal effects have been strong, and we see many other countries on five continents follow suit.

And finally, France But what about France? Merkel and Sarkozy are working very close on the economy, can we see the influence of the close German French cooperation also when it comes to radio?

We can now. The Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel (CSA) is the French institution that has been given the responsibility of regulating radio, television and other electronic media. It has now called for DAB+ to be used as a standard for digital radio in France. A letter formally asking the French government to adopt DAB+ as a new digital radio standard was sent from CSA in December, according to Les Echos, the most influencial business newspaper in France.

France has so far been very undecisive in their approach to digital radio. They first decided to go for DMB Audio, a part of the same standard (Eureka-147), but DMB is originally ment for mobile television, so it was an odd choice. No other country had chosen to go for DMB Audio as the radio standard, most preferred DAB or the more effective DAB+. And of course, there were hardly any DMB Audio receivers on the market, whereas there were hundreds of DAB/DAB+ models.

The Kessler hurdle Then last year, David Kessler published his “Kessler report,” a recommendation to prime minister Francois Fillon on what to do with regards to digitalization of radio. The report contained a number of errors, didn’t properly take into consideration the international evolution and seemed to show a lack of understanding of the subject matter. Kessler concluded that the government should wait for two to three years before letting radio go digital. An odd choice given the progress in other big countries such as Germany, Australia, the UK, Italy and the Netherlands. Some speculated that Kessler was influenced strongly by private broadcasters that did not want to see competition in the already full FM band. DAB+ opens up for many more stations, thus increasing competition to those already holding lucrative FM licenses. The report came out in May last year (a week before the Norwegian government decided to switch off FM in 2017), and soon met the fate of other governmental reports of mediocre quality, it was left in a pile to turn yellow.

Note that DAB+ is already being tested in Lyon, with so many broadcasters interested in getting stations on air that more bandwidth (a second mux) will be made available. And radio sales are rumoured to go well in Lyon.

The successful test there may have contributed to CSA taking the matter in their own hands through their letter to the government, opening up for broadcasters to go for DAB+ in addition to DMB Audio. The decision was made in November 2011, but not made public until December and not picked up by me until now.

This is great news for radio in France. There will almost instantly be hundreds if not thousands of new radio models on the market. There will now be made room for more stations, something that usually forces broadcasters into making better radio programmes due to more competition. And digital radio also opens up for additional services, including a combination of broadcasting and the internet. France’s move furthermore creates a bigger market for device manufacturers, something that means better choice and lower prices in all the countries that have decided to go for DMB/DAB+, the de facto standard for digital radio and mobile TV.

The listeners win. They always do in the end, also in France.

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