French “Sabotage” Might Backfire
I have repeatedly written about the digital radio situation in France, even on their FM switch off plan. Everything seemed to finally be moving forward rather fast. DAB+ licenses were to be granted to the radio broadcasters of France, and even the four biggest broadcasters that returned their digital licenses last year would get them back without punishment.
These four broadcasters, Lagardère, Nextradio TV, NRJ and RTL are controlling most of the radio listening in France. They are saying that they don’t believe in DAB+ and that they don’t see the point of spending money on infrastructire and double distribution. To emphasise their message they use the opportunity so “sabotage” the call for tender – the process of granting the digital licenses. How? They believe that by not accepting their licenses they have been offered back, they send a powerful signal that digital radio will never take off via DAB+, that digital radio broadcasting is not the future. They claim that cabled internet and mobile broadband (3G and 4G/LTE) will solve the future distribution issues. This is first of all not the case, LTE is not the solution. And they do very well know that. This is however fine. If they do not believe or do not want to believe in DAB+, let them stay in the dark.
But if that is the case, that they really don’t believe in DAB+, why do they at the same time try to stop the call for tender? They are allegedly objecting at the call of tender process, trying to stop competitors from distributing new radio channels via DAB+, on the basis of technicalities. Because they are so kind that they don’t want their competitors to waste money on building a DAB+ network?
Of course not. Because they are yet again trying to stall the process in order to stay without new competitors for another few years. If they could remain as the only stations on FM and without any sompetition on DAB, they’d be lauging all the way to the bank.
Their strategy is a very dangerous one, though. 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. CSA is not likely to stop the tender despite protests from the big four.
That means that there will be a national and operational DAB+ network without the big four players early next year. But there are plenty of others that are interested. A whopping 178 thers have applied for spectrum, according to Radio Numerique. These 178 will then be able to build new habits among listeners that suddenly have a much bigger radio selection on offer. They should also hire some of the top names of the big four, making their radio stations the best ones out there. And shortly the big four will see their market shares fall thanks to better recieving conditions, more radio stations and additional services via DAB+. Their way out? Unless they wait too long and lose too much money they can always buy one of the smaller stations with a DAB+ license. But being agressive and a first mover is almost always the way to go. Running after the train may help you on board, but only possibly, and certainly with a sweaty shirt, a little late and looking rather foolishly.