The French FM Switch Off Plan
When the going gets tough, the French gets going. France has been very slow in adopting digital radio. But this is now set to change on short notice. CSA (The Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel) recently announced that they open up for DAB+ in addition to DMB Audio.
Now they are moving fast from baby steps to giant leaps, according to daily newspaper Les Echos which claims that CSA has a two step plan. First they will allow digital radio in Paris to around fifty radio stations. Fourty stations in both Marseille and Nice will get the same treatment, thus making them able to start broadcasting digitally this year.
The second step is to call for applications in another 20 major cities, reaching a population coverage of more than 50%. It is expected that the broadcasters will follow CSAs last relevant announcement and go for DAB+, not DMB Audio. That lowers distribution costs per radio station as DAB+ is more effective for radio than DMB which is designed for mobile TV.
These two steps will clear the ground for France’s ultimate goal within radio, to switch off FM. Rachid Arhab of CSA tells Les Echos that a date for that will be set when 40% coverage has been reached, something which is achievable within a year given the plans to introduce digital radio to 20 cities in France.
This is a welcome step from France, finally making sure that they follow the “rest” of Europe in what is now set to be a common strategy to let radio go digital and to finally get rid of FM. Then again, they didn’t have much of a choice should they avoid becoming a huge radio museum in the middle of Europe.
And now the plan is quite clear, according to Radio Numérique: By the end of March : • Letter to all radio stations to authorize them to broadcast in digital within four months. Duration : stations have 2 + 2 month to start broadcasting • Call for tender to those few stations that stopped transmitting digitally or gave back their frequency. The application will be 3 months after the tender is official.
After the French elections: • The new government will be asked to perform a public consultation to add DAB+ to the official standards list (this is mandatory due to the technical change). This will happen within 15 days of the new government taking office. • As soon as the public consultation has been launched, a request will be sent to Brussels to add DAB+ to the recommended list of standards.
By August: • There will be a call for tender for DAB+ frequencies in the 20 biggest cities. • DAB+ is expected to have been validated in Brussels by then.
By September: • Start of broadcasting in Paris, Nice and Marseille.
By February 2013: • Start of broadcasting in another 20 cities.
Digital radio will then cover between 50% and 80% of the French population, something that will cause the government to set a switch off date for FM.