Possibilities for Future Terrestrial Delivery of Audio Broadcasting Services – ECC Report 177

22 December 2011 – POSSIBILITIES FOR FUTURE TERRESTRIAL DELIVERY OF AUDIO BROADCASTING SERVICES – ECC REPORT 177 – AER POSITION

The Association of European Radios (AER) is a Europe-wide trade body representing the interests of over 4,500 commercially-funded radio stations across the EU27 and in Switzerland.

AER’s main objective is to develop and improve the most suitable framework for private commercial radio activity. AER constantly follows EU actions in the fields of media, telecommunications and private radio transmission, in order to contribute, enrich and develop the radio sector.

AER therefore warmly welcomes the opportunity to comment on the very comprehensive and very well written draft European Communication Committee (ECC) within the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) report 177 on possibilities for future terrestrial delivery of audio broadcasting services – draft ECC report 177. This draft report’s objective is to provide “an overview of the conceivable distribution platforms that could be employed in the future to meet [the following] targets”:

“Wherever the development of radio might lead it should at least offer the following targets:
– free access (meaning without a subscription or registration);
– universal availability in time and location;
– instant access to live programming (e.g. news and sport);
– wide functionality and flexibility in the use of radios (e.g. electronic programme guides, associated programme information, recording facilities, etc.);
– the ability to find different programmes easily (e.g. by automatic tuning) and
– a wide variety of radio channels”

The draft ECC report 177 moreover refers to the Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG) report on the “Future of Radio Broadcasting in Europe”, to which AER contributed. However, and although AER broadly agrees with the targets listed above, AER would like to highlight some points seen as crucial for European commercially funded radios.

First, possibilities for future terrestrial delivery of audio broadcasting services do not only depend on the existing means of transmission: commercially funded radios’ current and future business environment can be dryly presented as being built on three pillars; if one of them is missing, commercially funded radios cannot exist:
1. Access to spectrum
2. Access to works protected by authors’ and related rights
3. Access to advertising revenues

So, and although the ECC deals only with spectrum management issues, AER would like to address shortly these key issues, before presenting AER’s views on means of transmission:

1. Access to advertising revenues

AER would like to recall that, in most of Europe, currently and for the foreseeable future, there is only one viable business model: free-to-air broadcasting. European radios can only broadcast programmes free of charge to millions of European citizens, thanks to the revenues they collect by means of advertising. These revenues are decreasing in most of Europe due to two factors: the shift towards internet-based advertising, and the current financial turmoil. As a result, any constraint on radio advertising severely endangers AER members’ ability to pursue a viable economic activity.

2. Access to works protected by authors’ or related rights

When it comes to authors’ and related rights, AER needs to recall a few important facts and trends: Commercially funded radios constantly use pieces of music for all produced content. This raw material is almost always protected by authors’ or related rights: one of AER’s members’ primary expenses remains that of authors’ and related rights clearance. Radio broadcasters across Europe pay over €2.6 billion per year for content, mostly music rights , and payment for these rights is negotiated on a regular basis. Therefore, AER is constantly striving to ensure the best possible authors’ and related rights regulatory framework for its members via the simplification of clearance rules for authors’ and related rights: this should be done from one-stop-shops as the current structure of multi-payments and multi-clearance is unviable.

3. Access to spectrum

Be it commercially or publicly funded, radio is a medium which, for the past 80 years and for the foreseeable future, has provided and will provide services of public interest thanks to a very efficient principle: free-to-air terrestrial broadcasting. This will remain the case unless unnecessary restrictions hamper this essential principle, especially for commercial radio. AER would hence like to outline some traps on the way to a healthy future for radio:

a. One should not forget that broadcasting is essential

It is still unsure how transmission of radio via internet (one-to-one system) can efficiently replace radio broadcasting (one-to-many system). Therefore, radios’ activities still require use of spectrum, as a primary user.

Radio is ubiquitous. It is furthermore, and this has also been the case for decades, mobile, simple-to-use and interactive. In other words, radio is the most intimate medium: the features mentioned above enable our audience to cultivate a personal relationship with our programmes, our DJs, our hosts, and our brands. Our listeners thereby access programming they enjoy, and useful information. The audience is indeed local, regional or national. So, although the internet offers a great complement to broadcasting, the audience does not change or increase: Europe’s diverse languages, dialects, and interests constitute many different niches , which will hardly be modified with online developments.

As rightly shown by the draft ECC report 177, internet is and will be a very important complementary distribution platform for radio . With evolving listening habits, commercially funded radio has to be present on a multitude of platform, but its main source of revenue remains free-to-air terrestrial broadcasting in Band II (87.5-108 MHz). Terrestrial digital broadcasting constitutes a sure forward for radio, but it is hard to foresee when.

b. Radio is not TV

As mentioned, in most of Europe, currently and for the foreseeable future, there is mainly one viable business model: free-to-air FM broadcasting on band II, which only represents 20,5 MHz. Across Europe, nearly every single frequency is used in this bandwidth. Thanks to the broad receiver penetration and the very high usage by the listeners this small bandwidth is very efficiently used: there are up to 5 receivers per household across Europe, to which reception via mobile phones and in cars should be added. Besides, digital radio has a growing role as part of a multiplatform audio world, which will include FM, digital terrestrial broadcast technologies and online.

As rightly mentioned by the draft ECC report 177, page 5: “Radio has been around for over 80 years and, despite the arrival of new technologies, from television to computers and the Internet, radio still plays a major role in people’s lives.

The audience’s relationship with radio is different from that with television. In Europe radio is a secondary and personal medium; usually listened to while people are doing other things – getting ready to go out, commuting or even working. Radio is also a medium which many feel very passionately about and also have a strong affinity with the stations they listen to. Furthermore, in all countries sound broadcasting services are part of the actions for the development of population with an expectation that these services will be available with freedom of expression.”

c. Access to radio bands should be preserved for radio’s development

Radio’s plans to broadcast digitally will mainly use band III (174-230 MHz) and / or L-band (1452-1492 MHz), depending on the European State. Indeed, across the EU, plans to migrate from a satisfying analogue technology (FM) to digital terrestrial broadcast technology are being actively discussed and tested. Decision on the adequate time-frame should be left to each national industry. This migration might involve important re-organisation of the broadcasting landscape. So, in order to ensure further healthy development of radio across Europe, it is essential to maintain its access to LF, MF, HF , band II, band III and band L.

d. Market-based approaches shouldn’t be applied to spectrum management of radio bands

As most of them are SMEs, commercially funded radios are in no position to compete for access to spectrum with other market players. So, now and for a foreseeable future, commercially funded radios need guaranteed access to spectrum, in all bands described before: regulation must be tailored to local needs in order to allow the best possible development of radio. In these bands, market-based approaches to spectrum management (such as service neutrality or secondary trading) should not be enforced.

e. There is no need for enhanced coordination of spectrum dedicated to radio

When considering radio, one has to bear in mind that audience is local, regional or national. Moreover, spectrum is currently efficiently managed by European States and this should remain the case: national radio frequency landscapes and national radio broadcasting markets are different, with divergent plans for digitisation, diverse social, cultural and historical characteristics and with distinct market structures and needs. Consequently, the current level of spectrum management (combining national and CEPT / ITU coordination) is entirely satisfying.

f. No universal switch-off date for analogue broadcasting should be envisaged at EU or international level

As mentioned, on-air commercially funded digital terrestrial radio broadcasting has not yet achieved widespread take up across European territories. The same is true for internet-based economically sustainable radio. These two means of transmission will be part of the patchwork of transmission techniques for commercially funded radios in the future, but it is hard to foresee when. So no universal switch-off date for analogue broadcasting services should be envisaged at EU or international level.

Although analogue, FM is a state-of-the-art efficient technology. It is part of the patchwork of vectors / platforms available to access radio and this will remain the case for the foreseeable future. As for digital radio, AER believes that the various European markets should decide which are the most efficient radio standards: a choice endorsed by listeners.

To conclude with, AER praises the following points of particular importance indicated in the Executive Summary (page 2) and in the conclusions (pages 17 and 18) of the draft ECC report 177:

– Terrestrial audio broadcasting is highly effective in reaching very large audiences
– The strength of terrestrial audio broadcasting is that audio programmes are generally offered free-to-air. This constitutes the main pillar on which the success of radio is built
– Audio broadcasting may be the only sustainable source of information in emergency situations
– Introduction of digital terrestrial audio broadcasting in the bands currently allocated to it may take advantage of existing broadcasting network infrastructure
– Terrestrial digital broadcasting and IP technologies will have to be used in a complementary way to satisfy the changing demand of listeners. Consequently content will be provided by both linear and nonlinear radio services

AER remains available to explain this position in further details, should this be helpful to the ECC.

ENDS
22/12/2011

Contact details:

Julia Maier-Hauff
AER Secretary General
76, av. d’Auderghem,
B-1040 Brussels,
Belgium
Tel: +32 2 736 9131
Fax : +32 2 732 8990
www.aereurope.org

On-air broadcasting radios reach massive audience on a daily basis in all EU Member States: between 60 and 85% of the EU population on average listens to radio for at least 2 or 3 hours per day, as shown by national audience measurement.

Moreover, radio is often quoted as the most trusted medium. As rightly underlined in the draft ECC report 177, commercially funded radios constitute a unique network of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), contributing to cultural diversity, media pluralism, access to creativity, social inclusion: they offer free-to-air services of general interest . Indeed:
– they evolve in highly competitive environments
– their programmes encompass, broadly speaking, all possible formats, from debates to music-only
– as for the music broadcast, within one market, as soon as there is demand expressed, it has to be fulfilled; so, most of the musical expressions are represented
– most of them are non-politically affiliated, and certainly keep the freedom to express their opinion
– their audiences are local regional, and national
– during natural, major or minor disasters, radio is one of the first tool to inform the public
– they strive to develop on all possible platforms

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