By David Fernández Quijada, Senior Media Analyst of the European Broadcasting Union
Digital technology is growing, but the FM will remain for many years
GENEVA — At the beginning of this year it was possible to tune into more than 12,000 radio stations across the 56 countries (plus Liechtenstein) where the European Broadcasting Union has members. More than 95% of those stations broadcast an analog signal, mostly FM, which continues to be the main distribution channel for radio.
Norway may have switched off its nationwide FM transmission, but some countries are actually expanding their FM networks, most recently Ukraine and soon Belgium.
Thanks to its universality, its popularity with listeners and its massive receiver installed base, FM will remain the main distribution network for radio broadcasting in the foreseeable future.
DIGITAL IS HERE
Many of the costs saved from the phase-out of analog networks are currently being funnelled into digital transmission. Digital is already the main means for listening to radio in Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. In each of these markets, terrestrial is the backbone of digital distribution.
Digital terrestrial radio (mostly DAB+) is gaining ground, with more than 1,500 services in operation across 32 markets in the EBU area. These stations have the following characteristics:
- Two-thirds are commercial services; public stations represent just one-quarter of the offer
- Most digital stations target local areas, but regional services are the ones growing the fastest
- One-third of those stations are exclusive services; the rest are simulcasts of an existing analog channel
- Music is the main genre, representing 63% of the stations broadcast, while stations targeting minorities and religious groups are increasing the quickest
- 80% of digital stations use DAB+, while the original DAB standard continues to be phased out: it is currently used in only in five countries
The future of radio distribution looks increasingly digital and increasingly online. Above all, however, complementarity will probably be the watchword: Broadcast and online, analog and digital.
FM still has plenty of life left in it and hence promises to remain the backbone of radio distribution in most countries for many years to come. DAB+ will move increasingly toward the center of the stage, even becoming dominant in more countries. But the transition will take time.
Online distribution will become more prominent, and even predominant in reaching certain audience groups. This applies notably to on-demand consumption, which promises to gain even more ground. Online distribution will also become more dependent on third parties, thereby raising concerns and generating potential conflicts with broadcasters and producers.
The future of radio will be a more complex place but one also which is more dynamic and exciting to observe.