Meanwhile, in France…

France is having an interesting time with digital radio – Radio Numerique Terrestre! They’re quite late to the party having just launched this week. However one thing it’s missing is most of the big radio groups. This has meant a really diverse bunch of radio stations have launched – lots of them!

It means France is very different from the rest of the world at the moment. However, if there’s one thing we’ve learned about digital radio, organisations original positions do seem to change. So there’s a bit of a watch this space about this all. Indeed, some of the companies not playing here, are playing with DAB in other markets.

For me what’s interesting is that having a territory that mainly consists of new stations offers an interesting control. Does the market need existing FM stations on digital? Is it essential, or irrelevant. I guess we may find out!

To provide a bit more background I’ve asked Paul McNally to tell us more…

It’s been described by one Paris official as the “the most important moment for independent radio” in 30 years – and by another industry executive as “doomed to fail”.

After about a decade of uncertainty, listeners in three French cities woke up to digital radio for the first time this morning (called RNT – radio numérique terrestre).

67 stations have been licensed to broadcast on DAB+ in Paris by the broadcast regulator CSA, and another 53 each in Marseille and Nice.

But none of the ‘big four’ commercial radio groups (Lagardère, NRJ, RTL and NextradioTV) is involved – or the public broadcaster Radio France (reportedly saving it €150,000 a year). And between them, they represent 80% of current radio listening.

The commercial groups boycotted the applications round and since then have campaigned vigorously against DAB+. The president of their body, Michel Cacouault, told one French newspaper this morning: “We are certain that digital radio (RNT) is destined to fail.”

Their boycott appears to have motivated independent stations to make an even bigger noise about going digital. The group representing smaller stations, Sirti, is firmly behind the new medium, calling it “a historic moment, a decisive turning point in the digitisation of media – and essential for the future of free, unlimited and accessible radio.”

The national union of ‘free’ radio stations, SNRL, has also enjoyed extra publicity from smaller stations’ decision to go their own way and seize an opportunity from digital.

The union’s director-general Pierre Montel said “the most fragile” stations in the radio economy had got one over on the big groups.

Work is under way now for a co-ordinated marketing effort under the brand “Prêt pour la Radio” (Ready for Radio). WorldDMB and Pure have both been very supportive of the launch efforts – as have French retailers Fnac and Darty.

So who’s broadcasting? At the time of writing, in Paris, 37 out of 67 stations have gone live.

They include existing FM stations such as Voltage, Ado and Radio FG – with Ouï FM, Nova and Skyrock due to follow any moment now.

Two stations on the French Riviera have used the DAB+ launch as an opportunity to be heard in Paris (and heard by the Paris-based ad agencies): Vitamine and Radio Monaco.

One multiplex is made up entirely of not-for-profits including a Protestant radio, Mandarin and student radio. The CSA has even given a nod to English-language radio for the first time, with World Radio Paris catering for the city’s sizeable expat population and tourists.

So is the CSA still committed to digital radio? A first report on the medium’s success post-launch is expected in the autumn. It reportedly has no plans at this stage to invite applications in other cities.

Rachid Arhab, who was involved in drawing up the CSA’s digital radio policy from 2007 to 2013, said in an interview this week:

“The big operators were the most eager to see digital radio arrive – but many have changed their mind since. I hope they’ll find alternative solutions and the radio world will succeed in its digital transition.”

Paul McNally is a former radio industry correspondent (The Radio Magazine, Press Gazette) and now provides editorial support to English-language radio stations in Europe including World Radio Paris, Radio X Brussels and Riviera Radio in Monaco.