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Comrex LiveShot Is “a TV Studio in a Single Box”

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 08:41
Thom Hartmann

WASHINGTON — “The Thom Hartmann Program” began over 15 years ago and is ranked by Talkers Magazine as the #1 progressive talk show in America. The show is aired on commercial stations coast to coast and on the SiriusXM Radio Network. We also produce a nonprofit version for Pacifica stations across the United States and in Europe and Africa. Our commercial feed is carried on American Forces Radio to every U.S. military base in the world. Our audience is estimated by Talkers to be 6.5 million.

We have a television simulcast that’s carried on Free Speech TV, a news and opinion network carried by Dish, DirecTV and cable systems across the country. We produce “The Thom Hartmann Program” and the simulcast Monday through Friday from 12–3 p.m. (EST), so I need to be able to set up and host the show every weekday, no matter where I am.

We have used Comrex audio equipment since we started the show 15 years ago. When we began video streaming the show, we purchased a Comrex LiveShot. I’ve now used it to broadcast the show from Denmark, Iceland, all over the United States — not to mention from my home studio.

[YES Approves of Comrex LiveShot] Comrex LiveShot

On a regular basis, my experience with LiveShot is simple. I plug my portable unit into a Cat-5 Ethernet connection wherever I am, press the “connect” button and transmit to the rackmount unit back in our Washington, D.C., studio. All of the connection details for the LiveShots, like IP addresses and connection protocols, have been set and saved ahead of time with Switchboard TS, so I don’t have to enter any information. A connection is established, the video is mixed in real time by our studio team with a NewTek TriCaster, and the program is both fed to our satellite uplinks for Free Speech TV and streamed live on YouTube and Facebook.

I’ve found LiveShot extraordinarily easy to use. It’s lightweight — I can even take it on an airplane in a small carry-on bag. I also use the LiveShot Connect smartphone app, which allows me to check bandwidth and latency statistics from my phone. It’s all the functionality of a TV studio in a single box.

LiveShot provides me the freedom to do my show from anywhere with an internet connection.

Comrex equipment has helped our show be successful over the years — we’ve used it to make reliable field connections all over the world. If you need to take your show on the road, Comrex LiveShot is the best product out there.

For information, contact Chris Crump at Comrex in Massachusetts at 1-978-784-1776 or visit www.comrex.com.

The post Comrex LiveShot Is “a TV Studio in a Single Box” appeared first on Radio World.

FCC Wants Additional Comments on C Band Issue

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 19:56

As concerns continued to be raised about the future of C Band spectrum, the Federal Communications Commission is asking for additional comments on exactly how it should go about making make this midband spectrum available for next-gen broadband and wireless services.

In July 2018, the commission adopted an Order and a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that began the process of collecting information about earth stations and space stations as well as on the impact of adding a mobile allocation to the 3.7–4.2 GHz band.

[Read: FCC Pushes Along Efforts to Make Changes to C Band]

Commenters have since weighed in — some have thrown their support behind the move; others have raised concerns about protecting existing users, who rely on C Band spectrum as well as questioned the commission’s authority to reallocate users.

One of those commenters, Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), wrote a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in April expressing concerns about a proposal made by the C-Band Alliance. The alliance’s Transition Implementation Process details the CBA’s proposed approach to clearing 200 MHz of the C Band in 18–36 months for terrestrial 5G use.

“A privately-managed spectrum sale conducted behind closed doors will favor certain parties, exclude others and most importantly, lead to the inefficient deployment of valuable 5G spectrum,” Kennedy wrote. He called on the FCC to conduct a public auction to allow for the most competitive allocation of licenses for future 5G deployment.

On May 3, the commission issued a Public Notice formally asking for additional comment on two wide-ranging questions.

The first: what are the enforceable interference protection rights for space station operators against co-primary terrestrial operations? And are those rights impacted whether or not transmissions are received within the U.S.?

And the second: what are the protection rights granted to licensed or registered receive-only earth station operators against co-primary terrestrial operations? And on those same lines, are those operators eligible to voluntarily relinquish their rights to protection from harmful interference in the reverse phase of an incentive auction because they qualify as licenses?

The commission also asked for comment on whether there are any other rules or sources of authority it should consider in addressing the question of how to accommodate licensed or registered earth station operators that may be displaced as a result of repurposing of the C Band.

Those interested in filing should do so using Docket No. 18-122, RM-11791 and RM-11778 through the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System. Comments will be accepted 30 days after the notice has been published in the Federal Register, with reply comments coming 45 days after filing.

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The post FCC Wants Additional Comments on C Band Issue appeared first on Radio World.

Broadcast Associations Urge Senate Leadership to Pass PIRATE Act

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 13:06

After the PIRATE Act unanimously passed the House of Representatives as H.R. 583 on Feb. 25 with no amendments, the Senate is the next hurdle. The legislation, which has bipartisan support, is intended to ameliorate what broadcasters say is a serious problem of illegal broadcasting and interference.

Representatives from 50 U.S. local broadcast associations have co-signed a letter urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Charles Schumer to pass the Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement Act (S. 1228), also known as the PIRATE Act, without changes.

According to Congress.gov, the bill has been read twice in the Senate and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

[Six Things to Know About the PIRATE Act]

However, this is not the legislation’s first time being considered in the Senate. During the 1115th Congress, the House also referred the bill to the Senate in July 2018. Then in November 2018, representatives from these same broadcast associations sent a letter to Senate leadership requesting that they pass the bill; McConnell and Schumer ultimately demurred.    

That context suggests a different tone for the statement: “The time has come to take significant steps to resolve this vexing problem.”

Additionally, the broadcasters wrote, “We are reaching the point where illegal pirate stations undermine the legitimacy and purpose of the FCC’s licensing system to the detriment of listeners in communities across the country. The PIRATE Act will help the FCC restore integrity to the system.”

Read the full letter online here.   

The post Broadcast Associations Urge Senate Leadership to Pass PIRATE Act appeared first on Radio World.

Check Out Radio World’s 2019 NAB Show Product Report

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 12:48

If you missed this year’s NAB Show or didn’t get the chance to spend as much time on the floor as you’d hoped, Radio World has good news.

Tune in May 12 at noon (EDT) for a webinar featuring our 2019 NAB Show Product Report. Hosted by Radio World’s Paul McLane, Radio World International’s Marguerite Clark and Radio World contributor New World Symphony Chief Video Engineer Dan Slentz, this hour-long event is packed with information. Attendees will learn about:

  • Dozens of new products;
  • Features, prices, and availability dates;
  • Cloud technologies for radio, hybrid radio platforms, MPX, digital radio monitoring, remote site management, new processors and much more.

Plus, you’ll hear valuable observations by Radio World’s veteran editors and contributors.

Mark your calendar and sign up today.

The post Check Out Radio World’s 2019 NAB Show Product Report appeared first on Radio World.

Inside the “Best Community College Station”

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 09:24

Shawn Novatt is director of WHPC(FM) “The Voice of Nassau Community College” in New York. In 2019, it was nominated for 12 awards from the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System. We asked Novatt to tell us about this community college noncommercial educational station.

 

Radio World: What should we know about the station?

Shawn Novatt: Well, the biggest news of all is that WHPC just won five IBS 2019 Awards at the 79th Annual Intercollegiate Broadcasting System Conference on March 2 in New York City.

The awards were for Best Public Affairs Program (for “Your Family’s Health”), Best On-Air Schedule (for the second year in a row), Best Celebrity/Artist Interview (Herb Alpert, interviewed by Michael Anthony), Best Morning Show (“The Nassau Morning Madhouse”) and, drum roll please … Best Community College Radio Station in the Nation!

I could not be more proud of the work my staff, students and community volunteers have done in the past 12 months — and this industry recognition makes all of the work worth it.

This is WHPC’s 47th year on the air, and this summer marks the start of my fourth year as the station’s director. Over the past three years, we have worked very hard to create and follow a new station mission: providing professional broadcast training to qualified Nassau Community College students.

Three years ago, the station had about three students volunteering and over 60 community volunteers. In the years since, we have worked diligently to raise brand recognition in the community, including participating at new student orientations, club fairs, welcome back parties, spring BBQs and other on-campus events. As a result of these efforts, our team roster boasts about 70 students and 55 community volunteers. The peer interactions between students and the community volunteers fosters a collegial and learning community all within the radio station itself, truly enriching our students’ experiences.

WHPC’s Director Shawn Novatt (blue shirt on right) is surrounded by NCC President Dr. W Hubert Keen, Dr. Janet Caruso, AVP Workforce Development and Lifelong Learning, Dr. Valerie Collins, VP Academic Affairs, and WHPC’s student and volunteer personnel, celebrating its 2018 Intercollegiate Broadcasting System award wins.

Even while the station has grown, we have maintained, if not improved, the overall sound of the station. We have updated the programming by replacing most of our “oldies” programs with 40 hours weekly of “The Nassau Mix.” This particular program plays “The ’90s, 2K and Today” with the goal to play new hit songs before the “big guys” like Z100 and KTU play them.

However, we still have long-running fan-favorite programs including “American Hit Radio,” a documentary show that discusses the biggest albums of the past 50 years; “Beatlesongs,” where we play anything written or performed by The Beatles or any of their members solo, and ethnic shows like “Profumi D’Italia,” our Italian show that has been with us for 23 years.

We also have about 60 other types of programming — you can find our complete schedule at NCCradio.org; thus we appeal to a wide variety of musical tastes and interests.

RW: How did the station come to be?

Novatt: When the station started in 1972, Nassau Community College and Adelphi University shared the 90.3 FM frequency. When Adelphi decided to no longer offer radio at their school in 1995, Nassau Community College purchased the signal and began 24-hour programming; since then, we never looked back.

RW: What is its licensing situation, management structure and programming philosophy?

Novatt: The station is licensed to 90.3 FM at 500 watts from Garden City, N.Y. We are also the only college station on Long Island to broadcast in HD Radio.

I am the only full-time employee, and I have six part-time staff members who assist in the radio station operations, mostly on the nights and weekends.

The station is not student-run; however, student learning and development are our priorities. Every decision is made with student needs in mind. A live, student-produced show will always take precedence over any other program.

While final programming decisions are made by me, all personnel are able to suggest new programs. Over the past three years, we have created many new student-hosted and student-produced shows, including “Electric Air,” our EDM show; “Ritmo Latino,” a Hispanic mix show; and “The Rock Binge,” a show that plays rock and alternative music from 2000 to today — binge on! There are many more examples, too many to mention.

We want to make sure we are preparing students for working in the radio/media industry, and that’s where our morning show, “The Nassau Morning Madhouse,” and ‘The Nassau Mix” come in. But at the same time, we want to make sure we are offering programming you simply cannot find anywhere else on the dial in Market #20 Nassau-Suffolk, N.Y. That’s where shows like “Revelations,” our rock-rarities show; “FM Punk,” our punk-rock and heavy metal show; and ethnic shows like “The German Hit Parade,” come in. Our programming is quite eclectic and unique, for sure.

For about seven hours each night, we are in automation. However, we do not voice-track any of our shows — they are recorded live-to-tape, affording our newer students the chance to experience being “on the air” as they record. Voice tracking is a skill that should be taught to students, and our future plans include potentially broadcasting a portion of voice tracked programming in the overnight hours so as to educate our students in emerging industry practices.

Station personnel interviewed former New York Giants player Rodney Hampton live at a local restaurant.

RW: Is career preparation for broadcasting part of the mission? What do current students think about radio as a career path and why?

Novatt: I like to tell the students that, while my job description says that I direct the radio station, I believe that my true calling is to educate our students and prepare them for careers in the broadcast and media industries.

Having worked in the New York City and Long Island markets, I have cultivated many contacts who assist our students in securing positions in the broadcast industry upon graduation from NCC. Through those contacts, our students can see up close and personally, the largest and most state-of-the-art radio stations in the country, and make contacts of their own with those radio stations. In addition, it allows them to compare favorably our college radio equipment with those of commercial broadcasters.

Our mission is to provide professional broadcast training, and tuning in to our programming will prove that WHPC is not your typical college radio station; our students are expected to perform as professionals, thereby preparing them for smooth transitions to the commercial broadcasting world.

Recent graduates and current students are interning and working at stations owned by Cox Media Group, JVC Broadcasting, Connoisseur Media, iHeartMedia, Cumulus, Entercom and more. WHPC has alumni working at radio stations; we pride ourselves on being the first step in our students’ career paths. As a community college station, my hope is those who participate at the station in hopes of establishing a career in the radio/media industry, take what they have learned at WHPC and apply that knowledge to their next college station and beyond.

RW: What platform(s) is the station heard on, if any, in addition to over the air?

Novatt: We have increased our worldwide footprint over the past three years. Besides being available on our school website, we have partnered with the iHeartRadio app, as well as the TuneIn Radio app — just search for WHPC. We are also heard on smart speakers simply by asking them to “Play WHPC.”

We know that smart speakers are now readily available in about 25% of homes in our area (and growing), so we are reminding our listeners that we are available on those devices by advertising running imaging promoting it, and reminding our jocks to mention it in their mic breaks. The best thing that could happen to our industry was the smart speaker … now we just need to be smart about making sure people know that the speakers can do more than tell you the time and the weather, but it can bring local radio from the car back inside the home where it began. Go ahead — try it. “Alexa, play WHPC!”

[Read about Nassau Community College alumnus Mike Leone]

RW: What are the biggest challenges facing most college radio stations? How has WHPC navigated them?

Novatt: The biggest problem college stations face, especially two-year colleges like ours, is turnover. As soon as someone gets really good at their job, they graduate.

I have to constantly train new staff members in order to maintain the quantity of shows — and more importantly, the quality of the programming — and due to the two-year limit in most cases, I have to do it fast. The average student is ready to go on the air after six lessons/weeks of training.

But the training does not stop once a student is cleared to go on the air — we are constantly listening to air checks and finding ways to improve the programming of the station.

 

RW: Describe the station facilities.

Novatt: Our station includes two large studios, one for on-air use, and the other for pre-recording programs as well as training.

Over the past three years, we have added and renovated two edit rooms, equipped with computers that have the latest version of Adobe Audition on them, as well as mixers and mics so students can create liners, promos and other pre-produced materials. We subscribe to a production music and sound effects library, allowing all of our imaging to sound super professional.

The two large studios use Wheatstone digital consoles, and in the last 18 months, we upgraded our automation software to BE AudioVault Flex. We keep most of our music in the “vault” along with all imaging and other production elements, as well as pre-produced shows. Each studio still has three updated Denon CD players, and Technic turntables for our classic-based programming to use (although they are getting less used every day).

Each studio has four to five microphones, and our production room has a second “announce booth” for talk show hosts and their guests to use while the person producing the show can sit at the console without worrying about making additional noise. Finally, both studios also have access to a computer with Adobe Audition installed to be able to record shows and playback or edit additional audio if needed.

WHPC students Nick Ohrnberger and Sarah Albertson work together on a live broadcast from a local supermarket.

RW: Who is the chief engineer or person in charge of the technical aspects of the facilities?

Novatt: We work with Bud Williamson and Digital Radio Engineering. I also want to give a shout-out to our colleague Andy Gladding, who works at neighbor Hofstra University’s radio station. Andy Gladding also works with DRE, and has been awesome to work with. Together, they have helped us grow our radio station by assisting us in upgrading our RDS software and our new Telos VoIP phone system, among other updates.

 

RW: Any major initiatives we should know about?

Novatt: We are always looking for new ways to promote the station and have introduced station swag, including pens, phone wallets, bumper stickers and more. Our staff helps brand the station by wearing coordinating radio T-shirts and sweatshirts at the many outreach events we now participate in, and even continue the radio promotion by wearing the clothing proudly in their everyday lives.

We recently created social media accounts (90.3 WHPC on Facebook, @903whpc on Twitter and Instagram), and we have students helping to create content.

We work with local chambers of commerce to have a table and presence at major fairs and festivals across Nassau County to promote our station.

We work with amazing local radio stations like WBLI and WBAB to partner with them on major events they produce in our area. We aggressively find and take advantage of every chance to promote the station, at little to no cost.

We hope to expand our physical footprint on campus so that broadcasting opportunities increase for both our NCC students and community members, which in turn will expand the breadth of programming available to our listeners.

RW: What else should we know?

Novatt: We love to do remote broadcasts, and we have partnered with Lee Harris and Harris Media by utilizing their QGoLive system. This allows us to broadcast live from anywhere WIFI or a strong cell signal is available, which provides the in-studio sound We have used this program to broadcast Nassau Lions Football and Basketball, broadcast live from local restaurants like Miller’s Ale House, supermarkets like Stew Leonard’s, and more. We were actually featured in a blog post by QGoLive about how awesome our live broadcast from the IBS conference this month sounded — using only an iPhone!

I regularly bring my connections in the industry to the Nassau Community College campus to hold “Meet the DJ” sessions for my students. I welcome anyone interested in joining us to contact me at Shawn.novatt@ncc.edu.

We have hosted a few virtual sessions via Skype already, and I’d love to offer more. I know how important strong connections are to landing that first job — I believe that my industry connections and contacts will assist our students to maintain an edge over other job seekers, by exposing them to the industry insiders with whom I have worked.

Finally, we would not be where we are today without our fantastic listeners. We hold fundraising marathons annually for most of our shows, and the financial support they have provided, along with a handful of underwriting sponsors, have helped the station grow in many ways. We hope the support never ends.

Radio World wants to know about your college radio operation. Email us at radioworld@futurenet.com and we may feature you in an upcoming article.

The post Inside the “Best Community College Station” appeared first on Radio World.

iHeartMedia Emerges From Chapter 11

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 12:05

The journey of iHeartMedia through protection from its creditors came with the usual lumps; but now that the company has emerged from the process, financial observers say the big firm will be in a much better financial position.

Bankruptcy experts also say the company’s successful reorganization indicates that the radio industry still has financial boosters who believe in the medium.  

The company, which will now be controlled by a group of hedge and mutual fund companies, survived reorganization with its top management team intact, observers said. Chairman/CEO Bob Pittman and President/COO/CFO Rich Bressler will stay on. A new board of directors has been appointed, including Pittman and Bressler and the following members: Jay Rasulo, Gary Barber, Brad Gerstner, Sean Mahoney and Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan, according to a press release on May 1.

“iHeartMedia enters this next phase of growth as a multi-platform audio company with a vastly improved financial profile,” Pittman stated in the release.

The company also owns Premiere Networks, Katz Media Group, RCS, Inside Radio, Total Traffic & Weather Network and Critical Mass Media. It spun off Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings Inc. as part of the reorganization; that billboard subsidiary has become its own independent publicly traded company.

At the time of its Chapter 11 filing in March of 2018 the San Antonio-based company listed $12.3 billion in assets and $20.3 billion in debt, according to paperwork filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

iHeartMedia indicated prior to completing its reorganization it could soon launch an initial public offering or IPO. The broadcaster says it plans to use the cash raised by any IPO to reduce debt and fuel growth, according to SEC paperwork, similar to what Cumulus did when it emerged from bankruptcy in 2018, according to observers.

DIGITAL PLAYS Benjamin Lambiotte of Garvey Schubert Barer said iHeartMedia’s SEC filings indicate it will emphasize digital plays, such as podcasting and streaming.

Benjamin Lambiotte, principal in the Washington office of Garvey Schubert Barer, whose practice includes bankruptcy, said iHeartMedia’s SEC filings just prior to leaving bankruptcy indicated the broadcaster will emphasize digital plays, such as podcasting and streaming in the future.

“The strategic vision expressed in the SEC filing is that of a fully-integrated multi-platform audio media company,” Lambiotte said.  

The company did not disclose the size of the proposed share offering or estimate what the net proceeds from the sale of Class A common stock would be, nor did it set a price range in its filing with the SEC. A spokesperson declined to comment further on iHeartMedia’s plans.

Lambiotte, commenting about iHeart’s outlook shortly before the announcement, said an IPO would not be “a for-sure thing” since SEC paperwork filed earlier showed iHeartMedia was considering several strategies, including a rare “direct offering,” which would offer for sale to the public only existing shares, similar to what Spotify has done.

[iHeartMedia Nears Exit From Bankruptcy, Plans IPO]

Another observer familiar with the iHeartMedia IPO plans said in April, “When a company announces intentions to file [an IPO] so quickly after emerging from bankruptcy, it’s possible the new debt holders do not have a long-term view of the company and prefer to sell their equity. It’s not a common approach to do an IPO so quickly, but Cumulus did the same thing and it was successful.”

iHeartMedia has 848 broadcast radio stations in 160 U.S. markets and is now the top commercial podcast publisher in the United States, according to recent data from Podtrac, with 148 million monthly downloads and streams.

The company also reports 128 million registered users of its iHeartRadio service and app, which is available on an expansive range of platforms and devices including digital auto dashes, tablets, wearables, smartphones, virtual assistants, televisions and gaming consoles.

“Additionally, we believe we are well-positioned to leverage our iconic brand and enormous reach to benefit from incremental listening growth,” it has told the SEC. “As smart speakers are creating an in-home audio hub that enhances radio’s reach, developing a leadership position in this category has become a key element of our growth strategy. Smart speaker adoption has seen rapid acceleration, with a 26% penetration rate among U.S. adults in 2018.”

EFFICIENT PROCESS Debtwire’s Josh Friedman said of iHeart: “Clearly they have a number of investors who still believe in iHeartMedia and its long-term success.”

Josh Friedman, global head of restructuring data for Debtwire, a distressed-debt research firm, said in April that iHeartMedia had executed its reorganization efficiently.

“I figured it would be a more drawn-out and complex process, but in the end all of the work they did in the lead-up to the bankruptcy created a positive outcome for the company to move forward,” Friedman said. “Clearly, they have a number of investors who still believe in iHeartMedia and its long-term success.”

The company will still have a large chunk of debt, Friedman said, which leads to the question of whether it cut enough. The balance-sheet restructuring allowed the firm to shed almost $10.4 billion in debt, leaving it with about $5.75 billion on its books.

“We’ve seen a lot of companies come back to bankruptcy, but in order for the bankruptcy judge to OK iHeartMedia’s reorganization plan, the company had to prove that it had a feasible path going forward,” he said.

Friedman, who provides data and analysis on debt markets to clients, said iHeartMedia’s return to financial stability is a “positive for the radio industry” and a clear indication “there are lots of people who still believe in the radio industry.”

[iHeart Names Post-Bankruptcy Board]

Jeff Tarkenton, an attorney in the bankruptcy and restructuring group at Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP, said iHeartMedia’s financial struggles can be traced to its leveraged buyout in 2008, when Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee Partners purchased Clear Channel Communications for $24 billion.

“That’s mostly been washed away with the reorganization. iHeartMedia’s best practices now will be focused on how to compete successfully in the market. The proposed IPO suggests that the best way to compete is to further shed debt,” Tarkenton said.

The new owners include various mutual and hedge fund companies so “selling stations off” to help reduce debt is another possibility, Tarkenton said.

“Hedge funds, like Franklin Advisors Inc. and Benefit Street Partners, are generally known for emphasizing short-term returns and focusing on extracting short term value from their investments, which may include selling assets and focusing on cost-cutting measures,” he said.

Tarkenton said it is significant that iHeartMedia passed through bankruptcy without having to sell off any radio station properties.  

The post iHeartMedia Emerges From Chapter 11 appeared first on Radio World.

Inside the May issue of Radio World International

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 09:15

Streaming media is cutting into broadcast radio’s audience, but it also presents broadcasters with opportunities. Find out how radio stations can rise to the challenge by replicating the best features that streaming media websites and apps have to offer, and then topping them with the live information and personality-driven content that radio excels at. Read about this and more in the June issue of Radio World International.

GUIDELINES

Excerpts From WorldDAB’s UX Design Guidelines

Here’s what you need to know.

ANALYSIS

Are Touchscreen Car Radios Safe?

Drive test highlights everyday threats for drivers and suggests possible solution.

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE

DBS 2019 Looks at What’s Ahead for Broadcasters

Australia Still Has Shortwave Voices

Buyer’s Guide: Audio Processing

 

The post Inside the May issue of Radio World International appeared first on Radio World.

FM Is King, Digital Is Queen

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 02:00

The author is manager of the EBU Media Intelligence Service.

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.

Radio stations across the EBU region. Source: EBU

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.

For other analog networks, such as long- and medium-wave, it is a different story. Both are falling into disuse. At the start of 2019, barely 18 longwave services remained, scattered across 13 countries, while 206 medium-wave services were on air in 39 markets. One-third of those markets only had one station available and thus risk joining the 18 countries that no longer have medium-wave transmissions. Both long- and medium-wave are hampered by the lack of tuners in new radio devices and the high costs involved in running infrastructure for what is a decreasing, aging audience.

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

WHAT ABOUT THE INTERNET?

Broadcasters and new entrants alike are investing in online audio, based more on its potential than on its reality. At the EBU, we estimate that online radio consumption represents around 10% of total radio listening, which is 90% broadcast. Online is making steady inroads but the original baseline was very low.

Online listening to linear services, both simulcasts and exclusive channels, does not seem to be growing quite as briskly as on-demand audio. The buzz surrounding podcasts might make this phenomenon look like a runaway success. Closer to the truth, the podcast market is growing at a firm rate but represents only a fraction of radio-listening time. Nevertheless, on-demand allows broadcasters to reach listeners who do not tune in to linear streams, notably target groups such as young people. Beyond the hard numbers, which are not all that impressive for the time being, the incremental reach afforded by on-demand listening is one of the main reasons why broadcasters are embracing it.

1) On-demand radio reach in selected countries (individuals, %) Sources: AIMC (Spain), Médiamétrie (France), RAJAR (UK), Edison Research (Australia, Canada and USA), AS&S (Germany) DR (Denmark), SR (Sweden). All data 2018 except Germany (2017) and US (2019).

THIRD-PARTY PLATFORMS

Radio gives broadcasters a direct relationship with audiences. This differs from online distribution. In addition to broadcasters’ own platforms, external platforms (owned by third parties) are increasingly being used to reach listeners online. On the positive side, these platforms allow the audiences using them to quickly access the station they want. On the negative side, broadcasters are losing control of their relationship with listeners, since the platforms own the interface.

These platforms, growing both in number and in market dominance, have become vital for reaching the growing number of listeners who use them for radio listening, sometimes exclusively.

With sales of traditional radio sets plummeting in many European countries, devices such as smartphones and smart speakers are making radio ubiquitous. The price for this is handing some of the control to “gatekeeping” platforms, which come pre-installed on devices. In most cases, users simply stay loyal to the pre-installed player. Even if available as an alternative, they will never install a broadcaster’s proprietary app.

Examples abound. For linear radio, Amazon Echo devices use the aggregator TuneIn to deliver linear radio streams worldwide. For on-demand services, Apple pre-installs its own app as the default option for listening to podcasts on iOS devices.

[Read:  Survey Says…Radio Is Still Going Strong, But Digital Is Moving Up]

The rise of these platforms is threatening the privileged direct relationship that broadcasters have with their audiences. That’s why intermediate solutions are becoming popular among broadcasters: National radio players operated jointly by broadcasters are becoming more common; and hybrid radio systems built around open standards are attracting attention, notably from car manufacturers.

THE FUTURE

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.

David Fernández Quijada is Manager of the EBU Media Intelligence Service.

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