UK: le radio private replicano a Future of Radio

L’authority di Londra ha invitato parti in causa e semplici cittadini a discutere del futuro, quasi sicuramente tutto digitale, del mezzo radiofonico

da Radio Passioni

Davvero di eccezionale interesse il documento pubblicato da Radiocentre, l’organizzazione delle radio commerciali private britanniche, che ha rilasciato pubblicamente (solo le appendici sono “confidenziali”, forse perché contengono dati e statistiche che Radiocentre preferisce salvaguardare) il suo articolato parere su Future of Radio, la lunga requisitoria con “request for comments” firmata dall’Ofcom. L’authority di Londra ha invitato parti in causa e semplici cittadini a discutere del futuro, quasi sicuramente tutto digitale, del mezzo radiofonico. Le 70 pagine in pdf dell’analisi di Radiocentre affrontano tutti gli aspetti messi sul piatto dall’Ofcom, incluso l’impiego delle modulazioni digitali. Il documento può essere prelevato sia sul sito di Ofcom, sia dalla home page del sito di Radiocentre. Ecco il comunicato stampa che riassume le principali conclusioni, con un grazie a Enrico Oliva per avermi segnalato gli estratti di questa pubblicazione apparsi sulla lista di discussione del forum DRM.

‘self-regulation for localness’ and ‘plan for digital migration’ key for industry’s future

RadioCentre, the body that represents UK Commercial Radio has today unveiled details of its submission to Ofcom in response to ‘The Future of Radio’ consultation. The Commercial Radio body, which is responding on behalf of its 320 member stations, praises Ofcom for carrying out the review but believes that the rapid pace of change in the market demands faster and more radical approaches than Ofcom is currently proposing. The 70 page report provides evidence about the current state of play in Commercial Radio. At the heart of this are findings from ‘The Big Listen’, a substantial three-phase programme of engagement with Commercial Radio listeners. The final stage, an on-line poll supported with programming across Commercial Radio, delivered an overwhelming response with over 10,000 listeners giving their views about the radio’s future:

• 91% agree that “radio is an important part of my life”
• 90% say “radio keeps me company
• 86% say that the radio is “something I would not like to be without”
• 64% think they will spend more time with radio in the future
• 88% say “radio should be on as many devices as possible”
• 85% consider that radio is the “first place I discover new music”
• 73% describe the radio as “trustworthy” (just over double the second placed medium, TV, with 36%) *

Said Andrew Harrison, CEO, RadioCentre, “Together with our listeners we have a stake in the future of radio. Our listeners love radio – in our Big Listen survey about the future of radio, over 10,000 listeners took part and over 91% of them said ‘radio is an important part of my life’. We need to make sure that Britain’s oldest universal medium renews itself to thrive as a vibrant and dynamic force in UK media through the 21st Century as it has done through the twentieth century.”
The submission highlights that radio, despite being the smallest of the traditional media sectors, is subject to a triple-market intervention in the form of the BBC, Community Radio, and detailed regulation of Commercial Radio. These combined factors are placing Commercial Radio under considerable strain, and some action is required now.
Added Harrison, “With new technologies and demands on consumers’ time continuing to emerge, Commercial Radio is continuing to invest in inspiring content and multi-platform presence to win audience and revenues. We need Ofcom to play its part in enabling that investment by reducing Commercial Radio’s regulatory burden.
We are making three key proposals which Ofcom can implement now:

• The deregulatory programme which Ofcom identifies should start immediately, not when particular levels of digital listening are achieved.
• There should be a new self-regulatory approach to localness, with the industry taking greater responsibility for its delivery. The focus of this new system should be on delivery of local material rather than quotas for locally-produced programming.
• There is an urgent need to chart radio’s journey towards a digital future. Current levels of investment in digital radio are unsustainable without such a plan.

Consequently, we argue in favour of establishing a cross-industry working group, to be commissioned by the DCMS and led by Ofcom to plan when and how the radio industry should become fully or mainly digitised. The group should consist of Commercial Radio, the BBC, Community Radio, government, set manufacturers and Digital UK. The group should be required to report in the first half of 2008.”
Harrison recommends that Ofcom prioritise these three areas for action to provide the immediate regulatory relief and future technology investment certainty which Commercial Radio requires. In addition, the response covers the following areas:
Support for the maintenance of radio stations’ Formats as proposed by Ofcom, and agreement to simplify analogue local radio Formats bringing them into line with those of local digital stations.
Recommendations for the maintenance of Format restrictions on national analogue radio on the grounds that their removal could damage progress towards a digital future.
On Media Ownership Rules, RadioCentre welcomes Ofcom’s general agreement that the existing radio ownership regime merits reform and liberalisation, but argues that the evidence points towards a more radical revisiting of the rules than Ofcom has chosen to recommend. Specifically, RadioCentre proposes that:

• The radio-specific rules on concentration of ownership should be removed
• Local cross-media ownership rules should be retained
• The Government should continue to retain the right to intervene in mergers of special public interest

RadioCentre stresses the importance of finding the right solution in this area having been advised that primary legislation will be required to amend these rules. It is therefore likely to be a number of years before they can be updated, heightening the importance of securing a genuinely future-proof outcome.
In addition to proposing a cross-industry working party to begin work immediately on charting radio’s digital future, RadioCentre has offered an initial analysis of the currently-available technical options and suggests how small Community and Commercial Radio stations might successfully exist in a digital future.
With regard to Ofcom’s proposals for aligning licence end-dates and establishing two year rolling notice periods, RadioCentre concludes that, if a digital plan is arrived at early enough the right licensing decisions will flow from that.
RadioCentre considers ‘The Future of Radio’s proposals for Community Radio and opposes substantial regulatory change on the grounds that, because the sector is such a recent phenomenon, there is insufficient evidence to support change. It recommends that, at this stage, Ofcom restricts its proposals for the sector to those changes which will streamline the application process, in the interests of ensuring that the sector delivers distinctive, community-based services with the generation of social gain as their primary goal.
Finally, RadioCentre observes that many of the areas addressed by ‘The Future of Radio’ require change to primary (or secondary) legislation. Added Harrison, “Many of the areas require change to legislation and this unnecessarily hampers Ofcom’s ability to regulate radio flexibly in the light of changing market circumstances and therefore impedes the industry’s ability to compete in a fast-moving world. We recommend that future legislation should give Ofcom greater discretion within the context of policy goals established by Parliament.
We would urge Ofcom to be bold. Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.”

In phase 3 of the research, over 10,000 listeners responded to the Big Listen online poll about the future of radio. See attached spreadsheet for phase 3 results.
RadioCentre – “The Big Listen Phase III” Base: 10,376 Commercial Radio Listeners Source: YouGov.

RadioCentre formed in July 2006 from the merger of the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB) and the Commercial Radio Companies Association (CRCA). Its members consist of the overwhelming majority of UK Commercial Radio stations who fund the organisation.
The role of RadioCentre is to maintain and build a strong and successful Commercial Radio industry — both in terms of listening hours and revenues. As such, the RadioCentre operates in a number of areas including working with advertisers and their agencies, working with government, Ofcom and policy makers, and also stations themselves.
Di rilievo, a mio parere, è la proposta di attivare un gruppo di lavoro tra broadcaster pubblici e privati, industriali della radio e del silicio e altri player, con l’obiettivo di delineare una strategia comune. Forse sarebbe il caso di sedersi tutti intorno a un tavolo anche qui da noi, senza accontentarsi dei pareri raccolti da Agcom. Molto interessanti, dal mio punto di vista, le osservazioni sull’uso del DRM nelle onde medie. Inutile riportarle qui, ma le osservazioni del capitolo 8 (Digital Radio – charting the future) è doverosa. Radiocentre non è affatto sfavorevole alla transizione al digitale, ma non omette di dire una verità scomoda per quei gruppi di interesse che spingono per l’adozione (leggi “vendita”) di apparati di codifica DRM per gli impianti a onde medie. In sostanza, dice Radiocentre, non possiamo ancora scommettere che il DRM non sarà un totale fallimento commerciali. Al momento non ci sono ricevitori e da quel poco che si vede siamo assai lontani dal massmarket. La seconda perplessità dell’organizzazione britannica riguarda l’uso del DRM senza protezione contro le interferenze all’interno di una banda che è al tempo stesso sempre meno importante per gli ascoltatori e ancora molto popolata da piccole emittenti comunitarie (per le quali il passaggio al digitale sarebbe troppo costoso). Anche in FM l’uso di tecnologie ibride o puramente digitali non viene approvato alla cieca e uno degli scenari proposti è la sopravvivenza dell’FM accanto a sistemi che utilizzino bande nuove, appositamente allocate. Certo, nel Regno Unito pesa molto il buon successo del DAB (secondo Radiocentre circa il 90% dell’offerta FM attuale è già accessibile via DAB per gli ascoltatori) e questo successo deve apparire ancora più confortante ora che tra DAB+ e DMB il percorso evolutivo di Eureka 147 sembra garantito. Digitalizzare completamente le bande analogiche oggi dominanti potrebbe essere un’avventura dall’esito incerto (con poco pubblico e con meno voci) se le decisioni verranno fatte cadere dall’alto. Al tempo stesso, Radiocentre suggerisce di muoversi molto in fretta per non rischiare di sprecare i potenziali del digitale. Una gran bella lettura, non c’è che dire. Spero proprio che gli allegati ora confidenziali, ricchi di approfondimenti, vengano prima o poi rilasciati.

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