Written by Vincent Sneed
The radio environment is neither audiovisual, nor music-only: it is an environment where sound-only usage / non-retail prevails. Most of the listening is still done by reception of broadcast content. As this mode of transmission enables one-to-many access and can influence listeners, national governments grant licences to radios allowing them to broadcast. However, radios have to be present on a multitude of platforms to maintain their audience.
The internet as we know it now was born in 1995… when radio was already everywhere, mobile, simple-to-use, interactive, cost-efficient and complimentary. 80% of the EU population on average listens to radio for at least 2 or 3 hours per day, as shown by national audience measurement (as regularly shown by data collected with AER national Members). For commercial radio, these features are all based on a very efficient model: terrestrial broadcasting of free-to-air programmes, funded (almost) 100% by advertising.
Even in a digitised, globalized and interchangeable world, a local or regional radio will always keep its non-interchangeable Unique Selling Proposition, its strengths and unique features that no one else can nor will provide. Listeners listen to their local and regional radio station because of the complete, fast and relevant service of public interest that these stations provide.
How to make sure that radio keeps on flourishing and offering so much to society? What are the regulatory and technical challenges it is now faced with?
AER, the Association of European Radios, represents more than 4,500 commercially funded radio stations across the EU28 and Switzerland. For AER, radio is a mixture of audio content which is well-edited and well-produced. Content is Free-To-Air / Free-To-Access, transmitted via wired or wireless means – such as, first and foremost, broadcast, but also cable, satellite or online – and typically consists of talk, stories, entertainment, news, music and surprises. AER is the only organisation representing only radio to the EU Institutions in Brussels and is here to ensure that commercial radio’s interests are not forgotten in the upcoming essential EU regulatory actions.
From a Digital Single Market point of view, two main areas:
- Radio’s access to infrastructures in a digital world
- Access to spectrum / radio receivers remains paramount – as currently discussed in the European Electronic Communications Code
Radio remains primarily a broadcast medium. The main viable business model is free-to-air FM broadcasting on Band II (87.5-108 MHz). During manmade or natural disasters, radio is the first – and possibly the only remaining – tool to inform the public. So no EU switch-off date for analogue radio broadcasting services should be envisaged.
Radio is local, regional or national: regulatory decisions should continue to be taken at the same level. Further coordination at EU level of spectrum management on the bands used by radio does not seem necessary, or appropriate.
Whilst the presence of radio on FM is asserted, digital broadcasting is taking up at different paces across Europe, depending on the country, but it can only be developed on Band III (174-230MHz). It is therefore paramount to maintain radio’s access to bands II and III to ensure a healthy future for radio. In these bands, no market-based approaches should be applied to spectrum management – i.e., the attribution of frequencies for radio stations cannot be done through competitive processes where the discrimination criteria are financial (radios being SMEs, they couldn’t compete with other players to access this essential infrastructure).
- How to preserve radio’s presence online, with industry-developed portals and Hybrid Radio
However, radio needs to be on every platform: radio’s future is a mix of broadcasting and internet transmissions. It is hence essential that any integrated device (phone, tablet, etc.) contains a chip that enables listening to the radio by analogue and digital broadcast as well as online means. When these chips are set on devices, they should be activated. In a world of Fake News / disinformation, radio should be seen as a tool to fight against filter bubbles, as most radio content is produced for one-way programming – be it listened to live or on-demand, online or offline. With most radio content, listeners are exposed to content they were not expecting or they had not looked for previously. Listeners indeed rely on radio as their most trusted source of information (see European Commission Standard Eurobarometer Survey of Autumn 2016 (EB86) and Radiocentre research on Breaking News).
For instance, Radioplayer, originally developed in the UK and now adopted by Austria, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, and Norway, works as follows: public and commercial broadcasters are collaborating at a national level to create jointly owned portals (similar initiatives were launched in France, with Le Mur du Son, in Finland, with radiot.fi, etc.). It is collectively owned, and lists all the broadcast radio stations in each country. As well as protecting their members from gatekeepers, and growing time spent listening on-line, that investment in a single point of radio has spin off benefits, such as enabling easier development of hybrid radio, and enabling apps that are generic enough to be set as default on the screen of a smartphone or a car – or enabling easier presence on voice-activated devices (For instance in 2017, “Despite all of the other functions available, radio dominates listening on Echo accounting for 72% of all Echo time spent with audio entertainment”. See Getting Vocal research in the UK).
Actually, the main path forward for radio is to combine broadcast and broadband, i.e. radio broadcast and online, through Hybrid Radio: it seamlessly combines together a broadcaster’s existing transmissions on FM or DAB/DAB+ with bidirectional connection over the internet, right back to that broadcaster. The lead actor on Hybrid Radio is currently RadioDNS. More news on this at our event on March 18th, 2018, in Vienna.
- Access to copyright protected works needs to be fit for radio
- As rights’ users, radios need a well-fitting Satellite and Cable Regulation – radio is different from AV services
Most of the listening is still done by reception of broadcast content. However, radios have to be present on a multitude of platforms to maintain their audience: online presence does not create new listeners. In practice, radios should be able to obtain, at no additional cost, licences including broadcasting, simulcasting, together with catch-up / on-demand access and podcasting of any online material, including previews, produced by or for the broadcaster which is ancillary to the initial broadcast of its radio programme (blanket licence). As the radios’ payments to right holders are based on a percentage of their revenues, and as commercial radio’s revenues derive almost 100% from advertising, any increase in listenership increases right holders’ remuneration. This should be maintained in the digital era: it is important that the licences awarded cover all types of programmes, online and offline (on a technology-neutral basis).
Radio is language based and needs mono-territorial licences with no need for geo-blocking: on average, 6 to 8% of total listening of radio is done online in Europe, and out of this, the listening done abroad is minimal. Language barriers mean that demand is primarily limited to national, and often regional, boundaries. Radios re-finance their programmes via local advertising market. Therefore, radios should only have to license the music rights for their market, their national territory. Those radio stations that (unintentionally) have listeners accessing their online broadcasts from outside their territory are faced with significant territorial difficulties associated with the different rules and tariffs applying to other Member States. Since radios’ content is usually produced on a non-exclusive basis, territorial restrictions and the subsequent blocking of programmes would not be an appropriate market solution for radios. Compulsory multi-territorial licences do not reflect radio business models either and would lead to additional unsustainable costs. The main solution to obtain legal certainty for radio would be that clearing rights in the EU Member State of origin should enable use in all EU (and worldwide), as expressed in the proposal for a Satellite and Cable Regulation.
An important element for radio’s development on the internet is the ability to provide listeners with time-shifted / on-demand programmes and programme extracts. The music contained in programmes made available on-demand entails obtainment and clearance of exclusive related rights. The multiple rightholders have to be identified, asked for permission, and remunerated. This is a task that cannot practically be undertaken by radios. Collective rights management organisations have the expertise to fulfill this task – they already do so in the offline and online world for linear uses. At least the licensing of such rights for on-demand programmes containing only small or accessory parts of protected music (e.g. reports or interviews with some background music) should be enabled through mandatory collective management of rights.
- As rightholders, radios need protection of their programmes online too – specifically tailored for their uses as in the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market
Radio needs clarity on linking / embedding: as many other media, radios have developed activities online, and provide access to third party content via links on their websites. A link for a freely accessible website presented as a link should not be subject to authorisation. However, a link or an embedding using the “framing” technique, whereby a website appropriates the content of third parties systematically as a business model, should be subject to the authorisation of the rightholder. This should apply for instance to aggregators of radio stations who are using and exploiting the rights of third parties comparable to a cable operator. Due diligence should be required from intermediaries regarding content posted on their online properties. AER would welcome clarifications from the EU institutions on these points, especially in the context of the currently discussed Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market article 13.
In practice, radio requires a specific approach reflecting its functioning in the context of legislations prepared for other media, platforms, or completely different fields, such as cars or tyres labelling. It is hoped that these specificities go on being recognised and accordingly reflected in legislation, as exemplified by the Energy Labelling Regulation in 2017. The European Commission’s mandate ends in two years, and this will be the time to assess if this was an individual case or if there is a real trend.
Vincent Sneed has worked for the Association of European Radios (AER), representing commercial radio to the EU institutions since 2006. He is now Director Regulatory Affairs & Manager and has led AER’s actions on the Collective Rights’ Management Directive, the SatCab Regulation, the Telecom Package / European Electronic Communications Code review, the Broadcasting Communication review, and other spectrum management, copyright, advertising and media-related dossiers. He also coordinates exchange of data and know-how between national markets. He studied law in France, Spain and the Netherlands, and speaks French, English, Italian and Spanish.
Cover Photo: © Radiocentre