Digital radio is already in your pocket

Beijing, november 2009. Tien An Men square. Traffic is dense, but I’m cool : I’m listening to NRJ, number 1 music radio in France.

Yes, you read it well : in a car in Beijing, China, I’m listening to a French radio. No, NRJ didn’t invest one euro in Asia. I’m just – like most of you nowadays – listening to a radio on my iPhone, through 3G, plugged on the car stereo system. So, in Beijing, I actually have a cleaner sound than most of the listeners at the same moment listening on FM in their cars in Paris.

When very serious guys meet and fight in Paris about Digital Radio, that topic is not an issue for real people anymore, and for a long time already. This year, people will get wi-fi radios as Christmas presents. So, wake up guys, nobody cares about your fights about technical standards, neither about your plans, ideas, budgets and solutions. Radio listeners didn’t wait for you. Radio is online, and through 3G and soon 4G, it’s also – as it has always been – “over the air”.

If radio remains a vertical product – sending content to passive people listening, without any action back – it’s been a long time that those listeners took control on the way they agree to listen to this media. While I never believed on huge numbers for computer listenership, I strongly believe on future huge numbers for mobile over-the-air audience. Why ? Because mobility is in radio’s essence.  In the 1930’s, yes, people were gathering around the giant wooden radio receiver, but TV soon took that place in the living room, and the invention of the transistor allowed radio receivers to become small, working on batteries – or on a lemon :-) – thus becoming the first ever mobile sound unit in people’s life.

What is “digital radio” supposed to bring us ? Better sound. Online radio has that already, thanks. Associated data. Online radio has that already, thanks.

On the other hand, UK – where DAB is so important already – shows us the limit of that technology. Don’t hope to listen to a proper DAB radio signal during heavy rains. In UK ? Heavy rains ? Duuuuhhhh.

So… listeners decide on how they want to listen to radio. Living-room wifi radio “tuners” are now cheap, and everyone can start his own radio station for a few bucks.

Finally, radio belongs to you, and has never been in such a good health !

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  1. John Doeuf

    December 2, 2009 at 11:25 am

    Denis, you’re right. Now if you want the 40+ million daily radio listeners in France to access it on IP/3G networks, can you tell me who will invest 1 000 000 000 € to upgrade these networks ? Telco operators have no interest in the radio business, so don’t count on them…


  2. Denis Florent

    December 2, 2009 at 11:49 am

    Can you elaborate on that ?
    Do you mean those are bandwidth related problems ? Like… if suddenly everybody was listening to radio at the same time on the 3G networks, that would crash them ?

    What are the current limits ?

    And, as about telco operators not being interested… well… it’s all a matter of money. If radio operators decide to pay a bit to those telcos, instead of having to pay an awful lot for the already doomed DAB… maybe we have a solution.

    Please give us more details.
    Thank you.


  3. Fred GERAND

    December 2, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    Denis, 1000% agree with you.

    Present & future Radio is online & through Wifi, Wimax, 3G, 4G…and through whatever new technological developments will bring in our lives ;-)
    Like you, I don’t care about all their fights regarding Digital Radio. Digital Radio is already on my smartphone, on my laptop or on the new wifi radio I have just bought …and with a f*****g sound ;-)
    As most of the present & future mobile communication ways are already based on the 3G Networks, I am sure Telco operators will keep on investing a lot of money in R&D in order to improve their capacity again & again… And maybe even without Radio operators would have to put some money on the table…

    Very interesting your story about lemon battery, didn’t know anything about it ;-)

    Thanks for your article… Excellent analysis again…as usual ;-)


  4. Philippe Chapot

    December 2, 2009 at 3:55 pm


    This is a very narrow view about the problem. Why do you think people are fighting for terrestrial digital radio ? Not for you to listen to NRJ in Bejing. Internet is a complimentary solution. Everyone agrees and radio took internet as a chance and is now streaming online ang on 3G. But who controls internet and 3G ? Who defines diversity and pluralism on internet. No One. What freedom do you have when you listen to your radio station online ? You are not anonymous anymore. Maybe you don’t care to let everyone know what you are doing and when you are doing it, share picture and private message with facebook or other networks. But the day you want to become anonymous, good luck. You won’t be able.

    This is also a fight about free access to Radio and Television. Analogue radio is going down in term of audience and digital can bring back users with added value and more programs (even if it’s not the case right now with the standard chosen by government, but it can change in the coming month).

    Your constatation is right, you can listen to NRJ, but you pay for it, they know you listen to them and where you are and how long and if you will buy after listening to NRJ… and that’s not fine with human’s right to stay anonymous… you heard or read about George Orwell… 1981..

    Then we talk about radio stations (600 in france) that are community stations that needs to be controled and helped … have you been helping any non-profit organizations in France ? You know perfectly that the first one to be eaten up by internet is the small radio station. CSA is here to maintain pluralism and diversity in France to try to keep the great work that local radio are doing. How many TV or big radio presenter worked in those small stations… if we go only by internet, only a few will survive as they don’t have the commercial power of private and network radios… and no help will be given by ARCEP who sells 3G frequencies and don’t care about control on internet.

    So of course you can look at it naïvely as you do without trying to understand all that is behind what you say…

    Today the fight is only 12 stations representing 70 points of the audience (if we agree on Mediametrie’s statistics) against 700 that represent 54points of audience… yes, yes… 70 + 54 that’s how audience is mesured in france… on 120%…

    Compression and bandwidth on 3G and internet will increase but as Radio quality and people will want to access to 5.1 and HiFi quality which as HD TV will ask for even more …

    Let’s not be too stupid, terrestrial is the only alternative to free and anonymous access to radio for Millions of people at the same time and for the next 10 years whatever telecoms tell you or make you beleive…




  5. Denis Florent

    December 2, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    Dear Mr Chapot,

    First of all, thank you very much for having taken the time to reply in details to my little article.

    Regarding the protection of privacy, I totally agree with you. Each listener to an online feed can be more or less identified, followed, etc.

    But, being a radio person, I see some targeting opportunities there. I can for example send different advertising breaks to different types of listeners (local ones, over the country ones, or expat ones).
    Sure, this is seen only from the broadcaster’s side…

    For the rest of your explanations, I understand…

    On the other hand, you must remember that we – broadcasters – come from far. Remember the Club-DAB, a million years ago ? We all heard the sound of it, tested it, played with it, and then nothing happened. Nothing… except that in the meantime, internet “broadcasting” developed itself, naturally, organically.

    Dear Mr Chapot,
    this humble blog is open to you to write your own article if later on you feel the need to explain us the progress done by Digital Radio in France. You will be very welcome.


    ps. Orwell… that was 1984. In 1981… it was another “big brother”;-)


  6. dp

    December 3, 2009 at 5:52 am

    Great! Experienced and Savvy… Looking from all sides. And, grounded in reality.

    Data delivery Capacity and Cost are not real problems.

    Internet radio complements all terrestrial radio—adding location-shifting and time-shifting. Across device platforms. With ever improving quality. Allowing existing listener relationships to be maintained, and new ones to be developed. Without substantial additional investment by providers or listeners. Leaving money for programming and content, including licensing.

    The costs of Internet radio streaming are now comparable with terrestrial radio distribution costs. Wholesale content delivery costs, for large scale, now go below $1.80/year/listener—20 hours/week at 128Kbps = 60GB/year. And, multicasting is in use and can handle substantial increases in Internet radio distribution now. A single stream transported to a neighborhood, with multiple streams delivered locally increases ISPs’ efficiency (and earnings).

    And, of course, FM can easily handle the bulk of the traffic for the next many years. Providing plenty of time for further Internet distribution increases and improvements.


  7. cornofulgur

    December 3, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    Ca a l’air sympa, mais, excusez mon ignorance crasse, n’ayant pas
    d’iphone (oui, honte à moi ! ouuuh!), je suppose donc que le forfait téléphonique que vous avez est international ce qui vous permet de vous connecter d’où vous voulez, en l’occurrence en Chine.
    Si j’ai bien compris, à la différence de la fm pour laquelle un émetteur arrose une région et où l’auditeur est invisible, pour la 3G, vous devez créer une connexion pour recevoir la radio, ce qui suppose de multiples slots disponibles pour ce faire. Bien sûr, ça permet instantanément pour le diffuseur de savoir le nombre d’auditeurs connectés. Mais si le nombre de connectés augmente, le réseau sera-t-il capable, en plus des communications, de gérer toutes ces connexions ? Et quid de ces ondes reçues en permanence ? Et l’autonomie du téléphone dans ce mode ? Et les datas, le fait d’écouter laradio en 3G : est-ce décompté du soi-disant fortfait illimité ?
    J’espère que l’iphone a une puce fm qui permet aussi de recevoir la radio classique sans créer de connexion.


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