French Commercial Broadcasters say "Pas Trop Vite" to Digital Radio Rollout

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A go-it-alone approach to implementing digital radio in France via T-DMB has reached a definite impasse, at least for the moment, says Andy Sennit in Radio Nederland's Media Network blog.

French broadcast authority CSA had been aiming for a start-up of the new technology this year, via T-DMB multiplexes located in the cities of Paris, Marseille and Nice. France has been the only EU member to select DMB as its primary digital radio platform, even going so far as to issue a mandate that all new vehicles sold in that country come equipped with OEM DMB compatible receivers by 2013.

But a recent government report, along with a series of articles by private sector analysts criticizing the choice of DMB as a primary radio platform has apparently succeeded in halting an imminent rollout. At issue is the ultimate cost to broadcasters jumping aboard the DMB platform. With official estimates on annual operation costs for the multiplexes falling somewhere between 125 to 190 million Eurodollars, major radio groups like RTL, NRJ Group and others are said to be adverse to making major financial commitments to a system they view as offering little or no short-term ROI. Similar sentiments have recently been holding back a proposed launch of DAB+ in Germany.

Some detractors go so far as asserting the decision to limit digital radio to DMB was spurred in part by a desire to deliberately lessen competition by raising the financial barriers to entry.

Other critics complain that in addition to high costs, radio distribution via DMB doesn't deliver audio quality on total parity with DAB+. Even though both systems hail from the same Eureka 147 architecture, DMB radio channels dedicate a certain amount of bandwidth to synchronous video content, regardless of whether a broadcaster uses it or not.

CSA is scheduled to meet with digital radio stakeholders, including representatives from the commercial radio sector, in February, when industry observers say they expect financial issues to go back on the table.

Meanwhile, proponents for the T-DMB launch are pressing for a June start date.

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