French pay-radio scheme: Full details

One might say “at last”. On November 8th French media regulator le Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel (CSA) licensed Onde Numérique to broadcast by satellite over Europe. Transmissions will be made on the Eutelsat/SES Solaris Mobile payload that’s been in orbit on Eutelsat’s W2A craft since April 2009.  The CSA announced a beauty contest competition for the terrestrial frequency rights in December 2011, and applications closed in February. Onde Numérique describes the Solaris deal as a “pre agreement” suggesting there’s more contractual work to be done.

The other tender submitted was from MediaMobile, a partnership between TDF, car-maker Renault and Vinci).

This latest scheme is initially focused on French users and will provide for 9 new digital radio channels exclusive to the bouquet plus 43 new music-based channels covering niches such as jazz, rock, French ‘variety’ music, and other international styles. Additionally the service will broadcast 7 public stations (France Inter, France Info, France Culture, France Musique, FIP, le Mouv’, France Bleu) as well as Euronews’ radio service.

CEO Franz Cantarano says the service will debut next year, followed by an in-car national themed radio service in 2014 with 64 channels, with more than 50 exclusive – and advertising free – services. This will be the first subscription based pay-radio service in Europe. Solaris Mobile’s satellite service will additionally feed into terrestrial repeaters ensuring national coverage to 140 major cities and towns throughout France. Onde is adopting the ETSI SDR standard using L-band.

Initial ‘broadcasts’ will be to the home, via WiFi and ADSL, and a ‘smart’ phone service is also being planned.

Onde Numérique is understood to be planning its in-car service using ‘plug and play’ aftermarket devices. Cantarano recognises that gearing up the auto trade to supply vehicles with suitable receivers is going to take time, and persuasion. It will probably take 20-30 months before suitable cars appear. However, given that Renault was a member of the MediaMobile consortium one can assume that they must still see mileage in the concept. PSA Peugeot Citroen is also known to be enthusiastic.

These two domestic players account for a large proportion of French auto sales. Renault, for example, takes a 19 per cent share of the market which in total shifts around 2 million vehicle registrations a year. Peugeot about 16.2 per cent and Citroen 14.4 per cent. Fourth in the market is Volkswagen with an 8 per cent share.

Cantarano recognises that the supply of OEM receivers is now critical. Past work done by Eutelsat in collaboration with electronics giant Sagem might now start bearing fruit. In general Onde is looking to showcase something at the important Geneva motor show in March 2014.

My ‘at last’ statement is made because a European pay-radio service has been a long time coming!  Previous attempts to start have failed because of lack of enthusiasm, lack of adequate funding or more recently a failure to interest the auto trade which seems to see greater possibilities in portable music and cellular services from telcos.

Recent promises have come from Italian media giant Class Editori which was announced – also with Solaris Mobile – in July 2011 and talking about support from Fiat, as was the (mostly) US financed Ondas Media. Both ventures were backed by significant media players.  Ondas, for example, had certain backing from Mark Schneider, well known to European cable and the founder of Schneider Media & Holdings, and one of the original players in UIH/Liberty Global. Ondas Media is now in “caretaker” mode and perhaps biding its time.

And, of course, there was also Worldspace, but the less said about Noah Samara the better!  Remarkably, Worldspace is now resuscitated, at least as far as India is concerned, in radio services which are gaining wider distribution in India on DTH via Bharti Airtel and on cellular-distributed services. There are also occasional rumours that Liberty Global, which now controls Sirius-XM, might use its considerable European experience to launch a European-focussed Sirius-type service.

“I’m extremely honoured and thankful of this outcome” declared Franz Cantarano, CEO and Founder of Onde Numérique. “This is for us a wonderful opportunity to contribute to the momentum of France’s future digital radio landscape, through a large and innovative content offering, which has been designed to be complementary to the French free-to-air radio landscape in terms of content, usages, and economic model. More than ever, we will be keen on encouraging and fostering the emergence of other national initiatives in Europe, on the basis of this first success.”

Chris Forrester Posted by on Nov 26 2012. Filed under Digital Radio, Guest Blog, Inside Satellite.

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