A French-backed scheme to launch satellite-based pay-radio is getting closer to operation. Last November, the French broadcasting regulator (Le Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel, CSA) announced its own beauty contest for national L-band frequencies. Onde Numerique (ON) last week formally declared that it will participate in the tender, and is planning an IPO probably in October.
Madrid-based Ondas Media, once also expected to participate, has confirmed to Advanced-Television.com that it has – at least for the moment – abandoned its European pay-radio plans, and blaming Europe’s economic hardships.
Franz Cantarano, ON’s president, says his strategy – if he wins the tender – is to initially focus on the French service as part of a nation-by-nation expansion plan, and not to attempt a pan-European service (which was the Ondas Media approach). Cantarano says he is also in “promising” discussions with a potential partner in another large European country.
ON has initial plans for a 140-city terrestrial roll-out in France, backed up by satellite S-band transmission from Solaris Media with whom it has signed an option. Solaris Mobile is a joint-venture between Eutelsat and SES.
The timetable suggests that ON’s service will debut initially on IP/WiFi next year for home listeners, and this could include 3G distribution as a sort of CanalSat for digital radio. Satellite and full terrestrial distribution would then follow in early 2014.
Cantarano says ON already has in place 15 content partners, with a wide portfolio of French nationally recognised stations including public broadcasters as well as the 4 key commercial broadcasters (RTL, Lagardere, NEXT and NRJ). These, plus other independent stations, will combine to present listeners with a huge portfolio of channels, plus about 56 exclusive ‘commercial free’ thematic stations.
“Nine of these ‘thematics’ will be talk-based (kids, sports, men, women, history, psychology, travel/discovery, etc.),” he says. “Additionally, 43 new music channels which we intend to [broadcast] on an ‘interactive’ basis, meaning the listener will be able to pause, skip backward… but also skip forward songs he/she may not be willing to listen to, in any music radio channel – which is covered by an ON patent,” says Cantarano.
Four commercial-free versions of existing stations will be present, also on an exclusive basis: Europe1, for example, will be available commercial-free, as well as the audio stream of BFM TV (a news and economics digital TV channel), plus two other well known music FM channels (Ouï FM, a rock channel and Radio Classique, a classical music FM channel)
However, as Cantarano stresses, the CSA authorisation is needed first. Decision-time is June, and there’s only one other applicant. This is in the form of a (French transmission company) TDF subsidiary (MediaMobile) which wants to launch a DMB-T scheme for traffic information. Cantarano says the nationwide licence should formally be in place by year-end.