The author is communications manager for WorldDAB.
BRUSSELS — Addressing the audience at the WorldDAB General Assembly, VRT’s Paul Lembrechts acknowledged the changing nature of the radio industry in Europe, stating that the “digitization of the radio market is now a fact — it will replace the analog era in the foreseeable future.” He also highlighted VRT’s shifting focus toward DAB+ as the successor of FM.
RTBF CEO Jean-Paul Philippot echoed this view, explaining RTBF’s vision of an alliance-like approach in which all industry players take an active part in digital distribution.
Referring to cooperation on distribution and competition on content, Philippot stressed the market’s need for collaboration between public and commercial radio, the retail and automotive sectors, as well as international bodies and organisations such as WorldDAB and RadioPlayer Worldwide.
According to Philippot, this new “competitive cooperation” is what led to the creation of maRadio.be, a cooperative consortium bringing together RTBF and most of the private players, large and small, from the French-speaking Belgian radio sector. It also opened the doors to regular DAB+ services in French-speaking Belgium — a launch that was officialised and celebrated at the start of November.
Wallonia joins its Flemish counterpart in launching DAB+ digital radio, with VRT having done so at the end of 2018. Commenting on the current state of the radio industry in Flanders, Lembrechts highlighted the growing popularity of DAB+ among Flemish people, explaining that 55% of the population has already heard of DAB+ and 9% of all listening in Flanders happens on DAB+. This, he said, is three times more than when the technology was launched 12 months earlier.
According to Lembrechts, the increasing popularity of DAB+ in Flanders is primarily the result of good cooperation between the major Flemish radio stations and the Flemish government. But, he added, it’s also related to the general popularity of radio as a medium, pointing out that people in Flanders “listen to the radio for about 3 hours and 31 minutes a day.”
VRT’s CEO also stressed the importance of DAB+ in relation to the EECC directive, which requires new cars across the European Union to include digital radio capabilities from 2021 onward. According to Lembrechts,
DAB+ in the car forms an important part of VRT’s digital radio strategy, given that 39% of the 600,000 new cars are already equipped with a DAB+ radio.
As for RTBF, the public broadcaster for Belgium’s French-speaking community has been a strong supporter of DAB+ for the past decade. RTBF currently operates two DAB+ layers, broadcasting a total of 25 DAB+ radio stations (11 public radios and 14 private networks, which is an exception in Europe) — 10 of which are only available on DAB+. The broadcaster’s mobile coverage stands at around 98% of the population.
On stage at the General Assembly, both CEOs stood side by side to reiterate the various benefits of DAB+ digital radio, placing particular emphasis on the wide range of content available on DAB+, the improved sound quality offered by the technology, and its subscription-free model.
As DAB+ in Belgium continues to develop and reach maturity, it’s clear that Belgium’s French and Dutch-speaking public broadcasters are making sure that listeners across the country are able to reap the benefits of DAB+ digital radio.