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EBU’s New Head of Radio Sees Opportunity, Peril

Kudláčová discusses multiplatform audio with Radio World

Edita Kudláčová (Photo by Khalil Baalbaki)
Edita Kudláčová (Photo by Khalil Baalbaki)

In March, Edita Kudláčová started her new job as the European Broadcasting Union’s head of radio.

In a presentation tomorrow, she will discuss her vision for the medium at the EBU’s online Radio Assembly.

She’ll tell Europe’s largest gathering of senior public radio officials that public radio is faced with a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity as well as extreme competition in the audio market, and discuss her ideas for approaching those challenges.

Radio World spoke to Kudláčová prior to the event and was allowed a preview of her comments.

Prior to assuming her new role, Kudláčová spent more than 12 years working for Czech Radio, rising from senior international relations specialist to chief creative producer. She has won many award including first prize for Best European Online Project and the Journalism Award at the 2019 Prix Europa for “1968 Project.”

Kudláčová has been a member of the EBU’s New Radio Group and, prior to that, the International Relations Radio Group.

COVID-19 and public radio

Kudláčová said that, confronted with a global pandemic, the world’s citizens have been eager for information to get them through this difficult time. In Europe, a large number have turned to public broadcasters for help.

“As a result, we have seen an increase in listeners to many public radio stations/networks during the past 12 to 13 months,” she said.

“The first increase occurred during the first lockdown in March and April last year. The second increase took place last autumn due to a second wave of lockdowns in European countries.”

According to the EBU’s audience research, listeners tuned to European public radio for a variety of reasons during the pandemic. The first area of audience growth was news.

“People choose radio because it is able to deliver trustworthy information quite quickly,” Kudláčová said. “The second increase that we saw was in entertainment content, which was for music streaming and music listening on air and FM.”

Radio also gained listenership among young people, in part because “lots of parents were looking for some sort of ‘visual detox’ to keep their children from staring at screens all the time,” she told Radio World.

All told, up to 26% of young people in Europe have been tuning into radio during the pandemic. This is a high level of listenership “which we have not seen in previous years, driven by public radio’s formats for these age groups.”

Opportunity and peril

Pandemic-driven growth in public radio listenership comes at a time when the medium is facing an increasing number of fierce competitors, both on air and particularly streaming on the web. Public radio is faced with a “one-in-a-lifetime opportunity as well as extreme competition in the audio market,” said Kudláčová. This is why European public radio has to act now to retain and grow its percentage of listeners in the multi-platform universe.

Achieving this means applying EBU members’ considerable expertise in producing high-quality audio content to create compelling content in music, sports, the arts and children’s programming, she said. Moreover, this content has to grab the attention of 21st century listeners who now enjoy an unprecedented degree of content choice.

“A lot of our member countries are already faced with increased competition in the audio market, because many digital platforms that previously only distributed audio content are now producing it as well,” Kudláčová noted.

“The degree of extreme competition that is emerging for listeners will force us to innovate quite quickly in order to survive.”

Edita Kudláčová plans to make this kind of innovation a priority for the EBU’s members and working groups, “to see where we can cooperate and progress with all of this together.”

Since her duties extend to the EBU’s Music Unit, Kudláčová is also working closely with musicians and music producers to survive COVID-caused concert cancellations.

“The EBU is already running a series of seminars together with the music creation industry on how best we can support the whole music scene and what needs to be done when the pandemic is over.”

Advancing digital and hybrid radio

The continuing progress of digital radio, specifically DAB+, and the deployment of hybrid radio within cars/trucks to retain radio’s share of the vital mobile market are priorities for Kudláčová.

“My division will continue to support the growth of DAB+ broadcasting across EBU member countries and to secure the position of public service radio in the digital market,” she said.

“The world needs independent, trustworthy public service radio now more than ever.”

As well, the EBU’s radio division will continue to work with EBU Technology & Innovation and the EBU’s Connected Cars and Devices working group to innovate the radio experience in cars and trucks.

“We’ll need to be looking at this year so that public radio stays relevant on ‘connected dashboards,’” Kudláčová said.

“I think this is a very big priority for public radio, because we need to cooperate on the international level in order to succeed — both in terms of the technology being used and the content being produced. We have to ensure that the content we distribute online makes sense for the online environment. We can do only if the EBU has an international strategy that is shared and endorsed by our members.”

Kudláčová has an ambitious agenda to fulfill as the EBU’s Head of Radio. This said, she considers herself a team player.

“It’s important that our EBU members are involved in this process, so that we really do this together,” she said. “I take it as a top priority to make sure that everyone involved in our radio efforts are well-connected and well-informed about what is going on, and that our agenda is clear and open to input from all of them.”