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Norway Studies Suitable Switchover Strategy

Media authority reviews best ways for the country to proceed with digital radio transition

A Sangean DPR-17 DAB+/FM-RDS portable receiver
is pictured in front of Oslo City Hall.

OSLO — Norway’s media authority, Medietilsynet has announced a proposal to the Ministry of Culture to facilitate the digital transition for local radio broadcasters.

The scheme, which is a contribution to the work being carried out regarding the future framework for local radio, recommends that certain local broadcasters be able to continue broadcasting on already established FM networks during and after the technology shift, so as to not impose extra costs on these stations and to guarantee regional content.

This process would apply according to location and financial structure. For example, local and community broadcasters in Norway’s less-populated regions where there are fewer channels would be able to continue broadcasting on their already established FM network. So would independent and noncommercial local radios in all cities. However, the proposal suggests that commercial local broadcasters in four cities — Oslo, Trondheim, Bergen and Stavanger — switch to digital-only.

Local commercial broadcasters in those four cities would only therefore be available on DAB+, while local broadcasters in the rest of the country would be able to continue on either FM or DAB+ for a longer period, applying a more gradual shift toward digital.

According to Svein Larsen, the president of Norway’s local radio association, Norsk Lokalradioforbund, there is still a need for FM in Norway as in the rest of Europe. He says that the country’s local broadcasters feel that the technology changeover is being driven more by the government and big industry players than by consumers. “Local radio shouldn’t be forced to change to DAB,” he said. “We want to continue on FM and also distribute via DAB, but we need a longer transition period — we have indicated seven to 12 years.”

The Norwegian Parliament

has expressed that they want to coordinate the technology shift with Sweden and Denmark, continued Larsen, and that Sweden is expected to make a recommendation at the end of this year. “It is difficult to say what the final result in Norway will be, but it will be decided in the next couple of months,” he said. “Local radio will participate in this political process and will not leave this decision to only the big players.”

Norway’s nationwide FM switch-off is slated to begin as early as 2017. A definite commencement date will be announced in 2015, when the Ministry of Culture states whether all the conditions for an FM switch-off have been met. If they have not, the final switchover date will be set to begin in 2019.

In order for Norway to make a final decision on the date, NRK digital transmissions must have a population coverage equivalent to current FM coverage for P1 (99.5 percent); commercial DAB channels need to have at least 90 percent population coverage; digital radio services should represent an added value for listeners; at least half of radio listeners must tune into a digital radio platform daily; and there needs to be a technically satisfactory and affordable solution for in-car radio.

According to a TNS Gallup survey for the period of August to October, Norway’s digital listening figures have now reached 51, up from the previous quarter’s 47 percent, exceeding the government’s requirement for 50 percent national reach. “It is up to the Ministry of Culture to assess these requirements, but we are very optimistic as there are strong indications on fulfilment of all criteria,” said Ole JørgenTorvmark of Digitalradio Norge.” The listening figures were unveiled on Nov 5 at the WorldDMB general assembly in Rome.

According to Mari Hagerup, head of communication for Digitalradio Norge, the country’s national FM switchover strategy has been in the works for a long time and it is in everyone’s interest that the transition takes place as seamlessly as possible.

“The shift from one radio technology to another must be a predictable process for radio broadcasters, listeners and all related industries,” she said. “Having a long-term blueprint is crucial to achieving a successful transition. The strategy for a national switchover was adopted by Stortinget [the parliament] in 2011 and provides the framework from which all players can manage.”

The conditions and future terms for local radio broadcasters will be announced in a hearing this autumn, leading to a proposal to the parliament in spring 2015.