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Now I have to PAY for radio?

By PETER WHITE

Published: 11 May, 2012

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Satellite radio may be coming to Europe, or at least the French CSA thinks it will, but it won't come from a satellite, a least not at first, and it is unlikely to do much for the nascent Mobile Satellite Services operations at Solaris and Inmarsat.

But nowhere else in Europe does any kind of pay radio exist and France, after being pushed towards it since the bankruptcy of Worldspace, which was a kind of global satellite radio business, by the company which bought the European end of World Space, is about ready to take a stab at it.

The US had two satellite digital radio systems until they merged and this month the merged entity showed its first profitable quarter. So the idea works, it's been proven. That system went live in 2001, Europe is only 11 years behind.

The sequence of events is that the CSA will award terrestrial L-Band spectrum in June, to either Onde Numerique or a subsidiary of TDF, one which plans 63 paid channels, and the other which will offer some mapping and traffic navigation services and a handful of channels. The system will go live in early 2013, and go nationwide a year or so later.

We hope and expect Onde will win because it will set a benchmark in Europe of how to go about paid radio - single touch recording of songs, fast forward and rewind of the entire program, single touch song purchases to transfer to other devices, and an economic model that is right for here - we tend to commute to work on public transport, so focusing the service on cars, as the US did, wouldn't work - we listen to radio at home or on the train, as much as in the car.

Eventually the service may include satellite delivery - in 2014 or 2015, when vehicular connectivity will be added (that's the plan if Onde wins), and that will in fact use some MSS through a contract already cut with Solaris, and the service will then reach across all France, and potentially all of Europe, although satellite services are not great at indoor penetration, so the initial terrestrial broadcasts will be strongest.

Will it catch on like wildfire or be consigned to a "quaint" French thing that would not work here? Our view is that anything approaching a commercial success in France will lead to rival businesses setting up in all 27 EU countries at a minimum - and lobbying for that L-Band spectrum should start now.

For a full 2,000 word examination of this story and an exclusive interview with the CEO of Onde Numerique, download this week's Faultline go to www.rethinkresearch.biz/faultline

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