The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has released a consultation paper on digital radio with stakeholders expected to send in their comments by September 4, 2017.
“In a competitive environment, digital radio broadcasting may provide exciting new opportunities to existing private FM radio broadcasters as well as to the listeners along with a host of other value-added services. By using digital radio broadcasting technologies, FM radio broadcasters can provide multiple channels/services on single frequency in existing FM band. This may increase availability of number of channels. However, presently there is neither any clarity in policy guidelines for Phase-III regime regarding provision of digital radio service in FM band nor the ecosystem is available which can encourage existing private FM broadcasters to move towards digital radio broadcasting,” said the regulatory body in a statement.
However, Vineet Singh Hukmani, MD of Radio One, pointed out that there are still some key issues that need to be resolved. “While in spirit, the TRAI exploring avenues for digital radio broadcast is a good move, there are three large issues that will directly affect the coverage/reach of such an endeavour. Digital receiver cost and acceptance will limit reach significantly. It has to be free to air to the listener for acceptance. Private FM radio players’ balance sheets do not allow paying/sharing the cost/fee of such a huge investment. However, what TRAI should explore is FM radio 'rebroadcast' on the internet as that will be aligned with mobile data growth in the country and will match the reach and coverage of the current analogue footprint at the lowest cost and will truly align with the PM’s vision of Digital India for all,” he explained.
TRAI has suggested that FM radio broadcasters may opt to migrate to digital radio broadcasting in metro and major cities to increase the number of radio channels as they see a good revenue model. However, it might not be the same case in smaller cities due to lack of infrastructure and business opportunities.
“There are two things I want to mention at this early stage. First, as an FM broadcaster, our immediate concern is operationalising Phase III stations, generating revenues, achieving break-evens, and turning in profits, cash-flows and ROI. This could take 2–3 years. Second, when we look at Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM); a type of digital radio broadcasting standard, we would like to evaluate what the receiver ecosystem is looking like. Are cars/car stereos supporting DRM? Are mobile phones supporting DRM? If they are not, then we would not be very keen on DRM. If, however, through policy and otherwise, the government establishes a strong receiver ecosystem, then we would at least look at DRM in detail,” opined Prashant Panday, MD and CEO of ENIL, which runs Radio Mirchi.
Broadcasting infrastructure is not available in 264 new cities at present, where FM radio channels are to be made operational subsequent to Phase-III auction. In such a scenario, there could be different views regarding migration to digital radio broadcasting by private FM broadcasters in different markets, admitted TRAI.
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