Changes in media prompted us to ask about the future of radio: ACMA’s James Cameron #CBAAConf

ACMA Authority Member James Cameron spoke about the regulator’s recent consultation on the Future of Radio at today’s CBAA Conference.

“Changes in media have prompted us to ask the question how best the future of radio can be facilitated. It was a fact gathering exercise…”

Some of the things the ACMA has learnt from the consultancy so far are:

  1. Even in an environment of change some things remain the same. Radio will continue to lead in the provision of informationn and entrertainment
  2. There is no single way to deliver radio across all markets. It will require different solutions.
  3. There is a need for a pathway for transiton from AM, but there is no immediate replacement option, especially for the ABC’s high power transmitters across Australia.

Cameron also recognised that there is a particular challenge for AM in urban areas. Replacing AM is a medium term need, but FM is not seen as needing replacement in any of the submissions. “The reality is that there is little capacity for new FM frequencies in capital cities…  There are mixed views about restacking the FM band.”

Discussing digital radio, where DAB+ is the existing technology, James Cameron said some submissions have also raised consideration of DRM again.

“It has to be acknowledged that we do not see much demand for DAB+ in regional areas at this time. DRM has long been offered as a digital mechanism for wide areas

“The potential for DRM has not been considered in Australia for a number of years, but the introduction of DRM in India has been noted as a possible turning point. Submission views remain split, but some submitters have suggested that the potential for DRM should be back on the table for consideration…

“Streaming is likely to remain a supplementary platform for some time. It has not reached the point to be a replacement technology for AM at this time… There is also a cost for streaming services.”
The ACMA plans to release a report by the end of the year from the submissions, “to best place us and the industry to deal with future opportunties.”

“We agree wth the radio sector that terrestrial radio delivery continues to support important policy objectives for government… The ACMA will focus on flexibly accommodainting the future of radio services.”

Challenges facing the ACMA include resources to undertake planning and the regulator plans to consult with the industry as it addresses it priorities in the light of limited resources.

“We are also explorting how to best manage the inevitable spectrum crunch if AM is transitioned to FM and the continuing roll out of regional DAB+… ACMA will more clearly articulate how it makes choices about competing demands for FM licences.”

The regulator has also noticed that some community broadcasters are pushing the boundaries and has investigated some stations.

“I’m concerned that 75% of those investigations resulted in a breach finding in the past year… they relate to only a small proportion of community broadcasters, but it does flag some of the pressure points.”

Some of the ‘pressure points’ which the ACMA has observed are issues of control and revenue raising.

Control: Circumstances where the number of employed of staff is at the expense of opportunities for volunteer community participation.

Revenue: Providing increasingly commercial-like services – for example, promoting marketing packages (including on-air and online options) that are difficult to distinguish as sponsorships.

“While we welcome innovation, community broadcastres must remain true to their purpose… We are keen to work with you to deliver on the value of community engagement that ensures the uniquesss of community broadcasting.”



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