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GENEVA — Edita Kudláčová is the European Broadcasting Union’s new Head of Radio. She took over from Graham Dixon, who retired last December. Kudláčová sheds light on her team’s agenda for this term, outlines the main challenges impacting the industry today, and discusses strategic ways to help radio broadcasters remain relevant amid the rapid growth and popularity of online audio.
RedTech: What are the biggest challenges facing radio broadcasters today?
Edita Kudláčová: We’re seeing a great rise of audio, its production as well as its popularity among younger audiences. These trends are driven mainly by online content, formats produced originally for online distribution, as well as on-demand content from on-air broadcasting such as radio drama or documentaries.
The digital transition is a challenge for traditional radio organizations in many countries. On one hand, there is a legislation that is based on the legacy of the traditional broadcasters. On the other, there are commercial distribution platforms that have started the production of original audio content as well.
In my opinion, it’s important for radio broadcasters to have efficient innovative strategies, develop new formats and adapt to needs of an audience connected to their mobile devices. Another important topic is to secure the presence of radio in cars. In-car listening has always been the domain for radio distribution, and with the connected dashboards we need to make sure that we offer an attractive way for drivers to listen to audio content.
RedTech: How is the EBU helping its members address these issues?
Kudláčová: Across the entire EBU network, we’ve been actively discussing the digital space as well as the developments in the car industry. Dedicated expert groups have been having discussions with the relevant industries. What I would like to zero in on with my team and in close collaboration with our members is the focus on the content, knowledge exchange in the area of audio formats and original podcast formats. I would like to make sure we provide enough space for talented producers to come up with innovative proposals and that we drive this discussion together with the creative industry.
RedTech: How has the health crisis impacted broadcast operations, and how do you see these stations modifying the way they run their stations once we regain some kind of normality?
Kudláčová: Radio has one great advantage in comparison with other media outlets and it is the flexibility and speed in the content production and delivering of breaking news and truthful information. During the crisis, we have experienced an increase in the number of people tuning in to public service radios. The trust for public service broadcasters was always very high, and during the crisis it strengthened.
We have also seen an increase in young audiences coming to traditional radio broadcasting and looking for news services as well as entertainment and music. Radio journalists and producers had to be very quick in finding ways to produce their content at home or alternative broadcast studios. In many production teams, colleagues were working at a distance from each other, using online recording tools and new devices.
We’ve learned many new skills during this time, and it will help produce our content more quickly and efficiently for the years to come. For many organizations, the past year sped up the digital transition, took their strategies for online distribution to a more advanced level and also equipped their employees with new modern devices.
Radio has one great advantage in comparison with other media outlets and it is the flexibility and speed in the content production and delivering of breaking news and truthful information.
RedTech: As in-car entertainment technology evolves, what are the latest developments in ensuring that radio retains its place in the new range of connected cars?
Kudláčová: I’ve mentioned the work of the EBU expert groups. Especially the Connected Cars and Devices group is looking at the car industry and is in close touch with many car producers in Europe. We’re studying the best ways for standardizing the radio entertainment system option for the European market. Work is also being done in the area of voice-activated devices. New audio formats are being tested for in-car listening as well.
RedTech: Is radio’s place on the car dashboard under threat? If you say it isn’t, what happens when self-driving cars are ubiquitous in 10 years?
Kudláčová: I am an optimist and believe that it’s not under threat. We need to be active today with innovating how radio is distributed in the connected dashboards. We need to make sure that it remains an attractive service and that it utilizes all the possibilities that the connection offers. And to develop the right content for this distribution.
With self-driving cars, I think the experience will be comparable to how we travel by train or by plane today. There are people who prefer to look at visual content. But, for example, podcast listening is closely connected to commuting or traveling in general. Many people prefer to listen to audio content, both spoken word as well as music rather than watch a movie. And there are people who read books or magazines while listening to something.
We need to be active today with innovating how radio is distributed in the connected dashboards.
We are also experiencing a rise in children’s podcast production and listening. An increasing number of parents are playing a quality podcast for their children to reduce screen time. Seeing these rising trends tells me that the era of audio content is not over, quite the contrary.
RedTech: Are you seeing new and emerging technologies that support or hinder the growth of FM and DAB+?
Kudláčová: There will be an important discussion about what type of content will make sense for distribution on FM and DAB+. News and current affairs is something that will always be important to listen to on traditional broadcasting, live events as well. Many prefer to listen to sports coverage or major news events on live radio rather than watch the content on social networks. I’m not sure if we’ll experience a growth in listening numbers for traditional radio alone. It may rather be a combination of both linear broadcasting and podcast offerings.
Public service broadcasters are, by their national legislation, required to provide an uninterrupted and secured information service in the times of crisis or any unexpected social or technological situations, like internet disruption or political instability.
RedTech: What major technologies are affecting the radio industry on a global level?
Kudláčová: Definitely the online distribution platforms and new ways of streaming audio content. Also, voice-activated devices are an interesting technology to experiment with and ensure that radio and audio content is well-distributed. There is one technology that is neither new nor unknown — a mobile device connected to the internet. Both headphones as well as the screen are also tools for radio distribution and we need to make sure that we are innovating our strategies for these devices on a continuous basis.
We need to innovate and develop new content to stay relevant and attractive for our audience, but we also need a good and reliable legislation in place to do so.
RedTech: Is the future of music radio different to the future of talk radio based on how the competitive environment is evolving online?
Kudláčová: AI and algorithms are having a bigger impact on how we discover new music than how we explore new podcasts or current affairs programs. On radio, music provided both entertainment and quality content curated by music journalists, who can give me a broader perspective on my favorite composer or band. I’m personally worried that this human touch will continue to decrease especially when I observe how young people are using streaming platforms. Music in podcast formats is still difficult to distribute due to rights restrictions and it’s very difficult to produce a good music podcast hosted by experienced music journalists.
This is not just a challenge for music radio stations but also for the creative industry, since securing the appropriate compensation for artists, defending their rights and copyright are very sensitive topics and I’m not sure if we have the best models in place at the moment. In the past, the relationship between musicians and radio stations was built on fair terms. The online landscape has changed this ecosystem considerably, and I’m not convinced that it’s necessarily for the benefit of the creative industry.
RedTech: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Kudláčová: One very important topic for any democratic society is the independence of public service broadcasting and the independence of journalistic work. It’s easy to take this for granted, but in certain countries we’re seeing attacks on the stability and impact that public service media have in their countries. This pressure is often coming from politics and this threatens both the organizations themselves as well as their values, like democracy, freedom of speech, diversity and inclusion and support for creative industries. We need to innovate and develop new content to stay relevant and attractive for our audience, but we also need a good and reliable legislation in place to do so.