With IP at the heart of broadcasting’s future, codecs are increasingly the gateways of content assimilation and distribution
REYKJAVIK, Iceland — The Icelandic National Broadcasting Service, Ríkisútvarpið, is an independent broadcaster located in Reykjavik. The media group airs on various frequencies in the region with the goal of providing information, education and entertainment.
As early as 1930, RÚV ran a regular radio service. TV broadcasts began in 1966, and its website launched in 1996.
In 1986, RÚV lost its monopoly status and is now funded in part by the state via audiovisual fees and by advertising revenue.
According to the country’s broadcasting act, RÚV’s main mission is to provide the public with a reliable news service along with cultural and entertainment content of the highest quality, with particular attention to the Icelandic language, national history, cultural heritage and an active dialogue with the public. It also aims to respect basic democratic rules, human rights and freedom of expression and opinion.
Domestic, International News
Today, RÚV comprises two television channels (RÚV, RÚV 2); two radio channels (Rás 1 for news and culture, Rás 2 for news and pop/rock music) and online radio Rondó for classical and jazz music 24/7; internet and mobile platforms, podcasts and applications.
RÚV also places special focus on quality programming for children and young people, and in the first weeks of the COVID pandemic, it designed a new website for children at home, created new television shows and merged radio programs.
“It is our intention to ensure that RÚV will be a modern and responsive Icelandic public service broadcaster.”Magnús Geir Þórðarson
Its website offers real-time information on internal and international events, such as the evolution of the health crisis with the arrival of tourists during the summer season.
The news is in Icelandic and English, with special news for the Polish community — roughly one in three immigrants in Iceland is Polish.
The radio and television programs are all available on-demand on the RÚV website for seven to 90 days after transmission. RÚV’s audiovisual archives and footage are open and accessible to the public, with more than 400 programs added every week.
According to RÚV statistics, 95% of the population uses its services every week, and 70% of all Icelanders use RÚV’s services daily. The average usage per person is 116 minutes a day, with an audience share of 59% in television viewing and 50% in radio listening.
In addition, 99.8% of Icelandic households receive RÚV broadcasts, transmitted from numerous locations around the country via a terrestrial network built and owned by Sýn.
RÚV has a contract with Sýn for the distribution of RÚV and RÚV 2 signal. Sýn’s services and products are mainly based on cooperation with Vodafone Group Plc, which uses 3G and 4G network coverage in the Reykjavik region, the surrounding areas and in other more heavily populated areas of Iceland.
RÚV statistics also show that 68% of the population considers RÚV to be the nation’s most important media service provider, and 69% trust RÚV news, thus positioning RÚV in the top tier of public service broadcasters in Europe.
Governance and Challenges
RÚV is managed by an executive board made up of nine members that are nominated by parliament and a management board chaired by the broadcaster’s CEO, Stefán Eiríksson. Eiríksson took over as RÚV chief on March 1, 2020, and immediately had to manage the pandemic at RÚV.
Former RÚV CEO, Magnús Geir Þórðarson, had already provided a clear picture into RÚV’s strategy in 2017 during a conference on the future of media at Efstaleiti Broadcasting Centre.
At that time, he emphasized the need to preserve the Icelandic identity in the face of transitioning international media, the rise of social media, and the overwhelming influence of streaming channels toppling the business model of subscription media.
“Access to foreign entertainment is almost unlimited, while material in Icelandic and about Icelandic society and reality is very scarce. These changes also impact the public’s wishes regarding services,” he said. “It is our intention to ensure that RÚV will be a modern and responsive Icelandic public service broadcaster.”
This responsiveness is increasingly essential to help the broadcaster face major challenges, such as the pandemic and volcanic eruptions. For example, on March 19, RÚV set up a webcam to follow the eruption of Mount Fagradalsfjall, near Reykjavik.
RÚV’s objectives are to upgrade digital tools and services for young people, collaborate closer with the creative arts, have more open development of ideas, cover news in greater depth and increase drama production.
Another priority is to “give RÚV staff the freedom to do things in a different way, to try and come up with new creative solutions, so they can explore new avenues and craft innovative solutions,” said Eiríksson.
According to Eiríksson, RÚV’s economic balance is key, between its state-funding model via taxes and its advertising revenue, which has dropped dramatically since the crisis. “It’s not easy to manage the uncertainties associated with levels of advertising revenue and whether RÚV will receive any support from the state, in particular due to our legal responsibilities to the Icelandic people for civil protection and our outreach mission about issues like pandemics, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, etc. Maintaining the same level of services with lower revenues is a major challenge.”
RÚV is an active member of the European Broadcasting Union, Nordvision (a consortium of Scandinavian public service radio and television broadcasters) and the Nordic Film and TV Fund.
RÚV Tech Details
The broadcaster says that “5G devices are already widely sold, but the network infrastructure needed for full-speed running remains limited.” While 4G already covers most of the country, the 5G network varies greatly by provider, and is limited to certain towns.
According to reports, several providers are pushing the 5G agenda: Nova is already providing 5G to large parts of Reykjavik, Akureyri, Vestmannaeyjar, Hella, Sandgerði, Garður and Grímsnes. Vodafone has one active transceiver on top of its Suðurlandsbraut headquarters, but plans further development soon.
Vodafone’s director in Iceland, Heiðar Guðjónsson, points out that the company “decided to pause further development until a new telecommunications law is approved. But Vodafone is in a position to start working quickly once the bill has been passed.”
The law regulates the allocation of permanent frequency licenses. Icelandic service provider Síminn [Iceland Telecom] has set up eight 5G transceivers and plans to turn them on this autumn.
In the meantime, the broadcaster continues to reach its audience via almost 200 FM transmitters and longwave radio transmitters to fill gaps in FM coverage.
“A landmark in the history of RÚV occurred on August 11, 2021, when two longwave radio masts were toppled by explosives — formally ending the national broadcaster’s roughly-90-year presence at the Vatnsendi site on the edge of the capital city,” reported Alexander Elliott, a journalist at RÚV’s English-language online service.
The operation from Vatnsendi ended in the 1990s. It was replaced in 1997 by a 300 kW transmitter, now still operating along with a 100 kW transmitter near Helissandur, in the far west of Iceland. A 412-meter mast is used there, which was used by the Loran-C (100 kHz) navigation system up until 1994. This move was associated with a frequency change. Instead of the old Reykjavík channel 207 kHz, the transmitter near Helissandur operates on the frequency 189 kHz, as the only station in the world on this frequency.