Milan 15-17 March 2015
My name is Pierre Bellanger and I am the Founder, Chairman and CEO of the Skyrock Group.
A brief introduction before getting to the heart of our topic today: the future of radio.
The Skyrock Group has its roots in the free radio movement which led to the end of State monopoly of radio broadcasting in France at the end of the 1970s.
Our mindset has not changed since: freedom of expression, artistic freedom and open to all; basically, the ambition to be a significant and popular media at the very heart of society.
Today, Skyrock Radio is a national network of 227 FM transmitters across the country supplied by satellite.
Skyrock is France's second-placed music radio station and the second station of choice for the under 50s. Its multi-generational audience numbers 4 million daily listeners.
Skyrock is also the second radio in audience on the Internet in France.
Since 1995, radio programming has focused on urban music. Skyrock has been the media engine behind the popular success of rap music in France. Indeed, urban music is the preferred musical genre of the under 35s today.
Skyrock is the world's leading urban music radio station as the main American stations using this format do not have national reach.
Skyrock is also a forum for free on-air expression. Hosted by Difool live, it brings together an entire generation numbering hundreds of thousands of listeners every night.
Our taste for freedom of expression is not limited to the radio.
From the 1980s and traditional telephones, Minitel (France's precursor to the Internet) and the Web, right up to today and mobile phones, our Group has been developing important services for our listeners and users.
In 2002 we launched one of the first global social networks. Today, Skyrock.com, with more than 20 million blogs, is the third-placed social network in France, France's leading blogging social network and the top global French-language social network. Online, our services total 4.4 million monthly unique visitors.
But it is on mobile technology that our growth and our potential are most important. Our applications total more than 8 million downloads and 3 million unique visitors a month.
Our applications include the radio app, the blogs app, an application for reductions, Skyrock CashBack, a dating app using geolocation technology, Smax, and a new application for open publishing, Yax. Our mobile technology growth stands at 10% a month.
For our advertisers, we offer the power of the leading networked media outlet: radio, web and mobile with 35 million contacts a day. Our ability to think up and execute special events makes us a unique partner for the biggest brands.
Our Group is a hybrid, integrating both cultural and computer codes, mass media and interactive networks, in the same company.
That is why we are probably one of the pertinent observers of today's digital revolution and its consequences for radio.
Firstly, a few words about what we are currently experiencing.
Since 1995, the combined progress of technology and software has improved the performance of IT machines by 43 million millions time. And this capacity will double next year.
Coal, oil and the atom have all transformed our societies at a speed and on a scale which was greater than the stage before. But that was just the warm-up. The big acceleration is now.
And this explosion is itself borne by a second exponential one: the network effect.
This rules that the value of each networked machine is equal to the square of the number of machines in the network. Put more simply: a disconnected telephone is worth nothing and vice-versa. The number of machines connected to the network has increased from 200 million in 2000 to 15 billion in 2015 and it will be up to 40 billion in 2020. It's breathtakingly fast.
This is the digital Big Bang. The network of IT networks, the Internet, is more productive, efficient and faster every day and it is becoming the great concentrator of value. All industries and services are absorbed by its phenomenal return.
Over the next twenty years, half the jobs in the services sector will be under threat from this tidal wave of networked machines. What globalisation did to the working classes, the Internet will do to the middle classes.
At the very top of the Internet system, a few IT companies, constituted of services alliances combined with operating systems, capture this value in an implacable system of power. Their services (search engine, email, mapping, agenda, address book, etc.) profit from the network effect between themselves and therefore they become immune. Similarly, their operating systems which run our mobile phones, computers and, in the future, our watches and cars are networked, thereby controlling, de facto, our access to the Internet.
How will we regard the second decade of this century in the future?
How will future historians view this period?
What striking element will define our time?
Digital networks. Digital networks are the key.
This is what our era will come down to: the age where these networks became States and where States tried to became networks.
The change is such that we will question our societies, our economic models and even our definition of what makes a human being.
Because the network is our opportunity.
An opportunity as individuals. There have never been so many concrete possibilities or choices, so much information and communication. This is an absolute positive revolution. Never has so much IT power been available to each individual. The network effect is making itself felt. My emancipation is equal to the square of all the emancipations with which I am connected. And as people are a constantly evolving, the improvement of each person with whom I am connected increases my own value. The positive spiral we have entered is incalculable and priceless.
And now, what is to become of our lovely little radio stations?
At the end of the 1990s, I wrote an article called The Internet: From the Aquarium to the Ocean, explaining that our closed ecosystems would be plunged into a digital ocean which would change everything.
We are feeling the effects of this change. Increased music services and streaming represent new competition for us. Music programming algorithms using infinite sources seems to respond to every need.
And yet, I believe that we have never been so strong.
What is radio?
Radio responds to a dual essence: one relating to its content; the other to its form.
In terms of content, radio is an audible presence, that is to say the co-existence of me and another person with whom I am sharing the present moment. Radio represents both this humanity and this immediacy. Radio is the audible link between someone else and me at the same time.
It's an intense experience of the moment, a presence in the present, and that is radio. It is only valid in the moment and in the human intensity which is taking place at that very moment.
The vector of this experience is sound. And this sound is first and foremost a voice. Just as a penguin can pick out another specific penguin from thousands of others, so we have been able discern a wealth of amazing nuances and emotions in the human voice from the beginning of time. Our brains owe their very survival to this incredibly keen ability to decrypt a voice which enhances again the visual absence.
Masterpieces of digital animation like The Snow Queen recreate the most complex visual experiences such as wet fur, smoke or the shine of a car body on the computer, while the characters express their emotions as well as human actors. But despite these wonders, the studio uses actors for their voices. A voice is more complex than an image.
It is therefore the voice which will talk to us in a conversation, between songs, and which will constitute this instantaneous presence, this distant and yet close link with humanity, invisible and yet imagined.
Which brings us to the essence of the form of radio: the absence of an image. That is radio's strength: being able to communicate without using your eyes. Radio is audible company while our eyes are busy doing something else.
Adding visuals pollutes radio and weakens it.
The essential element of radio which makes it stand out and makes it unique is that it is this living sound.
Living radio stations will explode with life with the network.
Since the development of FM in Europe, the emphasis has been on conformity. It is easier to get transmission licences, mobilise capital and convince advertisers. And the listeners really like formats based on hit records which are always positive and predictable.
Rare are those which have succeeded against this dominating wind of neutrality.
The more we used our talent to be like a machine, the more successful we were
The arrival of music services and computer-generated playlists put everything in a new light. Suddenly everything which was predictable, which could be reproduced and calculated was worthless. Machines do it better than the people who imitate them. We are as bad at artificial stupidity as machines are at artificial intelligence.
USB key radio stations featuring dead singers, backward-looking radio stations and insipid DJs are under threat.
The mechanical radio stations which triumphed in the past will be swept away by algorithms.
Now is the time for inventive, unexpected and emotional radio stations full of surprises and risks. Long live artistic commitment and freedom of expression!
Hard drives will never be able to compete with them. Robot DJs will never be artistic creative cooks.
And what about the machines in all this? Their successful vocation is to enable us to be even more human.
In 1997 a machine beat the world chess champion. In 2005 a team of individuals and machines beat the better machine.
People are unbeatable at managing disorder, building and acting without information. Their intuition and imagination to escape from the routine and adapt to an unexpected situation are unrivalled.
And this humanity will be increased by the network.
This is how our radio stations will win: with magic.
Going back to the aquarium and the ocean I mentioned before: in fact, the ocean is in our minds, our dreams, our projects, our ability to help others and move forward together.
In fact, our creative programmes, which are more human than ever, have already won.
Now, what about technology?
We will bury digital networks devoted to radio alone. You cannot stand back from the formidable engine of growth that is the Internet.
The network effect means that there is no hope for isolated attempts, even with a perfusion of grants and regulations. Digital radio is and will be part of the Internet protocol.
The Internet ecosystem, universal, conversational and cooperative, is becoming the heart of our telecommunications networks, our media, our transactions and our communication. Smart mobile terminals put the Internet in our pockets and the added value of the network infiltrates our work and our lives every day.
The Internet world is a networked world. Our radios and televisions are isolated today but in the future they will communicate in a network by combining their content: for example, a programme which began on one set will be available on all of them and resumed on each one where it had been stopped.
Radio itself is therefore participating in this change and becoming radio over IP: increasingly listened to by the network and inviting itself onto all terminals with sound capacity. Radio over IP turns the current FM, which only offers a few dozen programmes in each location, into a new waveband with infinite frequencies.
And as I said, radio's personality sits wells alongside à la carte music services which are developed in parallel with the Internet.
This evolution has been accompanied by a new economic model: two distinct listeners, recognised by their IP addresses, can listen to the same programme but hear different commercials depending on their profile and their location. This is combining the precision of the Internet with the omnipresence of radio.
Moreover, an IP listener can also receive electronic reduction coupons, carry out a transaction direct and react in an instant.
The radio of the future is not only multi-targeted in terms of advertising. Its actual audience can be measured at any given moment and commercialised through on-the-fly bidding on virtual marketplaces where algorithms can create aggregates of profiles corresponding precisely to the needs of the advertisers.
However, radio over IP does have its disadvantages: bandwidth is expensive for radio producers; listening to the radio uses up users' data package. Telecommunications networks are jammed up with media streams which is true for radio but even more so for television. And finally, the battery is overloaded.
And any technological evolution which should reduce these problems is offset by the increase in bandwidth needs and the quality of services.
This is where a new revolution can step in: IP Broadcasting. This technology enables radio broadcasting to integrate the Internet, bringing with it major advantages not only for radio but for all media and telecommunications ecosystems.
Let me explain: today, if you want to listen to a radio station on the Internet your terminal sends a request via a communications network to a server which in return delivers you your own single stream via this network. One stream corresponds to one listener.
IP Broadcasting creates a brand new paradigm. It uses eMBMS (evolved Multimedia Broadcast and Multicast Services) technology.
How does it work? When several users make the same request, the radiotelephony base station receiving these requests decides to broadcast the stream instead of sending one to each request. It is the return of broadcasting: one signal for all receivers!
The ability to do this has been part of telecommunications operators' specifications since the 3G standard and it changes it everything.
In the future radio operators will be able to use national telecommunications networks with unrivalled coverage. They will strengthen the main areas with transmitters devoted to IP Broadcasting.
With IP Broadcasting transmission costs are closer to current fixed costs, that is to say independent of the number of receivers. For listeners, listening to the radio is no longer part of a package: it's free again. Telecoms operators ease up on their networks and the contribution of the battery is lessened.
Radio over IP therefore rediscovers freedom of mobility.
For telecommunications operators, IP Broadcasting is steeped in tradition, that is to say the evolution towards the transparency and intelligence of networks.
Transparency of networks: the telecoms operator chooses the best network to respond to user demand and does so dynamically: 300 metres in Wi-Fi and then a little bit more in 3G and a little break in IP Broadcasting without hesitating to take the FM signal whenever necessary, an FM signal in which one could integrate IP targeted commercials. For the user: no break in service; no difference.
Intelligence of networks because, depending on demand, the network can be configured from point to point to respond to single requests and in broadcasting when there are several identical requests or even no requests and no emission.
Smart phones already automatically propose the best Wi-Fi or 3G network. This ability to exchange networks will therefore be naturally integrated by the terminals.
Initial experimentation took place successfully at the end of 2013 in France at the initiative of Orange, Alcatel-Lucent, Atos and Skyrock.
Terminal manufacturers are already integrating or will integrate this technology. When you can choose between two mobiles, you'll take the one where media content is not part of the package thanks to IP Broadcasting.
With a single stream for media aimed at everyone (radio but also television), IP Broadcasting reserves telecommunications networks for their best use. Better still, for radio and television stations, there is a serious saving in view of the explosion of bandwidth costs for media with the arrival of very high speed mobile networks when everyone consumes radio and television in IP mode.
In a word, the IP Broadcasting network means that all media can be broadcasted in a mutualised way over the same waveband universally to all IP receivers.
Here then is the radio of the future: human and IP.
The golden age of radio is before us. We will never have such a good opportunity to serve our listeners; we will never have such a good opportunity to demonstrate how good all our radio stations really are.