SPEECH published on 27 Mar 2023

EBU Director General Noel Curran's welcome address at Radiodays Europe

EBU Director General Noel Curran's welcome address at Radiodays Europe

Thank you for inviting me to address you all today. 

It is always a pleasure to join you at Radiodays Europe, and I’m especially delighted to be with you here in Prague as your host partner and our Member Czech Radio prepares to celebrate its centenary in May. Czechoslovakia was only the second country in Europe - after the UK - to have regular radio broadcasts, and Czech Radio has long been a pioneer in broadcasting - both in terms of the content it produces and its technical innovation and I’m glad to say that continues today.

Radio has been a part of our lives for over 100 years. But we need to constantly resist the temptation to lazily classify it as a legacy media. We need to challenge those who view it and portray it as some old style, safe medium that you cuddle up in the corner with while having a nice cup of tea.

I am sure there are those who like nothing more than doing that but that doesn’t reflect the dynamism and also continued relevance of so much of radio output.

In terms of relevance, the figures speak for themselves.

  • 84% of European citizens still listen to radio every single week. And over three-quarters of young people (76%) get their radio fix weekly.
  • It is the most widely consumed medium worldwide. 
  • And it remains the most trusted media by far - in over 70% of European countries it’s the medium trusted most by citizens.

It’s a relevance that was hard earned during Covid and now during the war in Ukraine. 

Particularly in the area of News and Current Affairs, which I have been asked to concentrate on today, Radio has really come into its own in the last few years. Anyone who forgot the decades-old lessons we learned about audio content being more flexible, faster, and easier to produce and distribute than TV got a daily wake-up call from the frontlines of Covid and Ukraine.

The radio output produced at this critical time has been nothing short of outstanding.

But this hasn’t been just a technological or production triumph. It was a triumph of accessibility, immediacy and intimacy. 

It was also one built on the editorial talent and innovation of radio producers and journalists. 

Always at the heart of radio’s output – news and current affairs make up over a quarter of all public broadcasters’ radio content – and it has never been more vital.

Providing immediate, accurate information to Ukrainian citizens has been critical. We’ll hear shortly from Andriy Taranov from our Ukrainian Member UA:PBC and I’d like to pay tribute to all the team at UA:PBC for the incredible work they’ve done to keep the news on-air in the most challenging of circumstances.

I’d also like to take the opportunity today to express my thanks to all our Members – and the many commercial broadcasters – that stepped up to help support Ukraine by re-transmitting Ukrainian public radio signals,  embedding feeds, or launching new services for those who had to flee the country.

This appalling war has taken a huge toll on life and lives in Ukraine. But we also must not forget the huge risks all our journalists are also taking to keep the news on-air. According to alerts published on the Council of Europe’s Safety of Journalism platform, to date, twelve journalists and media workers have been killed while covering the war in Ukraine and 23 others have been injured. We know those figures will rise so we must fight to ensure journalists operating in areas of armed conflict are treated and protected as citizens and allowed to work without interference if we are to defend the public’s right to information.

But as I said at the start, when we talk about radio we need to be careful not to just emphasize its relevance and trust but also its dynamism in terms of production and new audiences.

We know nearly two-thirds of young Europeans listen to podcasts. 

And the strongest growing demographic for spoken-word audio is the 13-24-year-old age range.

Great audio content is still IN demand but it is now consumed ON demand with the listener in control.

We need strong multiplatform distribution strategies to ensure radio continues to provide a reliable voice for millions of citizens, particularly for in-car audio.

In a world where young people are increasingly getting news from social media, what are the opportunities to offer them a real alternative and ensure they still understand and value the power of radio? 

Well, firstly there are some.

We have no shortage of online and platform content offerings but we all know trust in many of those offerings is incredibly low. Amongst all ages. We have a unique opportunity here if radio can transfer the extraordinary trust it enjoys with the public into the online space.

Podcasts can help us to jump off the negative news cycle and offer more solution-based journalism that young people can engage with.

We see the way they also provide us with an opportunity to refresh and reinvigorate traditional radio formats in news and current affairs. To experiment and play. To create more immersive experiences. To engage new listeners and reach out to more niche audiences without alienating the mainstream.

For example, France’s ‘Salut l’info!’ was born out of a partnership between France Info and Astrapi to deliver weekly news bulletins tailored for our youngest audiences. 

We’ve also seen Swedish Radio actively exploring new digital audio formats for news – focusing on short news clips customized for digital platforms and collated as playlists where listeners can easily access the clips they want to listen to.

But podcasts also allow us to go deep into topics, to tell stories from start to finish and to provide context which is particularly important for younger audiences.

I know we’ll be hearing later from our Italian Member Rai on the success of their 14-part documentary podcast ‘Io ero il milanese’ (I am from Milan). Told in the protagonist’s own words, this story of one man’s redemption is also now being made into a television series – such was the power of this audio story to engage with audiences.

We shouldn’t worry so much about podcasts cannibalizing the audience for linear radio. Our wider strategy must be to reach listeners with quality audio content on any platform in the format that works best for them. 

And I do think one genre enriches the other. We’ve seen many examples of shows starting life as podcasts and going on to become radio hits. Take a look at the BBC’s Brexitcast & Electioncast podcasts, which were rebroadcast not only on radio, but on TV, all the time managing to retain their more informal, light-hearted podcast sensibility.

We need to invest wisely on third-party platforms to remain visible and win over audiences. But we shouldn’t be afraid to build and promote our own environments for audiences to experience our content.

We’ve seen many of our Members investing in audio destinations – such as BBC Sounds or SR Play – in recent years so they have better control over the audience experience and onward recommendations, as well as the ability to build brand awareness and attribution.

We need to continue to be bold and build our own distribution platforms. Keeping the volume for ourselves. Sharing only when it makes sense to share. 

This is a critical time because the rules and terms of trade are being laid down today. Once established, they will be hard to shift. 

We have an opportunity right now to advocate for the right regulatory framework to allow our industry to continue to thrive – both offline and importantly online.

For this to be really effective, public and private media need to find common ground. We know this is possible. We worked together on the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act with key successes on issues like virtual assistants. We are working together on the battle for spectrum ahead of the key WRC conference at the end of this year. 

I know there are differing views in this room on the new European Media Freedom Act. We at the EBU have welcomed it but want to see changes in what has been proposed. But even if you disagree completely with it, the Commission are determined to push ahead so we need to influence it. We have to take every opportunity to ask for strong prominence rules, brand attribution guarantees, and procedural safeguards.

We in public service media want to find that common ground. There is much at stake for all of us.

But we have a lot to be very proud of as an industry. 

We have a decades-old legacy - but also a dynamic future. 

We have hard-earned trust - but also now an opportunity to extend that even further in the online world. 

We have some of the best producers and journalists in the world – but also a growing need to protect them and believe in their ability to win new listeners.

But, most of all, we have the most extraordinary medium for connecting with our audiences and we share a responsibility to adapt, innovate and work together to ensure it continues to do so for the next 100 years.

Contact detail

Noel Curran
Director General

+41 22 717 2005