The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) Special Committee on the Future of Shortwave Broadcasting foresees a dim outlook for the medium. The Committee in 2014 released its assessment of the current and projected use of shortwave radio as a platform for programming by US international media.
“United States international media must optimize delivery by audience/market,” one main finding concluded. “While there is still a critical need for shortwave in key countries, it is a medium of marginal and continuously declining impact in most markets.” The report said that even in countries where shortwave radio will enjoys significant usage levels, “audiences will migrate to other platforms as they become more accessible.”
Among other things, the Committee reviewed audience-based research, including analysis of user experiences and user choices, as well as opportunities and limits of the medium. It also examined “the characteristics and listening experience of shortwave users in the BBG’s target markets, the use of shortwave radio by the BBG’s networks, the networks’ relative success in reaching their target audiences through shortwave, and the costs of operating the BBG’s shortwave transmitting facilities.”
The panel recommended that the Broadcasting Board of Governors take “an aggressive approach to reduce or eliminate shortwave broadcasts where there is either minimal audience reach or the audience is not a target audience based on the BBG’s support of US foreign policy.”
The report said that its evidence suggested that declining use of shortwave radio is primarily due to the availability of high-quality content on “preferred platforms” such as AM and FM radio, podcasts, and mobile streaming, which are more widely used for audio consumption.
The committee found that shortwave use does not increase during times of crisis. “Audiences continue to use their existing platforms (TV, FM, and the Internet) or seek out anti-censorship tools, including online firewall circumvention, private chat software, flash drives, and DVDs to access content,” the report said.
The report also said that shortwave radio was “a relatively expensive platform to operate and maintain” and that digital shortwave radio (ie, Digital Radio Mondiale or DRM) “is unlikely to become an established mass media distribution methodology in enough of the BBG’s current or future markets to justify the costs.”
The committee said it largely supports the reductions in shortwave radio broadcasts previously approved by the Board. Those include recent cutbacks in a number of Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Radio Free Asia broadcasts. But, the committee added that given the current situation in Ukraine and nearby states with significant Russian-speaking populations, it recommended that the BBG revise its fiscal year 2014 operating plan to ensure that “shortwave broadcasts in Russian to Russia and the Caucasus be continued at current levels, subject to re-evaluation during FY16 budget formulation processes.”