All images courtesy of
LONDON:Where would modern radio stations be
without the Internet?
increasingly becomes part of everyday life, this is becoming a key question for
many broadcasters, aspiring to utilize this relatively new platform to their best
the smallest radio stations have developed their own Web presence. Some have
even managed successfully to monetize the “long tail” of additional listening
and interaction that results. However, despite investment in websites and
online audio content, a fundamental problem remains: how to link the online
world with real-time broadcasting, which for the vast majority of listeners
remains their core platform and one that has thus far tended to remain
disconnected from the Internet in all its various forms, traditional radio has
difficulty in taking advantage of the various interactivity and other benefits
the online world can offer — and which audiences increasingly have come to
targeting these issues. And while still in an introductory phase, the
technology has advanced to a point where services and trials are being run in
various countries, and receivers are starting to emerge.
concerted attempt to solve this problem, back in 2008 Global Radio and the BBC began
to study ways of bringing together these two separate worlds more effectively.
The shared objective was to develop ways of delivering additional information
to receivers so that individual listeners could select and follow up on their
own particular interests.
the limited data capacity of broadcast platforms alone was not enough and any
such approach would be unable to solve the problem of the missing return path,
meaning that listeners would still not be able to interact with the station
being listened to.
obvious solution to both the capacity and the return path dilemmas was to use
the Internet to build some sort of direct link between primary broadcast
material and additional, optional materials made available online.
to Nick Piggott, Global Radio’s head of creative technology, the key issue was
how to add visual content to radio, not to make radio a primary medium
demanding positive visual interaction, but instead offering “ambience and a
visual compliment to radio’s existing core audio content.”
broadcast radio stations want to be able to provide the same breadth of
background “sensory experience” that services such as Pandora, Last.FM and
various online radio stations provide, but to the mass, locally focused,
audiences, which only broadcast platforms currently can deliver. Of course, as
well as enhancing the listener experience, this complimentary channel also
offers the potential for developing additional commercial opportunities, such
as music downloads and paid product links.
Due to the
need to ensure that any initial linkages between broadcasting and Internet-delivered
content would be implemented without any necessity for listener involvement in
the set-up process, any system developed must be simple to operate and easy to
against the need for simplicity, there is also the issue of security to
consider, protecting broadcaster reputations by ensuring that any links created
are positively identified to avoid misdirection to incorrect Internet addresses.
The solution, according to Piggott, was to make use of various unique
identifiers that already exist in broadcasting and convert these into a unique
code that would identify the station involved with no risk of incorrect
FM and digital radio stations have recognized
frequencies as well as Program Identification (PI) and Service Identifier Data
(SID) codes. Considering that when taken together these codes are unique, a
positive station identification can be made. In practice, however, when users
first investigated this approach they encountered instances where, by chance,
two FM stations operating on the same frequency happened to have the same RDS
result, the U.K.’s broadcast radio regulator, Ofcom, has put in place mechanisms
to ensure that such duplicates are removed and to prevent them from recurring.
Having confirmed that, with care, unique station identifiers can be produced reliably,
the next question becomes how to make these Internet-friendly.
to Piggott, the principle behind collaboration with other broadcasters was to “agree on the
technology, but then to compete on content.” This approach has been
adopted successfully in relation to other U.K. radio broadcasting projects such
as the recent launch of the U.K. Radioplayer.In this case, collaboration with the BBC led to a “eureka moment”
when one of the corporation’s employees observed: “This looks a bit like DNS.”
approach was then clear: If the unique identifier for a given radio station can
look like an Internet domain address, Domain Name System servers can easily
convert it to a standard IP address. This method also made things easier for
the project, because on that basis the only requirement was to make sure that
the identifier could be delivered to the DNS servers, and from then on all
communication would be directly between the radio station concerned and the
on the principle of collaboration, RadioDNS was formed as a membership
association, which now includes members representing both public and commercial
radio stations from around the world. By April 2010, this association was ready
to release an open-source specification, which has now been finalized ready for
standardization. Services are now operating on various radio stations in
Europe, Australia and North America; and there has been considerable interest
in the system from a variety of broadcasters in various countries.
any new radio broadcasting innovation, in practical terms, the impact of
RadioDNS will largely be dictated not only by the actions of broadcasters
themselves, but, critically, the approach taken by receiver manufacturers.
“Receiver manufacturers say that RadioDNS is attractive and easy to
implement, because it simply uses existing technology in a new way and,
crucially, it does so without involving additional license fees,” said Piggott.
principles of RadioDNS agreed and established, over recent months considerable
effort has been invested in developing practical implementations. At this
year’s EBU Digital Radio Conference, options for “added value” services using
RadioDNS in the form of content enhancement, personalization and transaction
integration were discussed.
approaches to Web-friendly delivery of ancillary visuals and click-through
e-commerce and feedback were demonstrated alongside searchable Radio EPG and personalized
content “tagging,” which allows listeners to bookmark items of interest heard
and then explore them further later, for example via a laptop or other Web-enabled
RadioDNS enables a variety of new functionality to be delivered alongside
broadcast radio, broadcasters are pursuing a range of hybrid initiatives within
the project. Public and private broadcasters in Germany are providing visualization,
and exploring how devices can switch automatically between DAB and IP
streaming. U.S. broadcasters are looking at tagging and switching between FM,
HD and IP.
broadcasters are providing visuals. In the U.K., the BBC has trials of visualization
and recently undertook listener trials of tagging in collaboration with Global
and Frontier Silicon.Italian
broadcaster RAI is investigating providing 3D visualization for radio. Overall,
trials and services are happening in most European countries, North America,
Canada and in Australia.
present, the only readily available DAB/FM radios available featuring color
displays suitable for displaying Web content are the Pure Sensia and Revo Axis.
However, DAB designers at Frontier Silicon, suppliers of the majority of DAB/FM
radio chipsets, have now integrated RadioDNS capabilities into the company’s
designs. This means that other receiver manufacturers can now begin to develop
their own next generation screen-based broadcast and IP hybrid receivers.
2012, the RadioDNS consortium plans to focus on further raising the profile of
the project within the broadcast industry and to continue developing the
standard and various applications using it.
present, although some RadioDNS services are operational, public awareness of
what this means for radio going forward is, understandably, minimal as the
consortium wants robust, standardized, implementations in place before publicly
promoting the standard’s capabilities by moving out of the current “soft launch”
that the consortium plans to make logos and trademarks available to receiver
manufacturers this year suggests that a fully publicized “hard launch” is not
that far off.
Lawrie Hallett reports on the industry
for Radio World from Norwich, England.