The Radio EPG Proposal Explained
     

Last time we introduced the concept of an electronic program guide (EPG) for U.S. radio broadcasting, and the existing challenges to its implementation. This time we'll explore some of the recommendations addressing those inherent difficulties included in a proposed Radio EPG system developed under the auspices of the NAB FASTROAD technology advocacy program. (Repeating the notice given in the previous column, the author is a consultant to this development effort.)

The development team examined a wide range of possible schemes for compilation, delivery and display of a comprehensive radio EPG, considering the entire ecosystem in its scope. Part of the team's credentials included deep experience from the world's only already deployed radio EPG system (in the U.K. DAB environment), providing some rare and helpful insight. Nevertheless, differences between the DAB and IBOC broadcasting models still made the U.S. effort uniquely challenging.

As is often the case, there is no single solution identified providing optimal results for all engaged sectors, but there are some likely acceptable compromises proposed that may create a successful approach.

To improve likelihood for success in this respect, a key design goal of the proposal includes maximum flexibility across multiple methods, allowing system designers, broadcasters, equipment manufacturers and consumers to choose their respective preferences while retaining interoperability. This implies a minimization of mandatory features, and a maximum of compatible options, such that the system can be quickly established yet scale adequately toward a foreseeable future where EPG provides rich, multiplatform functionality.

Of course, with any such development, ultimate success – or even initial buy-in – can only be achieved if all necessary stakeholders see a potential benefit. Thus the proposed EPG system attempts to present a balanced set of advantages for broadcasters, receiver manufacturers and consumers alike.

Four-lane highway

The proposed system identifies four methods for delivering EPG data to receivers, any or all of which could potentially operate simultaneously in any radio market.

The most "traditional" approach acts like PAD/PSD, in that each station simply transmits its own EPG information in its own IBOC datacast, using a specified portion of the HD Radio Advanced Application Services (AAS) data transmission format identified by the iBiquity EPG specification. Since in this approach, each station serves only its own purposes, the delivery model is labeled Parochial. This single EPG datastream would include scheduling information for all material broadcast on the station, however, including any multicast services.

The advantage to this approach is that it allows an EPG-cable HD Radio receiver to quickly load the currently tuned station's EPG data (for main and all supplemental services simultaneously), but when a different station is selected, the process of loading that station's EPG data must be repeated by the receiver. Further, if the device display were capable of showing a full-market EPG grid (as in the typical television EPG screen), the receiver would have to do all the heavy lifting of assembling and storing the EPG data from each station, one at a time, and eventually displaying the ultimate result. This will require more memory and more MIPS at the receiver, which violates one of the cardinal rules of media-format design stating that the higher-complexity requirements should always be placed at the transmit end, thus lightening the load at the receive end.

Addressing this point, a contrasting approach arranges for all stations in the market to feed their EPG data to one or more Master Stations, which carry the complete market's EPG in their IBOC datacasts. The other stations in the market may provide a pointer to the Master Station(s), to allow receivers to know where to look for the currently tuned station's EPG data, if it is not already in the receiver's memory.

This allows the receiver to load the complete market's EPG fairly quickly, and display either the full-market grid, or the currently tuned station's data only, as the receiver allows and the user requires. To do this rapidly and seamlessly, however, the receiver will need either a second data-only tuner (as iBiquity currently envisions in its new v1.5 reference receiver design), or it will need to employ a background operation by which the receiver downloads the EPG data from the Master Stations during times when the device's (single) tuner is not being used to listen to a station.

A variation between the two above methods is called the Shared model, which allows a number of possible configurations in which the full market's EPG data is carried by all participating stations in the market. For example, all participating stations in the market could carry at least some data for each of the other participating stations in the market.

This would enable the receiver to quickly capture the full market's EPG data whenever it was tuned to any station in the market. It would also not require the receiver to permanently store large amounts of data in expensive on-board RAM, since each station would continuously transmit the full market's EPG.

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A summary of attributes for the four delivery models proposed for an HD Radio EPG system.
Making this approach more practical is a distinction between "basic" EPG data – which includes program titles and times only – versus "advanced" EPG data, which includes program descriptions and perhaps other related data, links, etc. This allows a variation in which each participating station might carry only the basic EPG data for all the other stations in the market, adding the advanced data for its own programming only.

The downside of the Shared approach is that it puts a lot of redundant data on the air in any given market, and therefore could be seen as an inefficient use of broadcast bandwidth. Nevertheless, it makes for the best user experience and most inexpensive EPG-capable receiver design.

Another variant of this approach that might make sense in some cases is a "group-centric" sharing, in which a multi-station cluster in a market selects one (or more) station(s) in the group to carry EPG data for all the other stations in the group. This could be particularly advantageous for a group's AM stations, which have the least datacast bandwidth available, and yet might have the most EPG data to deliver, given their often highly program-oriented (e.g., news/talk, sports, ethnic, religious, etc.) formats.

Finally, any system designed today must acknowledge current and future levels of media convergence. Thus the proposed EPG ecosystem also includes a Network model, by which a radio receiver device that also includes Internet access (or potentially any other/future data connectivity method) can download market EPG data via an alternative (online) source. This would potentially allow consumers to receive radio programming schedules for an entire market from a single, central source, even on devices that do not currently include radio receivers (such as PCs, 3G phones, online gaming platforms, etc.).

Such functionality could also provide earlier EPG returns to broadcasters, considering that it will take some time for EPG-capable HD Radio receivers to proliferate in the marketplace, while online devices already exist in large and fast-growing quantities. So while this would not yet give the user the ability to directly tune to a program they find on an Internet-delivered radio EPG, it would allow listeners to find out when and where a particular program was being aired in their market, and then tune to it on any traditional radio.

In the next issue we will conclude our examination of the NAB FASTROAD Radio EPG proposal, and consider a few other challenges and opportunities that the system involves, and some details on its upcoming trials expected later this year.

Skip Pizzi is contributing editor of Radio World.


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Comment List:

This subject is always attracting negative press - despite the facts, which are DAB is expanding globaly at a fantastic rate! Car manufactureres aqre now activley taking up the technology as well. It takes them 5 years to incorporate "New" technology into their products- and until they were happy that DAB washere to stay, they were reluctant to embark upon such a long production commitment. That decission has now been made and from now on many - if not most European cars will start having the option of DAB receivers, prior to them becoming a "Standard" fit. In the UK the rate is advancing and it is difficult to find an analogue receiver in the high street. New stations are coming on air via DAB all the time. As to elsewhere - the reported falure in Germany is, well - untrue.The German authorities have only recntly released over 50 new licences which will start from 2010 onwards. New systems will be goin on air VERY shoirtly in Switzerland and Poland, and existing systems in Norway, Sweden and Ireland will be expanded. Switzerlands receiver base expanded by 200% in only six months when three new services came on line! This of course does not even begin to address the huge roll out in Asia and Australasia where Digital Radio (Eureka 147 based - not IBOQ) is seeing huge advances in New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, China and of shortly in Malaysia, Cambodia and many other countries. The technology has seen set backs - but even in areas (such as Spain and Canada) where it has paused due to the high cost of receivers (IN THOSE COUNTRIES) and no new or unique content being available on DAB, - the benefits can still be seen. Spain incidentally is now looking to expand its services and update them to DAB+ If the media looked to the numerous sucesses of DAB instead of the few problems it was experiencing - Broadcasters, Audiences and Manufacturers would see a much brighter (and more realistic) view of this exciting, innovative, coste effective and adv
By Tony Orwin on 4/27/2009
Great sites about the DAB fraud in the UK and Europe: http://grantgoddardradioblog.blogspot.com/ and http://www.digitalradiotech.co.uk/ Great sites about the HD Radio fraud in the us: http://hdradiofarce.blogspot.com and http://stopiboc.com
By Anonymous on 4/27/2009
"DAB has 55 million consumers yawning" http://tinyurl.com/cvctad Get over it, Tony - LOL!
By Anonymous on 4/27/2009
@tony (digital radio shill) As the articles indicated, which you just blindly dismiss, digital radio is failing to attract consumers. Analog radios in the UK are out-selling DAB radios 70% to 30%, as Grant Goddard indicated. Other contries can release as many digital radio licenses that they want, but as the UK is finding out, digital radio is not viable and digital radio stations, as in the U.S., are shutting down.
By Anonymous on 4/27/2009
DAB Stalled in Canada: "The Commission is very concerned about the stalled DRB transition. Roughly 15 of the 76 authorized stations (including the digital-only operation in Toronto) are not on the air. Some stations that once operated have since ceased operations. Few recievers have been sold, and there is no interest in expanding DRB service beyond the six cities where it exists." http://tinyurl.com/cstact
By Anonymous on 4/26/2009
DAB was shut down in Germany: "Part of the problem is that analogue FM never went away and most people didn't seem to care for the clear digital-quality sound, and were left nonplussed by such benefits as easy tuning and message displays with song names and titles. DAB is struggling almost everywhere in Europe." http://tinyurl.com/622fos
By Anonymous on 4/26/2009
DAB was shut down in Spain: "The estimated investment on digital radio has been of 50 million euros in Spain, an amount that got to 350 million thanks to the help of the other six European countries that believed in this technology. In Catalonia the fiasco was accomplished in November 2008, when after ten years without an audience, the Corporació Catalana de Mitjans Audiovisuals -the Public Catalan Media Corporation- brought digital radio broadcasting to a halt." http://tinyurl.com/d7gpa5
By Anonymous on 4/26/2009
To the dude below me - DAB has stalled in the UK, and elsewhere, and digital radio stations are being shut down. This is exactly the same situation in the U.S. - "Paradoxically, the greatest obstacle is that the UK’s existing FM analogue radio transmission system already provides amazingly robust radio reception to 99 per cent of the population... For commercial radio, the Working Group’s recommendation that it invest in launching further digital-only services to attract listeners to the DAB platform would only exacerbate the sector’s precarious financial situation. In fact, 2008 witnessed the closure of many digital radio brands – TheJazz, OneWord, Core, Virgin Radio Groove, Capital Life, Mojo Radio – that had already failed to generate sufficient audiences or revenues... In terms of UK market penetration, nearly a decade after the DAB platform launched, only a minority of consumers are demonstrating an interest in purchasing DAB radio receivers. 79 per cent of new radios sold during the last 12 months were analogue rather than DAB... In 2007, 2.4 million new vehicles were registered in the UK, of which around a third offered the option to include a DAB radio as a standard ‘line-fit’ or as an optional extra. Yet only 20,000 buyers chose to install a DAB radio. It is estimated that, out of 34 million cars on the road in the UK, only 170,000 to 200,000 presently have DAB radios fitted... Whilst an increasing proportion of audio listening is now taking place ‘on the move’, the DAB platform will not benefit from the strategies of global mobile ‘phone manufacturers to incorporate FM radio and/or Wi-Fi connectivity within their devices." http://tinyurl.com/bkldbc Deal with it, dude!
By Anonymous on 4/26/2009
To the first commenter: Surprised that you quoted an article from 2003 to support your claim that DAB has stalled. Looking at more recent information, 2m receiver sales a year in the UK doesn't sound very stalled. 30% of households owning a DAB radio also doesn't sound very stalled. Over 300 different makes of radio - still not sounding stalled to me either.
By Anonymous on 4/24/2009
I hate to inform you, but DAB has stalled in the UK and elsewhere: http://tinyurl.com/6r77l9
By Anonymous on 4/24/2009
This still can't compare to the "personalized" music services, such as Pandora, Last.fm, Jango, Slacker, etc., which consumers are flocking to in-droves. Who wants to listen to someone else's programming with HD Radio?
By Anonymous on 4/24/2009
Right - require yet another round of HD radio purchases, just like what happened when multicasting came out, and what will happen when Radio Guard gets installed in all future HD radios. If HD radios were selling, then this would be a real problem for consumers, but more money for iNiquity and HD radio manufacturers. What's the point of the EPG, when no one is buying HD radios? You are beating a dead horse.
By Anonymous on 4/24/2009

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