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You Are Here? Then Here You Are!

Geo-coding usage task group explores location-based tech for radio

A small group of technical people from the broadcast and consumer electronics industries is doing quiet grunt work that could end up helping your station become even more locally relevant to your listeners.

What if a consumer’s radio receiver knew where she was and could display current traffic problems specific to that exact spot? Or if, during your hourly sportscast show, the device could show high-school scores just for her neighborhood? Or provide coupons for a sale going on right now in a nearby shopping plaza?

To put it another way, what if your radio station could substitute “content variants” for the listener based on where she was?

As local as good radio already is, the signal of your station probably covers many miles in any direction. Meanwhile American consumers increasingly are interested in content that is useful where and when they are — now.

A subcommittee of the standards-setting National Radio Systems Committee recently formed the “Geo-coding Usage Task Group.” It is made up of 10 or so NRSC members who are exploring possible location-based services and technologies that can help radio. These are broadcast engineers, technology providers and consumer electronics representatives. You can expect to hear more about their work soon.

Mike Starling, NPR vice president and executive director for the Technology Research Center and NPR Labs, heads the group.

“The basic premise is that local relevance is at the heart of what radio is all about,” he told me.

“The GUTG is exploring — on a very preliminary basis — the type of services and technology that could hyperlocalize the radio experience.”

Starling gives credit to Dave Wilson for pushing the idea with persistence. Wilson, as you may know from his writings in RW, straddles the worlds of radio and consumer electronics. He is senior director of technology & standards at the Consumer Electronics Association, and also owns radio stations.

“We took about a year to develop our preliminary list of potential use cases and analyze the kinds of attributes they might have,” Starling said. “At that point I, at least, was prepared to issue that as an informational report.

“But instead of just ending there, everyone said, ‘This is good. Perhaps we should drill down a little further, expand this work some and move toward the drafting of a possible request for proposals.’ We’re sort of sticking our toe into this water.”

If the DRB subcommittee does decide to issue an RFP, it would encourage technology developers to respond and spell out how they envision such location-based services might work in radio.

Then the NRSC could consider whether a standards-setting process might be in order, all aimed at helping such technology germinate. A similar process was followed years ago when the NRSC solicited proposals for a U.S. digital radio standard.

The group’s goal is to put tools that radio already has, like HD Radio/AAS data services, RBDS, any other SCA type services, to work with location-basedtechnology such as GPS and cellular triangulation, to create a more “granular” display content for users.

“We don’t intend to reinvent the wheel, but we do intend to take advantage of opportunities that might be there,” Starling said.

I asked how he would characterize the maturity of U.S. radio when it comes to useful new technology offerings.

Starling thinks broadcasters appear to be moving “inexorably” toward providing content beyond just audio; he pointed to the Broadcast Traffic Consortium, Clear Channel Total Traffic Network and HD Radio Artist Experience as examples of broadcasters using existing infrastructure to offer additional content for use on a variety of receiving devices. More, he thinks, will be coming.

But doesn’t radio lag other industries in implementing new tech that will interest today’s app-savvy, highly mobile consumers? I sometimes think so; but he disagreed. “We’re perfectly positioned to leverage and surf the investments made by other multimedia providers, and marry that up with robust, unique and free broadcast services. I think the timing is perfect to take a look in this direction.”

I suspect we’ll hear more about this at this month’s NRSC meetings in Chicago. We’ll tell you more if and when the task group or the larger committee moves ahead with this.

For an update on the request for proposals mentioned in this story, see: NRSC Seeks Location-Based Services Technologies