Program-Associated Data Is an Important Feature of Emerging Radio Services
As the world moves to digital forms of entertainment and information distribution, the process of including identification data along with the content has become standard practice – except for radio.
Since the introduction of the CD, the concept of incorporating metadata (“data about the data”) with audio material has become standard practice. Granted, all the CD really provided was cut numbers, optional index points and start/end times within the disc; but this was a big change from the analog days, where nothing of the sort existed.
Unbeknownst to most users, however, each CD also included a unique identification code, which today is used by CD devices with Internet connections (i.e., computers, typically) to sync with Web-based databases that provide full song title, timing, artist and other information to the consumer for most published CDs.
Subsequently, other forms of digital delivery (including enhanced CD formats, DVD, MD, MP3 and other online formats, cable/DBS audio and satellite radio) have included this level of metadata inherently. As time goes on, the richness of such metadata continues to increase.
Today the most complete forms of metadata are found in online media players, which can offer CD cover art, discographies, song lyrics and links to other related resources, including e-commerce elements.
The basic need for parity is the primary incentive for providing program-associated data, or PAD, in radio.
Like today’s other media clients, radio needs a way to present this information to listeners while they are hearing a given piece of audio material. In fact, it can be argued that radio services (on-air and online) need this even more than packaged media players because the latter already have removable media and collateral packaging that can be consulted for the same data, but broadcast/Webcast services do not. (The current trend at many stations to provide little or no content identification in announcer continuity further extends the need for PAD in radio services.)
The convenience of being able to look at the radio at any time and identify the current content via text display clearly will be considered an added value and step forward in radio technology by listeners, so it is an essential element of any next-gen service.
Meanwhile, the directly competing Webcast, cable/DBS and satellite radio services have developed methods of providing this feature in their receivers’ displays, but terrestrial radio still hasn’t managed to do so. There was an attempt to provide this for analog FM broadcast with RBDS, via its Radio Text (RT) feature, but this format never took strong root in either the broadcast or receiver environments in the United States. Even in Europe, where the nearly identical RDS service is far more popular, the RT feature is not widely used for dynamic content metadata.
So radio remains essentially a PAD-less service today. The next hope for resolution of this inequity is digital radio. In both the Eureka-147 and IBOC formats, a fairly rich PAD service is envisioned.
There are two components to any PAD service: station or service information (which remains generally fixed for any station) and content information (which can change frequently along with the programming on air at the time).
The static service information component can contain unique identifiers for each station, service name and format labels for searching and text display, technical data about the service (i.e., number of audio channels, coding format, etc.), and information about repeater frequencies or other associated stations.
Content information can dynamically present artist and title data for published music, or could involve more extended information such as tell-me-more text, URLs or other author and reference data for news/info content. It could also involve background info on the host and/or guests for a talk show, such as discographies, bibliographies, photos, etc., or the rich graphical data described earlier, if a suitable display were available.
On a more technical level, content information can also provide unique program identification codes for search engines, electronic program guides and automatic recording systems, thus enabling PVR-like functionality for radio.
In the current proposal for IBOC digital radio from Ibiquity Digital Corp., many of these elements are specifically accommodated. Service identification data is provided in the form of Station Information Service (SIS), while content-related elements are handled by the Main Program Service Program Associated Data (MPS PAD).
The SIS data will include a station’s name (both official call letters and a longer commercial service name, such as “Rock98Denver”), a unique ID number for the service, physical location data for the station and local time data.
The MPS PAD data will include fields for the title, artist, album and genre of a musical selection, plus a comment section. The latter can be used for numerous applications, so separate title and text fields are provided.
This allows a broadcaster to describe what the comment contains in its one-line title field (e.g., artist detail, artist or station URL, station request-line or talk-show phone number, etc.) separately from the actual contents of the comment.
Another feature of the Ibiquity system is a set of commercially oriented PAD fields, such as an advertisement or description of a product, the seller’s identification, a URL for executing an e-commerce transaction via a backchannel, pricing information, transaction-method data and the expiration time for a transaction.
Finally, the MPS PAD message will include a reference ID that allows the message data itself to be uniquely identified. Note also that these PAD elements are granted their own dedicated bandwidth, and do not materially impact the bandwidth reserved for other, non-program-associated datacasting (sometimes called NPAD).
Coming of age
Adding PAD to radio services could be critical to the ongoing health of broadcast operations, and help keep the medium popular with younger audiences who are becoming accustomed to receiving such metadata with their audio from nearly all other distribution methods.
The technology could also help to create new revenue streams for broadcasters with integrated hooks to e-commerce transactions embedded in commercials and other programming.
Although earlier attempts to add such functionality to analog FM were unsuccessful, PAD could be one of the most pivotal and influential features in the deployment of future digital radio services, aiding in both audience retention and business growth.