SYDNEY, New South Wales — Transmitting podcasts via a DAB+ data channel may sound like an odd proposition, but for Australian broadcasters, the numbers make it an idea worth exploring.
“More than 4,661,000 podcasts are downloaded each month in Australia,” said Joan Warner, CEO of Commercial Radio Australia (CRA); the broadcasters’ national industry association.
Since Australia is in the midst of an aggressive DAB+ rollout — stations in Sydney, New South Wales; Melbourne, Victoria; Brisbane, Queensland; Perth, Western Australia; and Adelaide, South Australia, started broadcasting in DAB+ in July 2009 and in Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, in July 2010 — it makes sense for CRA to do whatever it can to promote DAB+ radio purchases. Making access to podcasts available via the airwaves gives Australian consumers another reason to buy new DAB+ receivers.
To achieve this goal, Commercial Radio Australia has teamed up with China’s Jolon Digital Media Broadcasting Co. Ltd., an affiliate of government-run Radio Beijing Corp. (RBC). According to a joint CRA/Jolon news release, RBC and Jolon launched DAB services in Beijing in 2006, including the Push Radio podcast-delivery service that is at the heart of the CRA/Jolon partnership.
Push Radio Defined
Push Radio is the brand name for sending podcast data files by digital radio, rather than via the Web. In both cases, it is simply a matter of how these data files are transmitted to users; the content of the files remains the same in both cases.
So what is this technology? “Push Radio is a groundbreaking application that will allow podcasts to be sent via the DAB+ broadcast band directly to a listener’s radio without the need to connect to the Internet,” said Warner. The technology, developed by Jolon, sends the audio files directly to a DAB+ digital radio receiver, instead of requiring the listener to connect their iPod or MP3 player to the Internet to receive programming.
This said, not every DAB+ receiver can work with Push Radio. In fact, listeners will need to purchase Push Radio-enabled receivers to use this service.
As for podcast programming? “Content currently includes highlights of radio programming that listeners might have missed, news stories and interviews,” she said. It will be up to individual stations to decide what podcasts they send out on their specific DAB+ bandwidth. For podcasts not transmitted by these broadcasters, listeners will have to turn to the Web.
For the moment, Push Radio remains mostly a promise. As a result of the Memorandum of Understanding signed on 25 May 2010 by Jolon and CRA, “the two organizations have set up a task force to operationally test the current technical standards for DAB+ and DAB+ Push Radio, and planning has already begun,” she says. “We hope to have a trial of the DAB+ Push Radio system in Australia late 2010.”
A year into its launch, Australian DAB+ is starting to win fans among the country’s radio listeners. CRA’s 2010 Digital Radio Industry Report says that 3.7 percent of all Australian listeners (450,000) are already tuned into DAB+ broadcasts, primarily due to the medium’s superior audio quality and extra features.
Adding Push Radio to the mix would give broadcasters a new venue for their content, while providing “another simple and easy way for listeners to access free-to-air radio programming,” Warner said.
Convenience is a major selling factor for Push Radio: “Currently to receive a radio podcast, a listener has to subscribe to the podcast; download software that manages your podcast subscriptions and then connect to the Internet each time you want to receive new podcasts,” she said. “With Push Radio you would simply opt in to the service and the podcast would automatically be sent to your radio without having to connect to the Internet.”
If it works as planned, Push Radio could to be a powerful selling point for DAB+ in Australia. It will offer consumers another good reason to switch to DAB+, while giving broadcasters with a new way to engage with the audience. The result could be a win-win for both sides, and an extra impetus for switching off Australian analog radio in the future.