The promise of “hybrid” radio technology has yet to be realized, with no widespread adoption by carmakers just yet. But while 2019 may not be a breakout year, participants say significant milestones are being met.
The term hybrid radio refers to platforms to provide a seamless combination of broadcast radio and internet technologies. (It is not to be confused with the term “hybrid” that is sometimes used to describe the dual analog/digital format in which most HD Radio stations broadcast.)
A hybrid of broadcast radio and internet connectivity, experts say, will offer radio listeners many benefits. The players in this hybrid radio ecosystem include familiar names like RadioDNS and Xperi, both promoting applications that combine broadcast and IP technologies. Efforts by the National Association of Broadcasters’ Pilot initiative are also playing an integral role in development, participants say.
Their research involves finding ways to link a “fetched” stream address from available broadcast services with over-the-air broadcast hardware, work that coincides with the growth of built-in connectivity in automobiles.
Hybrid radio embraces the complementary strengths of broadcast radio and the internet, observers say, and developers are seeking to create a unique distribution system. Backers believe deployment in the auto environment will accelerate soon and that best practices for radio broadcasters will follow. Voice command, already an integral part of the home speaker listening environment, also is expected to play a crucial role in hybrid radio’s development.
The presence of built-in internet connectivity in automobiles and the expected impact of the 5G rollout both support introduction of hybrid technologies, backers say.
Nick Piggott, project director for RadioDNS, said hybrid radio recognizes that broadcast radio and the internet have different, complementary strengths.
“Hybrid radio creates two routes to the radio receiver, one via broadcast radio and the other via IP. Broadcast is cost-effective, reliable and robust and is great for time-critical audio. Over the IP channel, we can deliver lots of additional metadata about the audio, high resolution visual information, interactivity.
“There’s lots of different ways the two distribution paths can be combined to create a better experience of radio,” he said. For instance, once a listener chooses a station or saves it on a preset, it will always play for them as long as either broadcast or IP is available.
RadioDNS is an organization that promotes technical standards for combining broadcast radio and internet technologies that enable interoperability, giving broadcasters and manufacturers freedom of how to implement hybrid radio.
Members of RadioDNS include iHeartMedia, Cumulus, Entercom, Cox, NPR and NAB. Piggott said this participation gives automotive manufacturers confidence to move forward with launch plans in the United States. He predicts that will happen in the next 12 months.
Among automakers, Audi in particular has been aggressive, already offering hybrid radio on its European models as each model is refreshed and apparently eager to launch in the U.S., according to NAB and other observers. Audi conducted a live demo of its hybrid solution at the spring show, using local Las Vegas stations.
David Layer, vice president of advanced engineering at NAB, said, “Audi has developed an amazing hybrid radio, making use of not only RadioDNS standards but using streaming audio support from Radioplayer and Jump2Go, as well as directly from broadcasters.” (Radioplayer is a not-for-profit organization providing hybrid radio support around the globe.)
Volkswagen and Porsche also plan to add hybrid radio in Europe, according to RadioDNS.
The NAB, Layer said, continues to reach out to automakers and receiver manufacturers as it pushes ahead with its dashboard initiatives, focused on near-term enhancement of over-the-air radio in vehicles.
Xperi, owner of HD Radio, is active in this space. Its DTS Connected Radio uses an IP connection installed in a vehicle to deliver analog and digital FM by pairing broadcast programming with IP-delivered content. At the spring show, attendees could see a number of prototype hybrid radio implementations based on the DTS Connected Radio platform.
“And we know that at least three of the most important Tier One automotive suppliers, Harman, Panasonic and LG, are using this technology,” Layer said.
Separately Xperi and LG recently announced the development and integration of DTS Connected Radio technology into automobiles sold around the world, with the first implementation arriving at dealerships in 2020. Xperi has said it is working with a major global car brand manufacturer on its rollout but has not identified that company yet.
For its part, NAB is supportive of “both Xperi’s DTS Connected Radio and RadioDNS,” Layer said. “It’s important to know these are not competing interests. To the contrary, they are cooperative interests.”
Xperi makes available a Connected Radio Evaluation Unit, or CREU, to potential users and implementers of its DTS Connected Radio platform, such as automakers and Tier One manufacturers, to allow them to develop receivers using that technology.
Layer said that Pilot, a technology and innovation initiative of NAB, obtained a CREU and is working with NAB members to innovate ways to design the radio user interface to take advantage of the capabilities of hybrid radio and then to take those ideas to receiver manufacturers for implementation.
Xperi says it is demonstrating live metadata in 16 markets operating through Connected Radio in real time. It is also developing how the platform will work with Amazon Alexa smart speakers and its voice control capabilities.
Certain aspects of hybrid radio will be of keen interest to radio stations, Layer said. Basic features include delivery of metadata (text and imagery) over the internet and tied to the over-the-air audio, as well as delivery of simulcast streaming audio.
“This would be things like album art, song title and artist information. It could also include enhanced advertisements,” he said. “And specifically how the streaming audio signals get used by the receiver is a topic of great interest among broadcasters.”
Layer said that costs involved in streaming, for both broadcasters and listeners, make it imperative that hybrid radio receivers use streaming audio only when the over-the-air signal is unusable.
More advanced hybrid radio features include interactivity between broadcasters and listeners and the availability of analytics about how listeners consume and react to programming.
In addition, Layer said the potential for hybrid radio to deliver audio on demand is being researched. “This is clearly a feature that is desired by listeners. Imagine a radio receiver that can play back a station’s most recent traffic or weather report anytime, with the touch of a button, or offer the listener an archived version of today’s morning program.”
Participants say they expect hybrid radio to create new value for broadcast radio and believe that its use won’t be limited to the automotive sector. Samsung mobile phones and some tabletop radios with a Wi-Fi connection have implemented hybrid radio in Europe, according to RadioDNS.
This is the first of a series of occasional articles exploring the hybrid radio ecosystem. Comment on this or any story to firstname.lastname@example.org.