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Datacasting Today and Tomorrow

Broadcasters seeking to maximize their interaction with listeners need to understand trends in datacasting, says Jim Roberts, product manager of datacast systems at Broadcast Electronics, who speaks often about the topic at conventions such as the upcoming NAB Show.

For instance, Roberts says that many portable devices including mobile phones have RDS chips installed, yet these services are not yet supported in the device firmware. Broadcasters should consider lobbying manufacturers to activate this RDS capability, he said, to open significant new opportunities.

Datacasting also can be used with interactive billboards, which are becoming more flexible communication platforms. A broadcaster can publish data to an XML file read by the LCD billboard, which is connected to the Internet. For the broadcaster the operation is much like updating a Web site. The older method also works, sending information to a billboard in the group 5A subset of RDS, which is not displayed on RDS receivers. In this case, text-only data can be displayed on an LED sign within the billboard.

Roberts also says new technologies are tightening the links between the playlist on a station’s automation system and the Internet.

Tune Genie for instance takes now-playing data and does a real-time dynamic lookup on the Web to display song lyrics, artist bios and videos. One application for this might be to have a station’s Web site display videos from YouTube for each artist as they played.

Listener-Driven Radio, launched in 2009, is a mashup of crowdsourcing and broadcasting that allows listeners to vote on the songs in a station’s playlist and inject that information into the music scheduling software. LDR also integrates with social networks like Facebook and Twitter, adding information about what’s going on at a station or on its playlist.

Stations using RDS for artist/title information may enhance their data stream by adding generic or non-music information to the stream such as day-parted messages during sweepers, liners and promos, Roberts continued. Text may be linked to audio, such as information on area concerts and tickets. News, weather, traffic, sports and EAS information may be inserted into the RDS or HD stream, as well as contest information.

Datacasting may also provide a station with sources of non-traditional revenue. High-impact ads may showcase a single advertiser on a one-day schedule; they are an excellent vehicle for one-day sales or holiday events. Linked events can be another source of revenue. Radio text can be linked to a commercial, song or any piece of audio.

To get the most out of datacasting, a station’s sales force must educatate advertisers to the potential. Some may not understand the technology, and would benefit by seeing it, so sales people may need to bring along portable radios. Roberts says one group of businesses that seems to grasp the potential for this medium is car dealers.

Put a tag on it

Tagging is an area of interest; it involves a listener marking selected songs for later purchase. It can be accomplished both with analog FM and HD Radio, working in conjunction with selected iPods and Microsoft’s Zune devices. Roberts says he receives frequent questions from stations about tagging.

For analog FM, listeners hear songs on the iPod Nano’s built-in FM receiver. Songs can be purchased after synching with iTunes on a PC or Mac. This method requires stations to identify song and station data via the Radio Text+ standard of RDS. Some of these arrangements allow revenue sharing for the station.

In HD Radio, the tagging process involves datacasting in conjunction with suitably equipped receivers. Listeners “tag” a song they like by pressing a button on a supported HD Radio. An attached iPod records this information. The next time the iPod, either iPod Classic (sixth generation) or iPod Nano (third generation) is synchronized to iTunes, the tagged songs are displayed and can be purchased through the iTunes Store.

Listeners who hear songs on Zune’s built-in FM receiver can tag them and make purchases through the Zune market place via Wi-Fi. Songs can also be purchased on a PC using the Zune software.

Roberts noted that an increasing number of stations are integrating with social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Broadcasters may use a product’s Application Program Interface or API so its automation can send now-playing events to Twitter. Twitter in turn can turn this into an RSS feed.

Stations also can use social networks such as Twitter to implement homebrew methods of tagging that do not restrict listeners to specific hardware or proprietary technologies.

The service, now owned by CBS, is a social network that creates music statistics and will tally the most popular artists played by a station. This can be a valuable tool for broadcasters, but Roberts cautions that a station may want to delete this information on a daily basis if they don’t want competitors to have access to it.

While many of these functions can be homebrewed with APIs, commercial products such as those from The Radio Experience from Broadcast Electronics are available. Another product from BE, TRECast, allows talent to send text messages in real time to RDS, HD and Twitter, and functions as a form of “instant messaging” for datacasting. It may be used to announce contest winners or insert special text messages during live segments.

A series of sessions at the NAB Show will explore “Radio Data Services.”