IBiquity, Emmis Focus In-Car

Joint venture forms framework for combining technologies in dashboard
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Bob Struble of iBiquity Digital and Jeff Smulyan of Emmis believe their combined efforts to integrate TagStation, NextRadio and HD Radio in the dashboard will send a powerful message to automakers.
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Photo by Jim Peck Focused on the connected dashboard, technical teams at iBiquity Digital and Emmis’ NextRadio business have begun working on development of an integrated auto platform that would combine their technologies and services.

This isn’t the first time the engineers have worked together. Some six years ago, Emmis TagStation and iBiquity collaborated as part of the Broadcast Traffic Consortium — tying a cloud service provided by Nokia into HD Radio so that participating BTC stations could deliver traffic data as part of their HD Radio signal.

Now staffs at iBiquity and TagStation/NextRadio are working more closely, they tell Radio World.

In a broad sense, they want to marry the interactivity of the NextRadio app with HD Radio technology in the dashboard. “We have a chance to hold … to strengthen our position in the automobile,” said Emmis Communications Chair/President/CEO Jeff Smulyan.

Mindful that NextRadio has been heading towards developing an in-car application, iBiquity President/CEO Bob Struble said, “We don’t want Jeff to have to go through what we at iBiquity did, which was many years of banging on doors of auto guys before we finally got in there. We’re there. We have relationships, and an installed platform. So, if you can integrate the NextRadio functionality into something [an automaker] is already building, it’s going to go a whole lot quicker.”

The combined effort will benefit broadcasters as well, according to Struble: “It will be very powerful for us to go to automakers and say: ‘This is the combined and complete broadcast solution. You take one meeting. It will be consistent across the industry, and the broadcasters are working together to make that work.’”

HD Radio is in some 20 million vehicles. Struble ticked off features that have been added over time like multicasting, iTunes Tagging and Artist Experience. NextRadio is the next one, he told Radio World. “We’re going to bring that into the car.” By combining efforts, integration will occur more quickly, he said. When asked how soon the new functionality could be seen in the dash, Struble said, “hopefully as soon as next year, but we’ll see.”

Emmis EVP/CTO Paul Brenner and iBiquity Digital SVP Broadcast Programs & Services Joe D’Angelo said in an interview that OEMs have been asking each company about the other’s technology: “We’re trying to be proactive,” Brenner said. The agreement provides a framework for expanding the NextRadio and HD Radio technology in mobile devices and overseas; but initially, they’re focusing their efforts in-car.

Emmis developed TagStation to let stations deliver artist and title information, and to add interactivity. With partial funding from NAB Labs, the broadcast owner developed the NextRadio hybrid radio smartphone app that uses TagStation cloud services so that listeners can hear FM radio on smartphones — right now, mostly from Sprint — by combining the devices’ built-in FM tuner with Internet access.

SOFTWARE CAPABILITIES
The teams are working on software capabilities to combine IP delivery of content from the TagStation data service and NextRadio smartphone app with the broadcast distribution of HD Radio stations. TagStation provides a data “backchannel” for the NextRadio FM app. Brenner characterized TagStation as a cloud server that distributes data: “Think about the manual, localized world of radio information and audio. We move all that information up into a cloud, so that we can make it part of a connected car. You can’t get to a connected car from each and every radio station. It has to go to one place. TagStation represents that cloud of data about the audio you’re hearing.”

The components of both TagStation and NextRadio play a role in making connectivity work for HD Radio in-car, he said.

Struble said the companies are hoping they can eventually approach stations in a more coordinated fashion, offering a “one-stop-shop” to implement the technologies, rather than approaching stations independently. “So when you do what you need to do [to implement] TagStation, you’ve done what you need to do for HD Radio and vice versa,” said Struble.

The collaboration has implications overseas. For example, HD Radio is the digital radio standard in Mexico. As those broadcasters roll out the technology, “We’re looking to bring this in to help build the broadcast infrastructure in Mexico as well,” said D’Angelo.

Some 2,200 U.S. radio stations, mostly FMs, are broadcasting HD Radio on their main signals; those stations have created an additional 1,500 multicast channels, according to iBiquity Digital.

On the NextRadio side, meanwhile, a majority of FM stations, some 6,700, participate with at least station branding for the app, according to Emmis; and about 75 percent of FMs in the biggest markets have begun delivering interactive content for it.

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