Carmaker Audi, a subsidiary of Volkswagen Group, has been active in the realms of digital radio, hybrid radio and metadata.
Late last year, Christian Winter of Volkswagen Group software development subsidiary CARIAD wrote in Radio World that, after the successful launch of hybrid radio in Europe, Audi was offering the feature in most of its 2021 vehicles, including models available in North America.
He also noted that iHeartMedia had started providing RadioDNS support for hybrid radio in Audi cars, and that Radioplayer Canada was supporting Audi with data from more than 350 Canadian radio stations.
In a recent ebook about trends in digital radio, Radio World checked in for an update with Anupam “Pom” Malhotra, senior director, Connected Services, at Audi of America.
Radio World: What’s the most important digital radio trend right now?
Pom Malhotra: Hybrid radio is the newest trend, as more and more cars have a broadband internet connection. Broadcast-only digital radio, like HD Radio for North America or DAB in Europe and some other countries, is standard in every Audi.
RW: Audi has been one of the carmakers most engaged with digital radio and hybrid radio. Broadly speaking, how would you characterize the state of digital radio around the world?
Malhotra: The standards are very mature, and all new cars come equipped with digital radio in Europe using the DAB standard. Digital radio enables new radio programs because the distribution is cheaper and there is a larger spectrum for new stations. Additionally, digital radio enables nationwide broadcast stations like Deutschlandfunk in Germany or NRK in Norway. More recently, Audi has launched hybrid radio in many of our models both in Europe and in the U.S., which extends FM broadcasts beyond their geographical limitations.
RW: What can radio entities around the world do to keep broadcast radio prominent in the car?
Malhotra: The challenge for broadcast radio is how to compete with the user experience of streaming audio through an online connection. Using standards like RadioDNS, broadcast radio providers can include metadata like station name, streaming URLs and station logos via the online connection to enrich the listening experience for the customer in the vehicle. In today’s vehicles, radio must be visually on par with streaming services and online radio apps in the connected car.
RW: Which countries do you feel have advanced the most in deploying digital radio, for each of the major platforms?
Malhotra: In Europe, DAB is widely used in Norway, Switzerland, the U.K. and Germany. In all European countries, DAB created a new market for new programs and helped channels get better coverage, for example in the Swiss Alps.
Although North America has a rich history in broadcast radio and has innovated significantly with satellite radio and HD Radio, the growth of online streaming through internet radio threatens to make AM and FM radio obsolete over time. This is where hybrid radio can reinvigorate the broadcast industry to appeal to new and younger listeners.
RW: WorldDAB states that “DAB+ is firmly established as the core future platform for radio in Europe.” Please comment.
Malhotra: From a manufacturer point of view, DAB delivers everything a broadcast radio station needs. With the addition of RadioDNS as the online standard, broadcast radio is ready for the future.
RW: Which major countries or markets are you watching to see will adopt digital standard(s) next?
Malhotra: From Audi’s perspective, we have seen all major markets already adopt or are in the process of adopting either HD Radio or DAB as their digital radio standard.
RW: What impact do you expect on the digital radio marketplace from Google’s aspirations for Android Automotive?
Malhotra: Android gives listeners the ability to download their preferred internet radio apps via an online store in their vehicle. However, customers will choose their infotainment options based on the attractiveness of content, which means there will always be room for broadcast radio as long as it delivers a competitive listening experience.
RW: Hybrid radio is part of Audi’s MIB 3 infotainment system. What is the status of that rollout, and which media companies are supporting it?
Malhotra: Hybrid radio is available now in all MIB 3 vehicles with the high-speed data package for the 2021+ model year — A4, A5, A6, A7, A8, Q3, Q5, Q7, Q8, and e-tron Sportback/SUV. For 2022, that will expand to more models including the all-electric e-tron GT and Q4 e-tron.
Within the North American market, we already have nearly 1,500 FM stations supporting hybrid radio from broadcasters like iHeartRadio, Cumulus, Entercom, Educational Media Foundation, Boise State Radio in Idaho and Radioplayer Canada. More media companies are continuing to grow support for hybrid radio using the RadioDNS standard.
RW: What else should we know about Audi’s current or pending activities in digital radio?
Malhotra: Audi continues to play a leadership role in helping to shape the future of broadcast radio. In fact, the chair of the WorldDAB Automotive Group is a senior Audi executive from our CARIAD subsidiary, Martin Koch. Aand Christian Winter, also from CARIAD, represents Audi on the RadioDNS steering board.