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RadioDNS: Hybrid Radio Accelerates

Why broadcasters should make an ‘initial, slight effort’ to start Hybrid Radio services

The author is chairperson of the RadioDNS Project.

Nick Piggott, left, demos RadioDNS at the NAB Show for Rick Benson of Cox.

credit: Photo by Jim Peck

Hybrid Radio uses existing FM or HD broadcasts as a robust and reliable way to deliver audio, but presents them like an app, by using additional meta-data (such as logos and descriptions) delivered over an IP connection (WiFi, 3G, LTE). This all happens automatically and without any user intervention.

Apart from the obvious music royalty cost issues, moving away from audio streaming helps listeners by reducing IP data consumption and battery drain on portable devices. If the listener loses FM reception, he or she can be switched automatically to streaming until such time as the FM signal improves, and then automatically switched back to FM. “Uses 95 percent less data” isn’t yet a strong consumer benefit, but it surely will be in the future.

RadioDNS is the not-for-profit organization that promotes the concept of Hybrid Radio by setting the technical standards to support it. Its membership encompasses broadcasters in the United States, Europe and Australia, and comprises a mix of manufacturers, broadcasters and service providers.

We at Radio DNS have adopted an open approach to technology development, which is inspired by the collaborative nature of Internet standards. We use existing Internet technologies like DNS, but glue them together in a way that’s helpful for radio. All the data and interaction goes directly from the listener to the broadcaster, and not via RadioDNS.

Our goals

We recently held our sixth general assembly in Geneva, Switzerland. It’s our busiest meeting of the year, with elections, reports, reviews and forecasts. It’s a reflection of the organization’s growth that the business discussed this year was more operational and immediate than in previous years, which dealt mostly with establishing the organization.

As more manufacturers are looking to launch devices, there’s a need to register a clear visual logo for “RadioDNS Hybrid Radio” for consumers. Similarly, increased manufacturer and broadcaster interest means there will be a dedicated Test and Demonstration environment for RadioDNS. The project website will be overhauled to make information easier to access, and sections for various languages added, and more countries are invited to join the collaboration.

RadioDNS’s technical projects continue to evolve, reflecting input and experience from broadcasters in all nations. RadioVIS, our visualization layer, now supports devices of all resolutions, including the latest “Retina” style displays.

The RadioEPG team is working with IMDA to create a single EPG system for radio, the “Hybrid Radio EPG.” And the RadioVIS team used the RadioDays Europe conference to demonstrate our progress toward a simple but powerful tagging or bookmarking system that is universal across radio stations, devices and countries.

Major automotive OEM Visteon demonstrated that much of this functionality on their range of car radios at the same RadioDays Europe conference. Even their most basic car radio allows you to tether a cellphone via Bluetooth to receive the station information on a color screen. When you tune to FM in the dash, the smartphone shows all the additional information and visuals, and creates the click-through or bookmarking functions.

RadioDNS Hybrid Radio has been enthusiastically adopted in Europe, where it’s now available to more than 70 million radio listeners a week in the United Kingdom and Germany, and in six other European countries. In the United States, Clear Channel, Emmis, Cox and the NAB are all active supporters of RadioDNS, and contributed to demonstrations at the 2013 NAB Show in Las Vegas in April.

Manufacturers like Philips, Pure and Revo incorporated Hybrid Radio into their tabletop radios and, most interestingly, in iPhone docking stations, where the visual information and interaction is displayed on the iPhone screen.

Broadcast first

Of course, the key question remains whether the concept of Hybrid Radio can reinvigorate broadcast radio in the smartphone. There’s no doubt that people like listening to radio on smartphones, evidenced by the rise of apps like TuneIn and iHeartRadio.

Hybrid Radio could play a stealth-technology role here, by silently switching people from streaming to broadcast radio without disrupting their experience. Conversely, it would allow smartphone manufacturers to overhaul their existing FM radio apps to be as good as TuneIn or iHeart.

There should be every motivation for incumbent broadcasters to promote the idea of “broadcast first,” not least because even the most crowded FM market is less daunting to navigate than 10,000 stations in an Internet service.

It’s interesting to note that Internet radio providers are now doing what they can to make their listings more relevant by filtering them down to “local” stations first: the stations people know, love and listen to most. The percentage of “real” radio listeners genuinely seeking to expand their listening experience with out-of-market stations is probably very low.

What’s holding smartphone manufacturers back? In short, interest.

They don’t believe there’s any interest from broadcast radio, so it doesn’t warrant resources to rewrite the apps. It’s upon the broadcast radio industry to reignite that interest by championing all the unique benefits of broadcast radio, and to reinvigorate the presentation of radio on a smartphone with Hybrid Radio content.

Broadcasters must make the initial (slight) effort to start Hybrid Radio services for their stations first, before the smartphone manufacturers can justify revisiting broadcast radio.

RadioDNS works closely with both broadcasters and manufacturers, coaxing and helping them towards Hybrid Radio. As a small organization, we concentrate on bringing people together to share problems and create solutions collaboratively.

This “agree on technology, compete on content” sentiment means we can harness the collective energy and resources of the global radio industry to help reinvent broadcast radio as a genuine and powerful competitor to streaming services.