Unifying the Radio Experience

EBU’s annual Digital Radio Summit stresses the need for broadcasters to work together for automotive and digital switchover
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EBU’s annual Digital Radio Summit stresses the need for broadcasters to work together for automotive and digital switchover
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Michael Hill, UK Radioplayer, called for a shared approach by broadcasters into auto manufacturers. Photo by Peter MacAvock.

GENEVA — A digital wave is moving across Europe, said Patrick Hannon, president of WorldDMB, to the delegates present at the European Broadcasting Union's Digital Radio Summit in Geneva.

In the crisp cold of a sunny February day in Switzerland, delegates from across Europe assembled for the eighth annual summit. “Unifying the radio experience” was the main focus of the day, which aims at information exchange across European broadcasters.

An opening keynote from Michael Hill, managing director of the UK Radioplayer, set the tone for an automotive session aimed at enhancing the user experience in-car. He estimates that Spotify has at least 12 people focusing on getting its music product in-car and asked how radio compared.

Hill said that a single station list, containing all radio stations available to the user across FM, DAB and HD Radio, is fundamental for better radio in-car. He likened the work required to achieve this as a “data jigsaw,” a piece of hard work organizing radio.

Hill described progress with Radioplayer’s hybrid radio receiver, a black box for car installation that offers easier tuning and service-following between FM, DAB and Internet radio, which his company aims to launch this spring. Hill called for a shared approach by broadcasters to automotive manufacturers for a better radio experience.

Frank Nowack, head of Multimedia at Ford, described his company’s approach to radio in the car. Nowack said that Ford’s aim is to put online services into vehicles, but that they will not replace broadcast radio. DAB+ will be radio’s primary future, he added, pointing out that DAB+ is fitted as standard in virtually all Ford cars in the United Kingdom.

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Ford's Frank Nowack reinforced Ford's belief in broadcast.
Photo by Peter MacAvock.

Nowack was also keen to improve the listening experience. He criticized the radio industry for not aligning FM and DAB+ volume levels, for differing regional content on FM and DAB+, for not properly broadcasting metadata like traffic alerts and service linking details on DAB+ and for poor audio quality for some stations.

The EBU Digital Radio Summit also included reports from the main digital radio organizations. WorldDMB reported progress in terms of digital adoption across Europe, and announced that 33 million DAB receivers have been sold in the last 10 years. Digital Radio Mondiale showed progress made in India, and a new, Indian-made, DRM radio receiver.

RadioDNS Hybrid Radio said they are focusing on faster metadata production from broadcasters, highlighting agreements with countries licensing Radioplayer technology, the EBU, the European commercial radio organization AER, and Commercial Radio Australia to publish RadioDNS data enabling station logos and service-linking. The chair of the project, Nick Piggott, reported that they have secured trademarks for receiver manufacturers to use, subject to approval.

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Sweden's Nina Wormbs described digital switchover plans.

Photo by Peter MacAvock.

Nina Wormbs, author of a digitization plan for the Swedish government, highlighted her proposals for Swedish FM switchover. The proposal is that Sweden switches off FM radio in 2022. The Swedish government will make a decision later this year.

Delegates also heard from Poland, where DAB+ coverage is growing, and France, where new digital multiplex areas are being advertised. German and Swiss plans were also presented.

From the United States, Paul Brenner of Emmis Communications presented the Next Radio app, which significantly enhances the FM user experience on smartphones.

The EBU shared its freely-available Digital Radio Toolkit, a publication highlighting best practice and lessons from countries already engaged in digital switchover. The publication is available from the EBU’s website.

The afternoon also included a presentation about the benefits of hybrid radio across many different platforms, presented by Lindsay Cornell, principal systems architect from the BBC. The benefits of enhancing the listener experience were highlighted, and some prototype services were discussed, including a geo-aware FM receiver from Italian broadcaster RAI, which automatically overlays local programming via IP to an FM signal, and a BBC prototype that allowed radio listeners to bookmark favorite songs.

A panel discussion closed the day, highlighting the benefits of broadcast radio reception in mobile phones.

This was the EBU’s biggest Digital Radio Summit yet and was accompanied by a week of meetings of technology organizations as well as a “radio hack” day on Friday, which coincided with World Radio Day on Feb. 13.

Observers were left under no doubt that digital radio is continuing to grow in Europe, and that the user experience is a challenge to radio’s continued success. Unifying the radio experience, it was generally agreed, is important to continue radio’s appeal.

“The topics haven’t changed, but maybe the energy has,” observed one delegate.

James Cridland reports on the industry for Radio World from London.