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HD Radio, Meet the iPod

IBOC proponents say merging HD Radio with iPod technology makes HD-R “cool.”

IBOC proponents say merging HD Radio with iPod technology makes HD-R “cool.”

It’s a state they hope translates into return on investment for stations and carves a path for the digital radio technology to be included in other mobile, portable music players and digital devices.

An HD Radio chip that can be integrated into an iPod has yet to develop. But the two worlds came closer together in September when Apple said it is enabling tagging for iTunes on certain new HD Radio receivers that also feature iPod docks.

Polk and JBL stepped forward with radios that incorporate the feature, and radio’s largest group committed to implementing the tagging of content. More were expected to do so at the NAB Radio Show.

The news introduced a relatively new concept to the vernacular of digital radio proponents: tagging. Apple sees HD-R-enabled tagging as a feature that makes iTunes purchases easier for customers. The company has sold more than 100 million iPods, according to CNN Money.

Ibiquity Digital and the HD Digital Radio Alliance say giving consumers the ability to tag their Apple iTunes for later purchase using HD Radio will lead to products for automotive use in 2008. Asked about this, Apple declined comment, saying it doesn’t discuss future products.

Apple is the first such HD Radio deal for music purchasing. Allen Hartle, founder and chief technology officer of Jump2Go, which makes software that synchronizes HD-R programming with iTunes tagging, predicts similar deals with other music providers and device makers.

Preview, buy, download

iTunes HD-R Tagging Tested In order for iTunes tagging to work, a station transmitting an HD-R signal must have an automation system that packages the encoding data so that it’s compatible with a receiver featuring the tagging capability.

Stations must license the Apple iTunes technology, as do automation system providers, said Jeff Detweiler, Ibiquity director of broadcast business development, who said Ibiquity would be talking to all automation vendors about providing the tagging feature.

“With HD Radio, we send out title and artist information” for the receiver display, said Jeff Littlejohn, executive vice president of distribution development for Clear Channel Radio. “There’s more information that you can send as data. One of the fields is called a Unique Field Identifier.”

It’s in this field that Clear Channel and other stations will transmit the special labels or identifiers that can be read by Apple, and eventually, other music players. A station places the identifier on every song in its automation system, which then feeds the data to the HD-R importer and continues the stream out to the transmitter.

Tagging allows a consumer — who’s listening to an HD Radio receiver equipped with an iPod docking feature — to mark a song. The user later takes his or her iPod and connects it to a computer, where iTunes opens up a list of tagged songs. At that point, the user can find more information about the song, hear it again, or buy it and then download it.

Detweiler said tagging isn’t just for FM stations; AMs can do it as well.

Clear Channel is using its own automation software to accomplish the tagging.

Jump2Go is offering its “Go Commerce” service to other radio groups. Go Commerce is a service that synchronizes the station’s programming with the iTunes song identifiers that make RDS and HD Radio tagging possible. The company is also offering iTunes-based e-commerce fulfillment on station Web sites.

The Go Commerce tagging system was tested in August in Seattle on Entercom’s KNDD(FM) and in San Francisco at Entercom’s KBWF(FM), and Cumulus-owned KFOG(FM).

Go Commerce involves station’s automation system using BE’s The Radio Experience software relaying on-air events to a Jump2Go data center for tagging.

The Jump2Go service assigns the iTunes identifier to each song and then the tag data is inserted into the IBOC bit stream.

(For RDS tagging, songs receive two identifying numbers, one for iTunes plus a Jump2Go number that the company could use in the future for other MP3 player song services such as the Microsoft Zune, said Jump2Go Founder/CTO Allen Hartle. He declined to discuss future RDS “tagging” products.)

Listeners are able to buy a song that is playing on the station by pressing a “buy” button in a station’s customized Go Commerce-enabled store, which resides within the station’s Web site.

Hal Kneller, Senior Manager of Business Development, Digital Radio for Harris broadcast, and Mathew Honey, managing director of Unique Interactive, confirmed that the Harris DataPlus Content Management System from Unique Interactive would shortly include an iTunes tagging module, putting Harris in competition with BE.

Leslie StimsonHow does tagging for Apple iTunes work?

A “tag” is a label identifying a song using a proprietary code; in this case the code is for Apple iTunes, but IBOC proponents say stations can use other codes for music purchases from other companies in the future.

The identifying code or label is carried in the data bit stream of an HD-R station signal. A tagging-enabled HD Radio receiver stores information about tagged songs to its memory and transfers the tags to an iPod when the device is docked in the radio. When the consumer connects the iPod to his or her computer, iTunes automatically presents the songs in a new tagged play list for the consumer to preview, buy and download.

Tagging requires a licensing agreement with Apple. No Apple hardware is needed since the tagging occurs using the station’s automation system or data management software. In either case, the information is captured and fed to the station’s HD-R importer.

Some critics say the tagging procedure is too hard and confusing for consumers, and that it will not lead to increased sales of HD Radio receivers nor result in a higher OEM profile for HD-R with automakers. They view the iPod as radio’s competitor, siphoning off traditional radio listening.

The one opponent who answered a query for comment, Bob Young, a self-described ham enthusiast, stated: “I do not think anyone with an iPod will give a hoot about downloading songs from an ‘iBlock’ station, then running to their computer, etc. … Proponents of iBlock are happy to get anything at all they can, get given the fact that no one is buying the receivers, nor are they likely to.”

Ibiquity Digital President/CEO Robert Struble counters that the process is no different from what current iPod listeners go through to purchase a song through iTunes.

“We’ve seen those arguments … and couldn’t disagree more.”

While some radio observers consider the iPod as a symbol of new media competition, enticing younger listeners away from traditional radio, Clear Channel Radio President/CEO John Hogan stated the opposite in the announcement, “The iPod is not a competitor to radio — it is a collaborator in connecting with consumers on a continual basis.”

Clear Channel will be among the first to encode its IBOC stations for the iTune tagging and urged others to support the capability.

The tagging-related announcements received big play in September. Groups that are members of the HD Digital Radio Alliance and agree to tag see the ability as an e-commerce ticket for IBOC, a way to obtain some degree of return on investment for funds expended on HD-R equipment.

Some eight broadcast groups were said to be working out iTune licensing agreements with Apple in September; the alliance planned to announce their names at the NAB Radio Show.

Struble said many stations already have relationships with Apple and the new tagging license agreements “would be an extension” of those.

Broadcasters will receive a percentage of the money from the Apple iTunes songs purchased through the station. Involved companies declined to provide financial details of the arrangements between stations and Apple.

Consumers pay 99 cents per iTunes song purchase, according to information on the Apple Web site. One industry manufacturer reported speculation that a station would receive 4 cents per song or about 5 percent of the purchase price.

Though the music industry hadn’t said anything about the tagging announcement in September, presumably since it’s a legal transaction that makes it easier to purchase music, the labels wouldn’t have a problem with it.

Polk Audio, JBL

The first HD Radio receiver with the tagging, the Polk Audio I-Sonic ES2, is due to be available to consumers this month for $499 from specialty retail stores, Apple stores and direct from JBL said its iHD system, due out sometime during the holiday season, would have the HD Radio/tagging capability. JBL did not announce a price for that unit.

Asked by Radio World what attracted Apple to using HD Radio for tagging, Chris Bell, director of worldwide product marketing for iTunes, stated, “As the third-largest music retailer in the world we wanted to make it even easier for music fans to discover something on the radio and then preview, buy and download it on iTunes. Customers tell us that radio is one of the primary places they find the music they want on iTunes.”

Apple “is working with the NAB and HD Radio station owners to make the feature available to as many stations and hardware manufacturers as possible. The hardware devices are in the ‘Made for iPod’ program that extends the iPod + iTunes ecosystem to thousands of accessories.”

The alliance said tagging builds on Apple’s FM tuner add-on for iPod. The group planned a “multimillion-dollar,” 13-week ad campaign to support the Polk and JBL products at participating retailers from the alliance’s inventory of $250 million worth of air time set aside for 2008.

Ibiquity believe these are the first of several models for car use and says the tagging function is now in its reference design so any receiver maker can license it. The company predicts the tagging feature will be in future portable HD-R radio receivers, as well.

Clear Channel

Clear Channel Radio will encode its 400 main HD Radio stations and 300 HD2 signals.

Unlike encoding for the Arbitron Portable People Meter, iTunes encoding doesn’t affect the audio; it resides in what is now an unused Program Service Data field of the IBOC bit stream, according to several engineers interviewed by RW.

Clear Channel tested tagging on an FM station in San Jose, Calif. in August. Jeff Littlejohn, executive vice president of distribution development for Clear Channel, said that station was chosen for its convenience to the Apple headquarters in nearby Cupertino. Cumulus and Entercom also have tested (see story, page XX).

Littlejohn said that for 30 to 40 years, FM radio has been the place where people discover music, and the tagging technology will encourage them to buy it.

“If people don’t know the name or title, they can tag it and learn more about it. There’s no cost to the tag button.” Though it’s been called a ‘buy’ button, there’s no cost to tag a song and listen to it later, he and others said.

Ibiquity Director of Broadcast Business Development Jeff Detweiler emphasized, “You’re not committed when you hit the tag button.”

Radios in Q4

In an announcement coinciding with the product introduction at the high-end audio show CEDIA in Denver, Polk and JBL said they would be the first receiver makers to combine the Apple iPod iTune tagging and HD-R features.

Up to 50 songs can be tagged using the tag button on the I-Sonic’s front panel or the remote control.

Polk Senior Vice President of Marketing Daniel Hodgson told Radio World its consumer research shows consumers are “highly interested” in having direct iPod connectivity. The original I-Sonic is disc-based, playing DVDs and CDs, along with HD Radio and is XM Satellite capable. The new I-Sonic provides for iPod-sourced content, in addition to HD Radio.

The tagging feature, he said, complements the built-in iPod docking capability and second-generation HD Radio tuner with multicasting capability of the I-Sonic ES2.

The unit accepts iPod models with dock connectors in its top-mounted dock hidden beneath a sliding door. S-Video and composite video outputs allow the user to connect a television or video monitor to the IES2 for viewing video content stored on a video iPod. The unit also includes an alarm clock that can use the radio or iPod as the alarm.

JBL’s iHD is a compact desktop system featuring HD Radio and an iPod dock with iTunes tagging technology. By pressing the “tag” button on the JBL iHD or its included remote control, the tagged info is saved and songs can be purchased the next time the user syncs on iTunes. JBL’s iHD also comes with multiple alarm settings, iPod navigation, clock, IR remote and other radio and alarm features.