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Hybrid Described as Radio’s Best Chance

Advocates say Big Tech may change the dashboard fundamentally

WorldDAB, Eureopean Broadcasting Union, automotive audio, RadioDNS
A RadioDNS service converts broadcast parameters to internet domains, as noted in this slide from the webinar.

Big Tech is coming after automotive dashboards to win the ears and eyes of drivers/passengers; and radio’s best chance to survive this attack is to get hybrid radio into cars/trucks fast.

This “call to action” was expressed repeatedly during a recent webinar hosted by WorldDAB and the European Broadcasting Union.

“DAB+ at the Heart of Hybrid” delved into advances being made in hybrid radio technology by various companies and associations.

[Read: Broadcasters Conspiring in Their Own Demise]

Hybrid radio refers to platforms that combine over-the-air broadcast reception with two-way wireless connectivity.

The webinar focused on the role of hybrid radio in the DAB context, but themes of the conversation — threats from large digital competitors, the use of metadata, the future role of broadcast radio — are of interest globally.

Stark Warning
The presenters warned against allowing large digital competitors to take control of in-vehicle entertainment environments.

“When you look at what Big Tech can do and what they’ve (already) done in the app space — just look at Apple and Amazon and YouTube: They’re basically giving away audio content to aggregate an audience to basically monetize,” said Joe D’Angelo, Xperi’s senior vice president of radio.

“They’re stealing your audience by commoditizing an audio platform and audio service,” he said. “That’s the threat.”

Numerous topics were touched upon during a fast-moving two hours, thanks to the gentle but firm time management skills of moderator and WorldDAB Vice President Jacqueline Bierhorst.

Ben Poor, EBU’s project manager for digital radio, discussed the future of radio.

“We think that DAB can provide the best of broadcast,” said Poor. At the same time, “hybrid (radio) is the best way of creating a better user experience. So using broadcast plus IP makes for a range of new user experiences that are more engaging, that are more interesting, that are more dynamic, and that give the user more information and more value.”

RadioDNS Project Manager Nick Piggott explained the role of RadioDNS in creating open standards for hybrid radio, with an emphasis on the “open” part of the equation.

“The purpose of open standards is that they are durable,” Piggott said. “That means they last. They’re not anchored to the success of one company. And they’re interoperable, which gives you that huge scaling capability,” while reducing costs for broadcasters and manufacturers by only having one interface to support.

Radioplayer Director of Automotive Partnerships Laurence Harrison said, “We’ve got some experience in this area because we already powering approaching a million cars on roads today with hybrid radio and DAB+ at its heart. That’s through our collaboration partnership with Volkswagen Group and previously the fantastic team at Audi, which is now Car.Software Org.” Harrison noted that Radioplayer has recently formed a partnership with BMW Group, with Radioplayer’s hybrid radio solution going into BMW dashboards starting next year.

Added Andrea Heidrich, managing director of Radioplayer Austria: “Metadata is the key to the success of Radioplayer. Radioplayer ensures that only official station metadata provided directly by the broadcasters is used on car dashboards.”

Xperi’s Joe D’Angelo highlighted the features of his company’s DTS AutoStage hybrid radio system.

“This platform is open to all broadcasters,” said D’Angelo. “It’s free of charge. There’s no required investment. The data flows through the system ensuring that broadcasters are constantly in control of the end-user experience.”

The first carmaker success for DTS AutoStage was its adoption by Daimler last year.

Pluxbox CTO Cas Adriani titled his talk “A Brand Isn’t What You Say, It’s a Sum of All Experiences You Create.” He urged broadcasters to present the best visuals on hybrid radio screens.

“Your brand strategy is as strong as your weakest link,” said Adriani. “If people see your old logo or no logo at all in the station list, it’s hard for them to connect all the efforts you put in this advertisement for this important moment choosing the station.”

Finally, Radioline COO Xavier Filliol talked about his company’s hybrid radio efforts.

“Today what we provide is two hybrid radio applications,” he said. “One is HTML5-based: We presented it with Xperi last year at CES. And the other one is on (compatible with) the Android Automotive OS. We did it with Panasonic Automotive System Europe since last year in May.”

Panel Discussion
The webinar concluded with a presenters’ panel discussion on the merits of hybrid radio — that it uses the best of broadcast and IP to deliver a superior in-vehicle entertainment experience, doing so free from the influence of Big Tech.

“We need to make sure, as an industry, that we are working hard to keep radio prominent in that environment,” said Harrison of Radioplayer.

“The by-product of Big Tech’s involvement in the dashboard — and Android Automotive is a good example of this — is the dash becoming an app ecosystem … Hybrid radio is absolutely the platform on which we can build and innovate and create that radio experience that is going to keep radio exciting; keep it strong and keep it relevant.”

Radio isn’t alone in wanting to keep Google’s grip off the dashboard.

“Automakers are as leery of Big Tech as broadcasters are,” D’Angelo said. “That’s why we consider — and I think everyone would agree with this — that we’re in this space to provide a competitive response to Big Tech. … The whole reason we’re doing this is to provide control to broadcasters and provide an alternative to the car companies for how they can innovate around audio services.”

Will radio broadcasters and automakers be able to resist the incursion of Big Tech in the world’s dashboards? Will radio become “just another audio stream” in a vast catalog offered by Google and other Big Tech providers? The answer has yet to be written.

View the webinar “DAB+ at the Heart of Hybrid” on the WorldDAB YouTube channel.


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