The following is the third in a series of “All Known Thought” white papers that NPR President & CEO Vivian Schiller asked me to write for internal use and for the public radio system. A fourth one, tying together “Prospects for IP Radio” and this paper in a strategic way is in the works and will follow shortly. --Dennis Haarsager
“… The radio and the telephone and the movies that we know
May just be passing fancies and in time may go
But oh, my dear, our love is here to stay…”
– Ira Gershwin, 1938
I love radio. We love radio. Broadcast radio. The kind with a big tower, a big transmitter, and big romance. Ever see the 1973 George Lucas film, American Graffiti, where Wolfman Jack spun records from a radio shack under the blinking AM tower? Yes, that kind of romance.
Our love is here to stay. But is broadcast radio? The beginnings of an answer to this were addressed in AKT Number 2, “Prospects for IP Radio,” which took a look at developments and technology constraints for IP radio. This AKT looks at what’s happening to innovation on the broadcast side. AKT Number 4 will attempt to tie these together into a plausible strategic direction for radio broadcasting.
There’s a lot of innovation happening in broadcast radio – especially on a global scale – but does the inherently slower development cycle put broadcast at a fatal disadvantage to faster IP radio innovation? Will software people in t-shirts and sneakers beat hardware people in lab coats?
All of the innovation in this space is digital in one way or another, some of it broadcast over traditional broadcast spectrum allocations, and some of it over spectrum that’s new to radio. However, since so many things are going on across the globe, I’ll need to be selective, glossing over innovations in the “whatever happened to” category (e.g., AM stereo and FMX) as well as innovations that lack receiver support and/or are in limited, alpha or beta status.
IBOC and HD Radio®
HD Radio is in a family of radio technologies called “in-band on-channel” (IBOC, pronounced I-bock). Although for some, including HD Radio, “on-channel” is a bit of a misnomer; in IBOC schemes, the digital information accompanies the analog AM or FM signal. In addition to HD Radio, IBOC systems include Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM, DRM+), an open standard used by some shortwave broadcasters and by some long- and mediumwave stations in the Eastern Hemisphere; VuCast (formerly known as FMeXtra), which transmits high speed digital information
, and multicast channels , over FM subcarriers; and CAM-D, intended for hybrid analog and digital on AM stations. I'll skip these three for the reasons cited in the previous paragraph.
HD Radio is a standard controlled by iBiquity Digital Corp. The board includes directors from four major commercial groups as well as capital investment firms. Available in both AM and FM flavors, HD Radio has enjoyed good adoption by broadcasters (especially public radio) and consumer electronics manufacturers in this country. iBiquity reports that 10,000+ retail outlets offer HD Radio products from many manufacturers. Use by auto makers is growing but not universal. It’s also in use in Mexico and Brazil with limited operation or testing elsewhere. Canadian stations are authorized to use HD Radio but none have taken advantage of the technology yet.
Stations actively programming and promoting their HD2 and HD3 channels are beginning to show up in Arbitron data. HD3 listening on one NPR Member station is a bit larger than the station’s same program service streamed online. Based on the limited data available, I don’t think I’m too far out on the limb in estimating that HD Radio listening to HD2 and HD3 is roughly on a par with online listening to same-programming station streams. Since HD1 listening is receiving the benefits of branding, familiarity, and program investments, it may exceed HD2 and HD3. Unfortunately, HD1 listening is rolled up with the main FM channel in Arbitron reporting and the same is true for streaming, so it’s not possible to allocate them between sources. When an HD2 or HD3 channel is rebroadcast by a translator, the translator listening will be rolled up also.
It’s important now to ask, how does HD Radio's progress compare to other rollouts in the broadcast and IP worlds? Let’s take a look at the take-up of other media innovations. These aren’t strictly apples-to-apples, but give a general indication of time span to acceptance.
- FM radio from its 1945 reboot on the current band to significant consumer take-up: about 20 years, then about 10 more years until its listening eclipsed AM.
- Color TV from first modern color receiver (1954) to wide adoption, due to drops in receiver prices and production of most programing in color: about 14 years.
- Internet development from internet ancestor ARPANET (1969, running a blazing 50 kbps) to establishment of internet Domain Name System (.com, .edu, .org, et al.): 15 years.
- Web from establishment of the internet DNS (1984) to development of Mosaic (soon renamed Netscape) web browser: 9 years. Then, hockey stick growth: three years later, in 1996, 30 million were using the internet in North America and 45 million worldwide. By 2003, ten years later, an estimated 2.6 billion illegal downloads of music files were taking place each month.
- Digital TV in the U.S. from 22 “early builder stations” on the air (1998) to ubiquitous consumer DTV receivers and analog shutdown: 11 years. During the 22 years from 1987, when the FCC created a committee to come up with a U.S. DTV standard, to when analog broadcasting ceased, cable and satellite substantially replaced over-the-air television for viewers. Disruption happens.
- Smartphones from the first one sold (IBM/BellSouth in 1993) to the first smartphones (Nokia’s N82 and N95) with media and connectivity capabilities comparable to today’s phones: 14 years. Then, again, hockey stick growth: 139.3 million smartphones of all kinds were sold globally in 2008. As of Sep. 2010, Apple and Google claim they’re activating 430,000 devices per day.
- HD Radio from first station on the air (2002) to first measurable (in some markets) audiences: 8 years.
So, in this context, the pace of HD Radio's uptake seems fairly normal. Compared to other hardware-centric media innovations– even of non-media smartphones – we see that HD Radio is not doing too badly and may even be somewhat ahead of the curve.
There are a lot of HD Radio innovations already here or in the works:
- iTunes Tagging (iPod) and Song Tagging (Zune)
- Traffic system integration
- Electronic program guides
- Sponsor logos and album art
- Text display and Program-Associated Data (PAD), also known as Program Service Data (PSD)
- Pause and “TiVo”-like features
- Amber alerts
- Conditional access
- “Enhanced Other Network” switching (automatically follows your multi-station network from transmitter to transmitter)
- Captioned radio
To me, the most interesting and promising thing about HD Radio technology is that it uses a standard XML markup language called Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL), so applications are limited only by imagination, bandwidth, and what the consumer electronics industry will support.
There are even more interesting innovations on the horizon. RadioDNS provides a way to mate radios with the web, and it’s compatible with HD Radio. The recently-announced Persona Radio project, from the National Association of Broadcasters’ FASTROAD program and iBiquity, would give HD Radio a very detailed level of personalization. More on these important developments in the next AKT paper.
“Pure” Digital Broadcasting
Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB, DAB+) and Digital Multimedia Broadcasting (DMB)
, are members of a family of broadcast standards known as “Eureka 147 ” and maintained by the WorldDMB organization. A European effort dating from the late 1980s (but incorporating the Korean DMB innovation), these broadcast standards have spread worldwide. Some take place in “Band III” (we in North America use for VHF TV channels 7-13), others in new-to-broadcast spectrum like “L-Band” (near 1.5 GHz). Eureka 147 systems multiplex several stations on one radio carrier. These are called a “multiplex” or, more properly, “DAB ensemble.” DAB audio quality is in the FM-to-HD Radio range.
Eureka 147 systems enjoy decent receiver support and market penetration, especially for the original DAB flavor. WorldDMB lists 330 receiving devices – the vast majority of them operating in Band III. In Denmark and the United Kingdom, nearly one-third of listeners are using these services
, and substantial numbers of users exist elsewhere in Europe, Asia and Australia. As the name implies, DMB incorporates video but DMB Audio has been chosen as the digital radio standard in France where some interesting receiver development is underway.
Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting (ISDB) and its mobile version, 1seg, are the Japanese standards for digital television and radio broadcasting. In addition to Japan, it’s been adopted by the Philippines and by a number of Central and South American countries (though in operation only in Japan, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru). The terrestrial version operates in the UHF TV spectrum. As with DAB/DMB and DVB (see below), it is a multiplexed system with multiple services riding on one radio carrier.
Reportedly, all mobile telephones sold in Japan can watch 1seg television – clearly, it’s being used as a solution to the scaling problems of running multimedia programming over cell phone systems in much the same way as Qualcomm’s MediaFLO technology is used for certain cell carriers in the U.S. (see discussion on this in the last AKT paper).
Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) is a family of standards originally developed in Europe and maintained by the Digital Video Broadcasting Project. Think of it as the television counterpart to DAB, though there is now some overlap in capabilities between DVB and DMB (above). A large number of the countries that use DAB for radio use DVB for television. It seems to have the widest adoption of any digital broadcasting scheme with a claimed 500+ million receivers.
Radio people should be interested in DVB because of its DVB-H (handheld) standard. As with ISDB 1seg and MediaFLO, it’s a way to move multimedia to cellular handsets at large scale. A wide variety of companies are making DVB-H products. ICO mim (Mobile Interactive Media) is a satellite service that will offer live television in the U.S. via satellite using the DVB-SH (satellite handheld) standard in addition to navigation and two-way messaging. One of its partners is Delphi (a company active in HD Radio), which will provide auto receivers.
Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) is a set of standards that are America’s entries in this space, competing with DVB and ISDB. Although primarily designed for television, they also support broadcasting at audio data rates and the new ATSC M/H (mobile/handheld) standard is of particular interest. Through regulatory intervention, ATSC receivers are now included in new television receivers, so they are widely available even though that capability is not widely used due to consumer reliance on cable and satellite programming.
The ATSC standard has been the “Rodney Dangerfield” of digital multimedia standards (I’ve taken shots at it myself over the years), but today’s receivers are finally producing acceptable results. The ATSC M/H standard is designed to be even more robust, though at the cost of a significant amount of capacity.
The Open Mobile Video Coalition is promoting applications for the ATSC M/H standard, including proposals to group as many as 50 radio channels into a multiplexed audio service.
In my view, no radio technology is going to compete for ad dollars in an increasingly interactive world unless we figure out how to build some sort of back-channel in real or synchronized time so radios can be personalized, ads and other information can be targeted, and listeners can control their radio experiences. The bulleted enhancements for HD Radio above are enticements for listeners to acquire devices, but the economic engine for this externally attractive vehicle still amounts to a few of Click and Clack’s raccoons running on a treadmill. Interactivity should be our top priority whatever the platform.
The western hemisphere has been a tough sell for “pure digital” radio. DAB has been authorized and on the air in five Canadian cities for a decade, and there is some testing in Mexico. Because VHF TV uses Band III in Canada, its implementation there has been L-Band where receiver availability is sparse. Additionally, broadcaster engagement has been minimal and Canada has Sirius|XM competition (in Europe, where DAB is successful, there is no mobile satellite radio). Consequently, consumer take-up there has been minimal. The result has been that the dismantling of their DAB system this year – the only country which has reversed course. They are now said to be awaiting some future pure digital play for the United States – possibly a replacement of analog (and IBOC) as the Europeans are doing.
In my view, the same things that have contributed to DAB’s failure in Canada would do the same in the U.S. Plus, there’s new spectrum pressure, so it’s unclear where it would even go. Band III (our high VHF TV) has limited possibilities since, although there are hundreds of available receiver models for it, we’d have to weave radio in between digital TV channels in some unproven non-interfering way – and if that isn’t enough, as this is written the FCC is trying to get UHF TV to move back to VHF where possible. Ain’t gonna happen.
For the kinds of interesting things that DVB, ISDB/1seg, and DAB+/DMB can do, Americans are going to have to look to ATSC and ATSC M/H.
The next AKT white paper on strategy for radio broadcasting will talk about playing the cards we’re dealt: IP radio because it’s inherently interactive, HD Radio because it would make it interactive is not rocket science (some efforts already underway), and, though it may be a longshot from a radio perspective, ATSC because TV broadcasters are hungry for new ways to justify and monetize the spectrum they use.
Special thanks to NPR’s Mike Starling and DAVID Systems’ Vincent Beneviste for valuable help on this white paper.