RadioandMusic
| 22 Jul 2019
iBiquity Digital Gereon Joachim : "Digital evolution of radio should be considered in India"

While radio broadcasting is still in its nascent stage in India, the broadcasting experience in major markets like US and Europe has witnessed digital revolution through advancements in technology. HD Radio technology is the trademark for iBiquity Digital's in-band on-channel (IBOC) digital radio technology used by AM and FM radio stations. It was selected by the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2002 as a digital audio broadcasting method for the United States and is the only digital system approved by the FCC for digital AM/FM broadcasts in the US.

Helping the FM stations in these countries to convert to digital is the HD Radio technology which allows AM and FM broadcasters to add a digital broadcast to their existing analogue signals using the same infrastructure, dial position and frequency.

In a conversation with Radioandmusic.com's Chandni Mathur, HD Radio senior vice- president Joe D'Angelo and HD Radio Europe senior director business development Gereon Joachim explain the functioning of the technology and how it will affect radio in the coming years.

Excerpts:

Tell us about HD Radio?

Joe: HD Radio is the name for the US standard digital broadcast technology developed by iBiquity Digital and deployed in about 2300 radio stations in the US. This technology allows AM and FM broadcasters to add a digital broadcast to their existing analogue signals, so they use the same infrastructure, dial position and frequency. Now they are able to broadcast additional programming in the digital format. HD radio is the US standard and provides broadcasters better sound quality, delivering multiple audio channels on a single frequency, deliver traffic and weather information, images associated with audio all synchronized into one broadcasting experience.

Elaborate on the functioning of the technology.

J: HD radio has about six different feature sets. First is the programme service data which is song information and text based data. Second is multicasting which is the ability to do additional audio programs, then we have iTunes tagging which is a feature we launched with Apple around four years ago. We also have artiste experience which is synchronized images, traffic and weather information. What we do in our system is that we broadcast descriptive data about the song that's playing; within that data we also include a component called the Atom Id. This is the unique identifier back to the iTunes music store and we also have another identifier that's linked to the Amazon music store. This enables the receiver to access that metadata, transfer it to your device and allow you with that link to purchase that song.

Are there licenses which the broadcasters have to obtain for the service?

J: There is a commercial license that we give the broadcasters. It's a one time 5000 USD investment and then they buy the digital exciter from any equipment manufacturer so the conversion cost relative to the operating expenditure is relatively low. But it's a very simple process. Internationally it's a little different where the licenses are in-built to the cost of the product so they don't have to take a license directly from us. The license would be contained in the exchange around the exciter.

Gereon: It's important to mention that outside the US there are no recurring licensing fees. It's a one time payment that is required for the technology.

What happens when there is an upgrade required?

J: There are certain upgrades that are contained within the initial purchase price. Depending on the kind of upgrade needed, there maybe an additional payment. Right now we have not faced that in the 10 years of upgrade.

How has the technology progressed in the US and European markets?

J: We were established as a standard in US back in 2002. In 2005, the first commercial stations went on and since then we have converted 2300 radio stations. So the stations that we have converted deliver programming to about 88 per cent of the audience in US and that is growing rapidly, we are expected to touch around 97 per cent by end of 2012. It has taken us a while to get receivers into vehicles but right now we are standard in close to 70 different automotive platforms and available on 150 in total. In US markets, the largest share of radio listening is done in the car and that is the most valuable place for us to get our technology in providing a return to broadcasters for the conversion to digital.

G: In Europe it's a little difficult because there are many different countries with their own regulations. So getting the technology in Europe is challenging as the financial problems there need to be solved first. But Europe is not our main focus at the moment. It's for North and South America to have one radio standard. We know that Europe is important and we are working towards implementing the technology there.

What is the kind of usage and how do you aim to increase it?

J: We have sold around nine million radios so far and since we are standard in so many vehicles, we are seeing the growth rate really accelerate. The market in US is really big so it will take some time for us to switch out the line share in the market. A normal radio listener does 40-50 per cent of the listening in the car, so one may use 8-10 radios but the one that is used most is upgraded with HD radio technology. Around 70 per cent of the revenue is derived from in-car listening. We are starting to see an increase in usage by many rating agencies that track digital radio. We are aggressively pushing into mobile and portable devices which are secondary radio usage. We are trying to align our efforts in commercializing the technology with the broadcasters' needs to monetize the technology.

What is the total number of markets that you operate in?

J: There are roughly 250 measured markets in the US and we have atleast one station in all of them. In the US, 97 per cent of the top 10 radio stations are on the technology. We have a very high conversion rate with the stations that have a high audience.

G: In Mexico, we started in April and it was focused on three markets. We launched 12 stations with the biggest broadcasters in the markets. But from the first day we had automotive companies like Ford and Toyota selling their cars with our technology radios. So the automotive industry understands that HD radio technology is the evolution from AM, FM radio.

What are the technical challenges that you face?

J: There are some technical challenges when you are dealing with such a distributed system as we have to upgrade around 2000 radio stations and we are fortunate to have partnerships with major equipment manufacturers that distribute software and provide upgrade support. It was more difficult in the early years.

G: The biggest challenge in the automotive industry is the drive test to find the right tuning set-ups and this is the general procedure they have to go ahead with.

With the digital technology on the anvil is FM phasing out?

J: No. We have looked at this very closely in terms of substitutes to broadcast radio and whether its analogue, HD radio or Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) there is no more cost effective solution to deliver programming to a mass audience. We in the US have been looking a lot on the evolution from 3G to LTE in the cellular network and the opportunity to deliver on-demand audio services over that network. The reality is that the network is not free, the capacity is not unlimited and free riders will not be allowed to explore that infrastructure nor can it scale to support the kind of audiences that radio stations deliver. Broadcast will always exist specially for the mobile user.

Where do you see the future of radio?

J: I think hybrid radio, the combination of broadcast with IP is in its very early stages where companies are just starting to conceptualize what can be delivered in that experience and determining the best mix of services. So I feel that there is still a lot of opportunity to exploit it. We haven't even begun and I think that will hold tremendous promise for us, service providers, network operators and consumers. For wireless operators, if they carry traffic information over their network it will generate revenue for them.

G: The feedback that I have got is that radio has an old, dusty image and it's time to restructure it. There is a need to give radio a better image and that's what we do through images and tagging. There is a huge demand for good, unique content and æcontent is king'. There is a big demand for local content which is interesting to the audience and I think content will get more localized in the future.

Are you also planning to tap into markets like India?

J: We do have representatives in India talking to different organizations but it also depends on the Indian regulations and we need more information to get field trials up and running.

G: We would definitely be happy to do more in India. We have had some trials and some equipment go into the market, we recognize that there is a huge investment being made in radio in India and we think that a consideration should be taken for digital evolution and HD radio is certainly a viable option.

What is next on the cards for HD radio?

J: We are constantly looking at ways to upgrade the feature sets, decrease the cost and drive the adoption for consumer devices. While we are looking to work with broadcasters and increase the availability of the services, we are also working very aggressively with technology manufacturers to integrate our technology into core elements of other devices. Our main drive right now is to get into handsets as entertainment now is migrating into smartphones and we believe radio should have a prominent position and we want to help drive that innovation.

G: We have officially launched in Mexico recently. We are also in close discussions with Canada where we expect to make success very soon. We have also been doing a lot of field tests in Brazil for a while and we are hoping to finalize it by end of 2012.