Reflecting on how a consumer would interact with an HD Radio station on a smartphone or other mobile device and the backend ecosystem for making that work, Rey Mena, founder and co-president of Emmis Interactive, said "We've closed the backchannel."
That, and the demo of a prototype smartphone that contains an enabled FM HD Radio chip, are the big news for digital radio at this show.
| Emmis Interactive’s HD Radio Smartphone App allows users to search the radio dial either by frequency or by music format.
A year ago, NAB FASTROAD — which stands for Flexible Advanced Services for Television & Radio On All Devices and is now under the new NAB LABS — provided funding and charged iBiquity Digital, Intel and Emmis Interactive, with BIA/Kelsey in a project management role, to develop an end-to-end system for HD Radio on a smartphone.
The timing was right for a lot of reasons, but especially because HD Radio chip size, power consumption and cost have dropped enough to make the concept workable.
Intel, along with iBiquity, has been working on chip development while Emmis Interactive has been leveraging iBiquity technology to create a new HD Radio app and a backend system, to insert and track ads and associated data all the way from the automation system to broadcast.
Emmis Interactive is calling the broadcast insertion system "TagStation." The system pairs HD Radio broadcasts with the phone's data channel to deliver features like couponing, geo-location ads, SMS integration and other advanced advertising capabilities. The effort will drive what Mena says is a more interactive HD Radio experience.
"When we took on this project we asked ourselves, 'Could we create a competitive product that leverages the best of broadcasting radio, yet uses the data channel to create an immersive experience for the consumer and opens up aworld for advertisers to engage listeners?,'" Mena said. "The answer was yes. Today, we've created a product that redefines the HD Radio experience. Our solution will not only deliver a unique experience, but make advertising measurable, which is something not possible with broadcast radio."
With the updated HD Radio app, the visuals on the phone look like they would with a streamed audio product, helping radio keep up with other personalized audio in the dash and other mobile devices. That kind of relevancy, especially as consumers connect their smartphones into their cars to hear "their" audio Internet streams, is key, say digital radio proponents.
"Being on the phone is essential for radio," said iBiquity Digital President and CEO Bob Struble, who's been warning that radio cannot take its place in the digital dashboard for granted.
Indeed, explains Mena, the new HD Radio app and associated backchannel "will help radio regain some of its luster in the dash. What everybody else is selling is an experience," he said, referring to Internet and other personalized audio services.
The new work promises to go beyond Artist Experience, in which HD audio is synched with visual images, like album art. Clear Channel and Greater Media are deploying Artist Experience while Beasley is implementing both Artist Experience as well as its cousin: "Advertiser Experience."
"Advertiser Experience is offered at one of our stations, KCYE(FM) in Vegas right now," said NAB Radio Board Chair Caroline Beasley, who's also executive vice president and chief financial officer of Beasley Broadcast Group. She said with a newer HD Radio receiver, attendees will be able to see how KCYE implements Advertiser Experience from the show floor.
The industry is united in the effort to persuade wireless carriers and handset makers to integrate FM HD Radio chips in more cell phone models and other devices, say digital radio proponents. Those discussions are ongoing and Mena says the initial response from carriers has been "extremely favorable."
The pitch to carrier: The broadcasting one-to-many model is an efficient use of spectrum as carriers face the need to limit their customers' data use. But to persuade wireless carriers to build such mobile devices, proponents feel stations need more flexibility to raise digital power — to enable advanced data features afforded by digital radio technology. Higher power also would allow digital coverage to better match that of analog FM, seen as critical to the effort to encourage HD FM chips in mobile devices, proponents feel.
In January 2010, the FCC allowed most FM HD stations to increase digital power voluntarily by up to –6 dB, to 14 dB below carrier. Some can go up to 10 dB below carrier, depending on distance separations from first-adjacent stations. The symmetric increase allowed digital FMs to replicate analog service more closely, in terms of geographic coverage area and building penetration.
Since May 2010, stations may raise digital power and simply tell the commission via notification letter. The number of FMs transmitting HD Radio has increased to 1,708 as of March, according to the FCC. That compares to some 1,627 FMs from the same time last year.
Based on a review of a sample of notifications, the Media Bureau estimated that 361 FMs are now operating with increased digital power, with most implementing the 6 dB increase and operating at –14 dBc.
But proponents, and the commission, believe more FMs would be able to raise their digital power levels and avoid interference to their neighbors if they could do so asymmetrically. Right now, stations need experimental authorization to do so. The commission is reviewing comments on the issue.
Several transmitter manufacturers exhibiting at the show indicate their customers' stations are interested in the higher FM HD power levels, and will get a transmitter that can operate at higher power when they do first-time conversions or facility modifications.
Nautel Regional Sales Manager Gary Liebisch said the ability to put multicast channels on FM translators has sparked interest in small-market stations to go HD.
Ibiquity Digital estimates close to 2,200 stations are transmitting HD Radio signals, with an additional 1,300 multicast channels.
At the show, attendees will see several cars displayed, according to Steve Baldacci iBiquity's digital senior vice president of marketing. The tech developer announced expanded support from automakers earlier this year, saying HD Radio receivers are or will be available as a factory-installed feature on more than 110 vehicle models from 23 automotive brands.
IBiquity is planning a celebration at the show, to celebrate the consumer launch of HD Radio in Mexico City today.
Several sessions are devoted to HD Radio at the show. Chief among them is today's all-day Broadcast Engineering Conference workshop, "HD Radio 101 for Managers and Engineers." The goal is to provide attendees with a successful implementation strategy for HD Radio technology from management and engineering perspectives.
Another BEC session covers a new type of FM+HD booster system being tested using a Harris transmission system. Also, NPR Labs plans to demo its new online mapping system showing FM HD and DTV coverage.