Dr Les Sabel, S-Comm Technologies Pty. Ltd
Have you ever heard a song on the radio and wanted to know more about the artist, check out their back catalogue, or touring dates – or buy their album? Well that is all possible now.
Have you heard an interview and wanted to know more – or to disagree and put your own view? Have you heard an interesting offer or competition and made a mental note to check it out– and then promptly forgotten?
Well responding to live radio content, redeeming an offer or broadcast coupon, sharing news or gossip you hear on the radio with friends or, voting or commenting on radio are all part of interactive radio. Radio’s future is hybrid – using the broadcast core as the robust reliable delivery mechanism it is and adding one to one interactivity, it’s immediate and engaging.
Firstly, we need to really understand what hybrid radio is – and what it does for radio audiences and clients.
Hybrid Radio is the combination of broadcast delivery and internet (IP) interactivity provided by the IP channel. The most efficient and cost effective delivery of the primary content to many people simultaneously is via DAB+ radio broadcast. If the user’s radio receiver also has an internet connection available, e.g. home Wi-Fi or mobile internet, their radio experience becomes hybrid. They still get free to air all the entertainment, comedy, latest music, gossip, news, weather, fire warnings, traffic issues, surf report, beach conditions, cricket scores, tennis update, gift ideas, a laugh, old favourite songs using broadcast, and in addition they get to interact with the broadcast content via a back channel.
The DAB family of standards  has been updated over the last few years to include the broadcast delivery of live links in the Program Associated Data (PAD) through the use of DLplus (DL+)  and Slideshow (SLS) . These new methods provide alternatives to what can be delivered through Broadcast Website .
DAB+ can provide a full range of services over the DAB+ broadcast channel including Service Linking and Following, TPEG traffic information, and Service and Program Information (SPI)  which allows broadcast radio to be presented with logos, strap lines and other metadata associated with the station brand.
The addition of an IP back-channel provides a range of other services which use that capability for interactive features such as hyperlinks and tagging.
In this article we explore a number of Use Cases (UCs) for hybrid radio and discuss the benefits for listeners and how hybrid adds value for broadcasters. We also discuss what is needed to bring these compelling features to mainstream digital radio. This paper is an extension of the original use cases presented to the WorldDMB Radio Hybrid Task Force .
The basic operation of hybrid radio is shown in Figure 1 for the case of a smartphone with DAB+ broadcast capability.
The primary content delivery of the audio service and associated PAD is delivered by DAB+ broadcast to the listener’s DAB+ enabled smartphone. The digital radio application in the smartphone allows the listener to activate links provided in the broadcast content to interact with the broadcaster’s and 3rd party websites via the mobile network. Receiver and infrastructure functionality to enable hybrid radio is discussed later in this paper.
The following Use Cases demonstrate a range of different situations where the listener can engage with their favourite stations and personalise their radio experience.
While listening to his favourite station John notices that they are promoting a special segment on their website on a particular artist so he clicks on the link that has been broadcast free to air using DAB+ to his DAB+ enabled phone and is shown the homepage of the service, explores what it has to offer and then clicks on another link that has been broadcast by DAB+ to register for free concert tickets – great result! John get’s quick tickets to see his favourite band and interacts with his station using a backchannel while main content is broadcast.
This use case is particularly useful for broadcasters, as it allows them to maintain their mainstream content and cross promote new DAB+ broadcast services and pop-up stations with special programming for concerts, sport or even emergency warning services when a flood, cyclone or bushfire affects part of the coverage area.
While this UC can also be fulfilled by delivering slides to the user showing the new service, the addition of the broadcast web link over DAB+ makes it easy for listeners to further explore interesting content and engage with the music they enjoy.
E-Commerce is a very important addition to the broadcaster’s profitability as it adds value to their advertising clients. The addition of DAB+ broadcast receiver chips in smartphones will encourage more listening due to massively reduced costs of delivery for the listener. Studies in Australia and the UK have both shown that listeners are very wary of using internet delivery/streaming due to data charges and battery impact and welcome the addition of broadcast digital radio capabilities.
For example: Alex is listening to the football broadcast on DAB+ and hears an advertisement about discount cameras from a local store. He taps his phone screen to activate a broadcast URL associated with the broadcast image and connects to the store’s online sales site where he can review the discounted cameras and purchases one at a great price.
The broadcaster can broadcast links to such sales websites via DAB+ so advertisers can track advertising effectiveness. Currently this model is only possible on internet radio apps which have relatively low penetration and usage. In Australia the proportion of listeners streaming radio content on their mobile phones is significantly less than those listening via a DAB+ device which has only been around for five years.
The integration of DAB+ chips in mobile phones and connectivity in household receivers will dramatically change the proportion of listeners that can use these hybrid functions. This is great for audience engagement and great for advertisers
Another good use case is music purchase. Jenny is listening to the Top40 show and hears a song from a new artist. She loves the new song and decides to purchase the album so she clicks on the purchase link which has been broadcast over DAB+ and is redirected to the partnered music download service. Hybrid radio has enabled Jenny to purchase music instantly.
Station – listener interaction is a key part of personality driven programs. An example is the promotion of competitions and radio celebrity activity. Hybrid radio interactivity allows the listener to get directly and instantly involved in the competition, allowing them to be more engaged than traditional phone in competitions as shown in Figure 4.
Another example of interactivity is Tagging. This feature allows the listener to “tag” an item for later review through a single button press. This can be done on any broadcast DAB+ receiver which has an IP connection, from table-top to personal/smartphone to vehicles even those without colour screens.
When the tag button is pressed the time and service information is recorded in the listeners “tag account”. The combination of the service information and time allows the content at the time of the tag to be determined, for example a new competition, community service announcement or an advert. The broadcaster responds to the tag by providing a link to the tagged content directly to the listener’s nominated account.
The ability to link to a station’s website, or other information provider, adds real value for listeners; below we see some examples of news, weather and sports results. Providing these links encourages the listener’s loyalty and engagement with a station. For example they will tune in to a broadcast program for the racing results on Saturday or the weather when a storm event is approaching and can activate links broadcast using DAB+ to find out more over the backchannel.
Broadcast slides (SLS) or images and text can allow listeners to use the internet to drill down on information about the station, presenter or shows encouraging loyalty and engagement.
In addition broadcast links via DAB+ can allow the listeners to access the station or advertiser’s social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
The “more information” use case applies to many more scenarios. Allowing the listener to activate a link broadcast by DAB+ to find additional information provides significant opportunities for broadcasters and listeners alike.
Benefits and Cost Effectiveness of Hybrid Digital Radio
Hybrid radio has benefits for listeners, broadcasters and advertisers. Listeners benefit through the ability to receive a robust interference free signal free to air via broadcast with no impact on data allowance/plan or battery life. Using the back channel capability, they can take action directly and immediately by activating broadcast links. For advertisers this immediacy provides a direct response mechanism which makes listener engagement with the broadcast content and the radio station/show/celebrity more measurable.
Using hybrid digital radio will minimise costs to all parties in the chain. It uses the most cost effective delivery method to the listeners in one-to-many DAB+ broadcast radio so minimising mobile or Wi-Fi data usage for streaming while still delivering the same high level of functionality. It uses the IP connectivity for what it is best for, that is one-to-one connections to allow listeners to gain further information and to engage with the radio stations and to even buy products prompted by a radio ads. Hybrid radio maintains the relevance of broadcasting and keeps it competitive with other IP based delivery streaming services.
Hybrid radio minimises costs. For broadcasters it minimises the amount of data traffic, reducing the high volume of data required to service point-to-point internet streaming. For internet streaming to 100,000 simultaneous listeners, which is typical of popular stations in major Australian cities, the broadcaster will need to fund facilities, e.g. a content aggregator and CDN like Akamai, to deliver 6.4Gbps just for the audio (at 64kbps). Interactivity only requires website level data capacity to be provided by the broadcaster rather than the very high streaming requirement, a considerable saving. In Europe and the Asia Pacific with greater population densities the savings are significantly greater.
For listeners on the internet it is all about data capacity and battery life. Several studies such as have shown that listeners would prefer to consume radio content on their mobile phone via free to air DAB+ broadcast to minimise data consumption and the risk of exceeding their data cap and the drain on their smartphone battery. Those studies have shown that using internet streaming to deliver audio typically consumes significantly more battery power!
Hybrid also allows broadcasters to better target their content by understanding what their audience wants. By using interactivity methods which are directed via the broadcaster’s website the broadcasters can measure the relevance to their audience of live and local content in real time.
Current Technical Committee Activities
A number of DAB ETSI standards are currently being updated by the WorldDMB Technical Committee through the Hybrid Radio Task Force. The standards which are being updated cover Slideshow and EPG delivery  and  were submitted to ETSI for finalisation in the 3rd quarter 2014 and are expected to be published in the 1st quarter of 2015.
What is needed now…
The best way to promulgate these new features is by using them – the more use the quicker they will become mainstream.
Broadcasters must lead the way and provide these new features on their services. This is not difficult and Australian radio broadcasters have been delivering images and text for many years. Much of the data and metadata is already available from systems and services delivered on stations’ websites and can easily be repurposed via Program Associated Data (PAD) Servers for inclusion in the PAD delivered over DAB+ broadcast.
To take advantage of the momentum that hybrid radio is producing broadcasters are encouraged to contact their PAD server and multiplexer head-end system providers and request that these new features be offered as system upgrades at affordable prices.
Broadcasters are also encouraged to discuss and work with radio chip, module and product manufactures, network operators and retailers to encourage them to rethink the radio products that they currently deliver and to offer consumers radio devices which include these new features.
Through WorldDMB, we can engage with the automotive industry around the world to ensure DAB+ radio is seamlessly integrated into cars and where safe, its associated hybrid features are included.
So the future is bright, as bright as we want to make it, by working together as a team all parts of the radio ecosystem can benefit from these compelling new features.