Integrate digital radio into the new multimedia landscape


Ruxandra Obreja, World Digital Radio, DRMThe author of this commentary is president of the Digital Radio Mondiale consortium.

While it is not yet out of the woods of COVID-19, there is a growing sense of great separation between the sad times of 2020 and the perhaps more positive, life-affirming “post-pandemic” feeling of 2021.

Things have changed in our radio or audio media world. There has been a marked increase in the use of technology and gadgets. Streaming and podcasting have exploded. Even the older generation has caught up with the more technologically savvy young people. Boomers and Millennials Zoom together weekly (at least a third of the over-65s in the US do, according to OnePoll) and use “bearables” (headphones, earphones, etc.).

Radio usage has remained high throughout this time, as radio has proven to be a very useful basic tool, valued for its immediacy, simplicity, camaraderie and, lately, its improved mood and sound. evasion.

Crossing digital currents

This has not gone unnoticed by the tech giants who are appropriating and using radio formats or even setting up what can only be called “radio stations”. So Amazon is reportedly building a live audio platform intended to disrupt traditional radio and compete with Clubhouse or Spotify’s new live audio platform, in Axios at the end of August (“Scoop: Amazon is quietly building a live audio business“). The idea is that Amazon pays podcast providers, celebrities, musicians to stimulate conversations and live events (old-fashioned chat and live radio shows), all accessible through Amazon and possibly on gadgets. like Alexa. In other words, a sort of curated radio content but on subscription. Nice pay radio, a sort of Netflix for the ears. So is this the way to integrate radio into the new media reality?

Not ignoring these developments, the radio stations themselves have invested in streaming and have developed a stable of attractive podcasts. Different studies show that listeners engage more actively with broadcasters if they also enjoy streaming or podcasting. They seem to be (at least in the US) younger, more mobile, the kind of listeners that advertisers are interested in.

[Read: EBU Puts Radio Finger in the Air?]

Thus, radio stations linked to social media or to the OTT space do it for various reasons: it is the trend (they can become “digital”, but not really digital in the sense of broadcasting), there is a need attract or retain audiences for public stations and maximize advertising profits for private stations. In the specific case of commercial stations, this mix of broadcast and podcast, or type of IP presence, is a very useful way to increase revenue in an industry enjoying increased popularity but lower advertising dollars during the pandemic. .

Even in a place like India, where radio is only a fraction of the advertising pie (2-3%) and advertising revenue has been greatly affected by the pandemic, this mix is ​​significant. Advertising on radio “plugins”, such as podcasts, has become a necessity as radio still occupies a key position for Indian advertisers. “Radio is a preferred partner of brands because of its mass, local reach and high engagement,” says Megha Ahuja, vice president – digital media planning, Carat India.Changing the frequency”)

We seem to be seeing cross currents with social media and big tech moving towards radio, but increasingly on subscription, and radio trying to maximize usage by using platforms while trying to maintain its universality. . Do these currents then cross or merge?

Where’s the digital radio in there?

Digital radio is definitely a part of the new digital age, as the audio quality of broadcasts and the additional features make it an almost new digital platform that can be accessed primarily in the car (where analog AMs and FMs experience interference) and then on mobile and in homes. In DRM, available on all broadcast bands, the quality of FM sound in AM is obviously superior to any old-fashioned analog sound your grandparents might have enjoyed. Internet content, images, multilingual content, not to mention disaster alerts, educational tidbits or fully illustrated lessons with sound and images and traffic information are all possible and available. In particular, the potential to provide education through audio and visual material, even from the Internet, but without the Internet, has become evident during a pandemic, especially in places that are still learning podcasting.

And if only digital radio is available, you can create your own podcast by recording your favorite shows and playing them later, while the program schedule is available at the push of a button. All of this can be done using earth waves and not fiberglass and precious bandwidth, another scarce commodity. Regulators are already feeling the bandwidth pinch with all the podcasts and other frilly stuff in demand. And so are policy makers who are hoping that waving the unfinished 5G banner for broadcast or waiting for some other miraculous technology will get them out of the woods. They seem to be hoping that the big investments and changes needed to roll out digital radio will be unnecessary. This is probably also causing the big social media buzz among broadcasters. But in absolute terms, it remains tiny compared to listening to the radio. If the radio could offer more by using digital standards, while keeping its fundamental values ​​and its heart, the media landscape would be richer.

Son of broadcasting

The miracle blending technology is already here. It is called digital radio and must be seriously supported and deployed, so that informative, local, exciting and engaging or educational radio, and not subscription music, remains accessible to all. The switch to digital radio has been slow, with varying degrees of success in the UK, US and Europe, where cut-off dates are pushed back into the long grass (see the recent decision in Switzerland). Other countries, like India, have a good head start. The hope is that complicated assessments and analyzes will not now prevent sticking to the fully open, non-company-owned DRM standard (in FM, too). This move would give confidence to the receiver industry (which will not engage in their production unless there is a clear official commitment and announcement), listeners.

Digital radio (eg, DRM and other recognized open standards) is a neat, more robust solution that eliminates the scourge of interference encountered in analog. DRM offers more channels, more choice, and many more digital benefits. There has to be a step change in communication so that decision makers make the right decision, while there is increased acceptance of a mixed media landscape in which broadcast and podcast can coexist and reinforce each other.

So you might want to accept an “invite” to the Clubhouse (its nifty trick) or subscribe to a lot of podcasts (and probably listen to a few) but you’re still very likely to turn on your (digital) car stereo and enjoy it so much more, while stuck in traffic.

The technology must work, but digital content, well linked to social networks, must be attractive from the start. Podcasting remains the son of broadcasting, but the sons often want to emulate and surpass their fathers.

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