Addressing Radio's Future - ProSoundNetwork.com

Addressing Radio's Future

by Steve Harvey. A newly published report indicates that, despite a commonly held belief that the mp3 may have irrevocably changed the way that consumers listen to and discover music, U.S. radio reaches almost 80 percent of the population and the average listener tunes in for just over two hours per day. A session at the recent AES Convention entitled, "Innovations in Broadcasting," offered a glimpse into the future of radio and ways in which it might embrace new technologies in order to maintain that preeminent position in the market.
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A new report from CRE offers hard data
on radio listening habits.
by Steve Harvey.

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A newly published report indicates that, despite a commonly held belief that the mp3 may have irrevocably changed the way that consumers listen to and discover music, U.S. radio reaches almost 80 percent of the population and the average listener tunes in for just over two hours per day. A session at the recent AES Convention entitled, "Innovations in Broadcasting," offered a glimpse into the future of radio and ways in which it might embrace new technologies in order to maintain that preeminent position in the market.

The new report, How U.S. Adults Use Radio and Other Forms of Audio, by CRE, the Council for Research Excellence (with support from the Nielsen Company), surveyed participants' audio media intake in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia and Seattle during 2008. The results shed light on some popular misconceptions regarding the music listening habits among adults. For example, only 10.4 percent of those sampled listened to a digital file on their computers and only 9.3 percent streamed audio. According to the report, only 4.1 percent of total daily listening comprised files, and streamed audio accounted for only 3.8 percent.

On the "Innovations in Broadcasting" panel, David Wilson of the Consumer Electronics Association advocated for the implementation of GPS and storage capability in radio receivers as a way to expand listenership, especially among the younger generation.

As a "push" technology, he noted, "Radio is about discovery." For those comfortable with using the internet, he continued, "Radio should begin to help people by searching." Central to that are the twin ideas of store-and-replay and radio as a source of local information. Store-and-replay would allow listeners to search for and select programming on demand, exactly as many already do for television programming with a DVR. Smart technology in a car receiver, coupled with storage, could mean that a radio station could send programming and advertising to the receiver then automatically replay commercials that are the most geographically relevant, based on the current GPS coordinates.

According to the CRE report, portable mp3 players accounted for only an 11.6 percent daily reach and a 4.9 percent share of all audio, even among the youngest segment (18 to 34), whose portable devices account for only 7.5 percent of listening time daily. Those figures seem set to increase in the near future: David Layer of the NAB, presenting a recap of the recent NAB Radio Show, observed that the big story was the news that portable devices such as the new iPod Nano and the new Zune HD now offer an integrated radio tuner (the former, analog FM; the latter, digital radio), in addition to Insignia's NS-HD01, the first portable HD Radio to market. Currently, he allowed, the use of the headphone cord as the antenna is a limitation, and he hoped to see future models incorporate an internal antenna.

This next generation of mobile players can only serve to bolster the figures published in the CRE report. The survey found that more than 80 percent of people who listen to mp3 players also listen to broadcast radio, averaging 97 minutes daily. The report also notes that listeners who stream audio on their computers average 98 minutes of broadcast radio per day.

Layer further reported that there is a proposal to increase the strength of the IBOC digital signal to improve reception and better penetrate into buildings. Currently, HD Radio receivers continuously blend between the digital and analog signals according to relative signal strength at the location. Thus far, he added, seven years after the start of the transition to digital radio, only 12 to 15 percent of stations have converted from analog transmission.

He also noted a proposal that would bring technology from another format--television--into HD Radio. NAB FASTROAD (Flexible Advanced Services for Television and Radio On All Devices) has proposed an electronic program guide, he said. One challenge, he noted, was how to address the movement of a mobile receiver, such as a car system, though different reception areas.

Geir Skaaden of DTS proposed surround sound as an improvement to the radio listener's experience. "We now have 600 to 700 stations broadcasting Neural Surround on a regular basis," he reported. The U.S. digital radio standard now includes a 1-bit flag that automatically engages the Neural Surround decoder. An increasing number of receivers now incorporate DTS Neural Surround decoders, including those in the Ford Lincoln 2009 lineup, he added.