HD Radio's Electronic Program Guide

February 1, 2010

Insight to IBOC, Feb 2010

With nearly 2,000 HD Radio broadcast services now operating in the United States, we're certainly approaching a critical mass on the delivery side of digital radio. What will attract the critical mass on the consumer side? Consumers have recently become accustomed to the availability of program service information (metadata) along with their digital media experiences. HD Radio offers program-associated data (PAD) for this purpose via the HD Radio Program Service Data (PSD) service. PSD can be used to label the artist and title of a song, or the host and topic of a program. Or it can provide a link for more information about the current content. HD Radio broadcasting has been delivering PSD to HD Radio receivers since its inception.

Electronic Program Guide (EPG) services are the next frontier in program data for radio broadcasting. While PAD is about what's playing now, EPG is about what's coming up — a metadata method of forward promotion for radio stations that can be displayed full time on a user's screen. Besides making radio seem more hip and up to date, EPG can increase listenership (as all good forward promotion does) and add to the stickiness of listenership by keeping audiences aware of what's next.

Figure 1. The Radio EPG ecosystem

The NAB Fastroad EPG Project

To bring Radio EPG services closer to fruition, the NAB Fastroad program funded an EPG development project. BIA/Kelsey and Broadcast Signal Lab combined forces and won the original contract to explore the business and technical requirements of EPG using the HD Radio platform. Unique Interactive of London joined the project team, bringing its vast experience as an EPG and digital services developer. The project team worked closely with Ibiquity Digital, the inventor and licensor of HD Radio technology, and with representatives of the radio broadcast industry, the consumer electronics industry and the broadcast equipment manufacturing industry.

Phase 1 of the EPG project produced a report (www.nabfastroad.org/NAB_FASTROAD_EPG_Final.pdf) in 2008 describing the business and system requirements for an effective HD Radio EPG service, and presenting an EPG ecosystem as a model for the development of sustainable EPG service delivery.

It also pointed out the challenges to terrestrial radio EPG, since it had never been attempted before. Unlike the well-established EPGs in DTV, there is no print-media predecessor or existing database from which to build an electronic guide for radio. Add to this the considerations that there are many more radio stations than TV stations, radio coverage is less uniform than most local TV signals, and there's no telling what the EPG display will actually look like on the many radio form factors, and you get a sense of the magnitude of the effort.

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Insight to IBOC, Feb 2010

To help sort these issues and test the feasibility of a radio EPG ecosystem, lab testing of various EPG modes and a subsequent field trial were proposed and subsequently received a second round of funding by NAB Fastroad.

The culmination of this second phase of the EPG project was a field trial of the HD Radio EPG service conducted in the Boston/Providence/Worcester markets during the summer of 2009. A remote real-time demonstration of the Boston-area EPG system was presented on the exhibit floor of the NAB Radio show in Philadelphia in September 2009.

Figure 2. Various views of Radio EPG data in online presentation during field trials.

Enhancing localism via EPG

These three adjacent Arbitron markets were selected as the field trial location for several reasons. An analysis done during the first phase of the EPG project showed that one of the challenges to the delivery of EPG services was in the geographic diversity of radio broadcast coverage areas. An effective EPG service would provide the listener with an accurate listing of the programs available to the listener at his location. EPG services should filter out false positives, which are program listings of stations that are not receivable at the listener's location, and false negatives, which are missing listings for stations that are receivable at the listener's location. The triple-market area provided a geographically compact example of the overlapping service areas of stations in adjacent markets. These markets also represent the scope of market sizes in the nation — large, medium and small. In addition, several major radio groups that are supportive of the EPG trial own stations in these markets. Broadcast Signal Lab was able to leverage its long-standing relationships with commercial and non-commercial stations in these markets to obtain participation in the field trial.

As Figure 1 indicates, a key component of the EPG ecosystem (and thus the field trial, as well) was the multiplatform delivery of EPG service. So in addition to presenting the EPG as a 1.7kb/s HD Radio datacast, the same data was provided on a Web service (optimized for handheld device browser display), and viewed on a PC and an Iphone at the NAB Radio Show demonstration (see Figure 2). Because the Web service is available ubiquitously, it included the ability to manually filter the display of available stations by ZIP code, as shown in Figure 3. Ultimately this could be done automatically by a location-aware browser/device, on a national or even international scale.

Figure 3. EPG with geo-filtering

The First EPG-capable receiver

The EPG team was especially pleased by the support of Ibiquity and Korean consumer electronics manufacturer Cydle who collaborated to provide a functional prototype HD Radio EPG receiver on hand for demonstration at the NAB Fastroad EPG booth during the 2009 NAB Radio Show (see Figure 4).

The EPG functions supported by Cydle's touch screen implementation (shown in Figure 5) included:

  • Select station from list
  • Load and display EPG of selected station
  • Refresh EPG data
  • Display previous day's schedule
  • Display next day's schedule
  • Close EPG
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    Insight to IBOC, Feb 2010

    Figure 4. Cydle HD Radio tuner display with EPG feature

    Project results

    Some preliminary conclusions from this field work were drawn.

  • EPG services, delivered over the air and (more immediately) via networked devices, hold the promise of engaging more listeners more often, in the face of competitive media choices, by presenting the listener's local radio dial as a single service with many choices. In addition, EPG services provide an opportunity to supply continuous forward promotion to the current listener, in parallel to whatever is on the air at the moment.
  • The highest and best use of EPG is to present all stations' listings as if the local radio dial were a single service. The listener would see listings for all stations available at the listener's location, similar to listings for a satellite radio or satellite/cable TV service.
  • The service bureau has been shown to be an effective model for generating and delivering EPG services. The service bureau is responsible for aggregating EPG data from numerous stations for presentation in a unified user interface and publishing it over multiple distribution platforms.
  • The classic chicken-and-egg problem is resolved by immediately delivering EPG services via the Internet, while waiting for growth in the market adoption of EPG-capable radio receivers.
  • Chicken-and-egg problem
    The chicken-and-egg problem is the situation where broadcasters are reluctant to launch a new service if there are no receivers to receive it, while CE manufacturers are reluctant to develop devices to receive a service that broadcasters are not yet broadcasting. The slow adoption of FM stereo, RBDS and color TV are examples of this challenge.

    Reaction to the research gathered from these Radio EPG trials has been cautiously positive. Broadcasters have confirmed by the manner in which they participated in the trial that radio station programming, operations, engineering and IT time is precious. The trial worked out the kinks on how to set up EPG on an HD Radio transmission system so it can be executed efficiently. Once EPG transmission is established, stations would be well served by their software vendors (e.g. automation and/or traffic) if the vendors develop easy-to-use interfaces that incorporate EPG activity into the existing workflow.

    Figure 5. Cydle HD Radio EPG display

    What's next?

    What remains is more research and development to define and test the business and operational models that make sense for U.S. radio broadcasters. We see the radio broadcast industry making strong moves toward serving its audiences not only over the air using its traditional broadcast infrastructure but also to devices connected to the wired and wireless Internet. Connected devices typically offer a rich user experience, including a lot of program information. It may pose a competitive risk to radio broadcasters if a similar user experience is not provided over the air.

    Rick Ducey is the chief strategy officer for BIA Advisory Services, BIA/Kelsey; David Maxson is the owner of Broadcast Signal Lab; Skip Pizzi is a media technology consultant; Adrian Cross is the software development team leader at Unique Interactive.

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