Industry experts predict hybrid approach to digital radio

Asia Radio Today, industry news for Asia PacificAdapted from an article on Radioinfo.com.au

Digital radio by streaming app is not going to overtake traditional free-to-air radio any time soon, the audience at ABU’s Digital Broadcasting Symposium heard last week.

“Broadcast radio is still the backbone of radio in Australia and will be for some time,” CRA’s Joan Warner told delegates in Kuala Lumpur. “Apps and streaming cannot take the place of free to air broadcast radio but they do offer us an opportunity to connect in more ways with our listeners.”

This point was echoed by several speakers, including the BBC’s Lindsay Cornell, who said that the high cost of streaming audio is becoming a burden for the BBC.

The more people listen to streaming, the more it costs, explained Cornell, but broadcast radio’s costs are fixed no matter how many people listen.

Cornell pointed to a report on distribution costs, which reveals that the BBC spent US$48 million in 2012/13 on online distribution, more than the total costs of free to air radio and tv annual combined.

The report makes interesting reading for those who think online radio can replace free to air broadcasting any time soon.

Many of the newest DAB+ receivers on show in KL use app-like screen displays and are enabled with wifi streaming as well as digital receiver chips.

Several and many industry experts predict a hybrid solution – part free-to-air and part streaming – will benefit listeners the most. 

In her presentation, Warner quoted Australian research which showed that consumers would like to be able to receive free to air radio in their phones to prolong battery life and minimise data costs.

Free to air digital radio chips in phones will also benefit Telcos, who will be able to reduce network congestion.

“Radio audiences number in their millions, all listening at the same time, so apps and streaming cannot cope with the kind of numbers that listen to free to air broadcasting. A hybrid solution where there are receiver chips in phones to provide the audio, combined with apps is the solution. Hybrid functionality will ensure a bright future for the industry,” said Warner.

Warner revealed that listening via streaming in metro areas of Australia is about 9%, while in regional areas streaming listening was about 2%.

DAB+ listening being three times as much as online streaming listening, she said.