Radio of dash of 58 Eldorado – cadmanof50s @ flickr (CC)
Since the inception of DAB, much has been talked about the platform’s data capabilities. Indeed, quite a lot of the justification for commercial radio engaging so convincingly was that it allowed broadcasters to provide more than just audio services and provided a path to genuinely new revenue streams outside of airtime advertising.
What actually happened of course is that everyone piled into making new radio stations, and the available capacity was quickly used up by existing stations, new stations from existing operators and a handful of new entrants. Landgrab meant that muxes were full, and there was no space left for the data services. The critical upside of muxes full of radio stations was to create an absolutely compelling and simple to understand reason for consumers to go and buy a DAB Digital Radio; something that improved audio quality had totally failed to do (understood by consumers, but not compelling).
As some of those landgrab stations have fallen by the wayside, and capacity has begun to reappear, some interesting new ideas are slowly beginning to surface (awkward transmission problems notwithstanding).
Traffic Radio is a brilliant service. All it does is non-stop rolling travel. Dip in for 5 minutes, and you get the regional travel for your area. Job done. Small, neat but unbelievable effective, and exactly the kind of service that DAB should be enabling.
Stations have started experimenting with Slideshow to add visuals to radio, which in my opinion is exactly the kind of innovation that listeners and clients have been expecting from radio for a while.
And some receivers are doing really excellent implementations of EPG (Electronic Programme Guide) that allow true Tivo type functionality, which goes a long way towards justifying capacity allocated to that service.
Content downloading (or “broadcast podcasting” – em, “brodcasting?”) has been promised by 4 Digital Group (operators of the second national multiplex) as a way of broadening choice of listening and bringing services to listeners that couldn’t otherwise justify a traditional time-linear streaming channel. Similarly, UBC’s Cliq service aims to encourage music purchasing by DAB listeners.
Most significant is the arrival of TTI – Traffic and Travel Information – data services. TTI is the information that can keep SatNavs up to date with actual road conditions and events, and other geo-located information. As the ownership of SatNav devices has burgeoned, so has the demand for accurate TTI information, and DAB is (surprise surprise) turning out to be an ideal platform to keep hundreds of thousands of cars updated at the same time. If we see TTI services launches in 2008, expect to see a wave of SatNav devices incorporating DAB. In a way, it’s a very Zen like approach to fixing the problem of getting DAB in the car; we’re going to get where we want to be, but not down the route we thought we’d travel.
So the apparent razing of some of the DAB landscape has actually been catalytic, allowing some new green shoots of ideas to popup where once they would have been smothered by big fat old radio stations. Radio is still vitally important, but it doesn’t have the be the only thing that drives DAB on.