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Forward: What’s Next for Radio?

I read the trades and hear the talk of the future of radio.  The competition between Internet radio and broadcast radio.  Many years now we have had this radio stigma that we are the best.  Best at what?  All of it to me is a moot point.  Looks like we in radio are better at content providing than leading the charge to innovate and improve technology.  The future will soon see a paradigm change that will split radio as a whole into Content Providers and Content Delivery (technology).

I have talked with some colleagues and manufacturer reps about the future of radio.  I get asked the question all the time.  Many focus on the immediate future, but I think about the real future as I see it.  We are at the beginning with HD radio and I watch closely as other countries move to digital.  I watch the trends of our own digital development.  I see we keep putting a band aid on old technology like the new RDS2, granted is really cool, and we keep adding to the HD sidebands.  This is not enough.  I see the trends of where and how content is consumed.  I see a change.  As we move to all digital, we are looking at the analog carrier going away and becoming one large digital carrier.  We can split digital sidebands into multiple channels.  Look what we can do with a single digital carrier.

We take a digital carrier and we can split it into a number of channels.  For the sake of argument, we choose 100 channels.  Yes, that may be too many for a single carrier and it may take a wider bandwidth, consuming the adjacent radio channels as we saw in the Nautel presentation at the NAB show earlier this year.  Open you mind and let this sink it.  100 channels.  What does that mean?  100 streams of content.  Place 10 FM stations on the air with 100 channels each.  1000 streams of content.  We see a change.  One facility as we know it no longer can handle 100 channels.  Content providers must split from the content delivery mechanism, or hardware provider.  A large radio group becomes a large content provider group.  Look at iHeartMedia.  They have an app for that.  Content being pushed across all mediums.  They are unloading transmitter sites no longer wanting to be the landlord.  What next?  The transmission systems themselves?

Yes.  The transmission systems.  The delivery systems.  A new business model emerges.  Content providers will lease from the “delivery” providers, or Content Delivery companies.  The delivery folks will offer bandwidth for a price.  No more maintaining a technical department, the providers now can concentrate on content, advertising, business.  The deliverers, or whomever you want to call them, maintain the delivery systems.  This splits open a whole new world for the providers.  They can concentrate on what they do best.  The content delivery companies do what they do best.  They provide a means to get that content to the masses.  They do it now.  They just do not have the mass delivery capabilities, but they will.

Who are these delivery companies?  Look at your mobile device, and you have found the new content delivery company.  AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, even Sirious/XM  You name it, the game is, or will be, in their hands.  The paradigm shift; these companies will hold the licenses to the “big sticks”.  This will give them the means to get the mass, one direction, streams off their standard network, and put it out there on their “broadcast” network.  It will be the same data we see today, but it is now totally wireless.  New “radios” will be capable of picking up and “tuning” into any stream a user/consumer wants, seamlessly between the off-air network and the Internet network, as they will become one and the same.  These same companies own their wireless cell networks.  They have 4G LTE, 5G, or whatever.  These cell sites fill in the gaps and supplement the broadcast signal.  The radio hardware will be capable of switching between the two or three delivery paths.  The hardware will allow the consumer to provide feedback, or interact, with the content because there will be a return path, the cellular network.  The two, broadcast and cellular, will work side-by-side, hand in hand, seamlessly.  Look at the connected vehicle.  A single point to receive content.  A single point to respond and have an input.  The mobile phone, or smart phone is the other.  The device becomes the center of interaction, and the content provider will now have a direct connection to their “audience”.

This may be difficult to digest for some.  This is a paradigm change.  Many little changes will take place.  The obvious is the physical hardware of the transmission facilities.  All digital transmitters will most likely mean lower transmitter power output (TPO), so a currently licensed 50kW ERP facility may be now become 20kW ERP or less.  The licenses will transfer from traditional owners to the new content delivery companies.  Imagine an AT&T or Verizon owning a broadcast license.  Difficult to imagine, but it will happen in this shift.  The very heart of regulation will change, too.  The Federal Communications Commission media bureau will have to change.  The rules will have to change.  The way emergency information is spread will change.  Go back to our original 100 channel block.  A low bandwidth channel may be set aside for emergency information only.  The “receiver” will automatically change to that channel if an alert is issued.  Alerts can be issued to specific geographical areas.  It can be done. The old ways will change, and that will leave a bad taste for many, but it will have to happen if radio will survive, and it is human nature to detest change.  Change is painful, but constant.

This change will not happen tomorrow, or even 5 years from now.  It will be slow, but it will happen. It is very exciting to think about this paradigm shift.  Consumers will be happy getting, and interacting, with what they consume.  No more ambiguity for advertisers on how and where their audience is.  Content providers will get the metrics they need directly from the devices in cars, in pockets, on belts.  It is all data.  The delivery companies are already in place doing what they do, delivering content to their network subscribers.  A win all around. These are some of the thoughts I have.  Maybe I have too much time to think, and maybe now that my thoughts and concepts are out there I can get credit for this paradigm changing concept of the future.  (That’s my ego talking.)

Stay connected and I will pursue posting more thoughts on this as it develops.

Cheers!

 

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