Itunes Tagging: A New Hook for HD Radio


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In September 2007, a bridge between the gap of radio and other media services was formed. The introduction of tagging — the ability for a radio listener to make note of a song that he might want to purchase later — was announced as an enhancement to HD Radio. The technology can also be applied to RBDS, but HD Radio is getting the most attention for the feature.

The concept is fairly simple. Listen to the radio. When you hear a song that interests you for a possible purchase, press the tag button. The radio remembers the choice and uses the Ipod to access the selections later through Itunes.

It sounds so simple, but why is it only now being offered? The HD Radio transmission system has been in development for many years. While it's an established system, it is still undergoing updates and additions. The HD Radio bitstream includes additional data fields that have not yet been completely defined, which is one way that HD Radio can stay current with broadcaster and listener needs.

In addition, while Ibiquity is developing the underlying technology, other companies are looking at ways of enhancing the technology. Conditional access was the point of discussion a few months ago, and while that effort continues to be developed, other uses for HD Radio will be developed.

Getting tagged

For a station to transmit tagging codes to communicate with Itunes, the station must first enter into an agreement with Apple, the operator of Itunes, to enable the station to attach Itunes music codes to the music it plays. Just as a station's automation system can provide artist and song information to RBDS and HD Radio displays, a music code can be attached to each song. This information is transmitted in addition to the standard metadata contained in SIS and PSD.

For a station to transmit the tagging information, the station automation system must support HD Radio Program Service Data. Ibiquity uses the UFID tag of the ID3 specification for PSD messages to support the tagging feature. When the technology was annonced, Broadcast Electronics and RCS noted they supported it. Systems that support ID3 tagging should accomodate Itunes tagging as well.

The station's Exporter must run IRSS software version 2.3.3 or later. Also, for stations that want to use tagging on multicast channels the Importer must have Ibiquity version 2.1.5P1 software or later and Ibiquity version 3.0 SPS capture client or later.

The Itunes Store ID must be inserted into each song's PSD. This could be manually attached to each song, but that could be an overwhelming task. There is currently one company that we know of offering a service to provide the Itunes codes for a station's music: Jump 2 Go. Each time the station plays a song, the automation system connects to a database to access the Itunes song code. That code is sent back to the station where it is then included in the HD Radio stream. The station automation system can also store the code locally so a future look-up request will not be needed.

On the listener side, the receiver decodes the data stream and displays the song information on the radio's screen. If the listener presses the tag button, the radio will remember the key press and pass it to the Ipod when the media player is docked. If an Ipod is not docked, the radio will store the tag button presses until an Ipod is docked.

The tags are transferred to Itunes the next time the Ipod connects. The owner is given a playlist of tagged music to preview and possibly purchase.

Tagging for dollars

At the NAB Radio Show, CBS Radio, Clear Channel, Cumulus, Cox, Entercom and Greater Media announced that they were installing the necessary systems to enable tagging.

There is a revenue potential for stations that adopt tagging. A typical song purchase on Itunes costs 99 cents. The Itunes affiliate site says that affiliates receive a 5 percent commission on all qualifying revenue generated by links. While this sounds like a small amount, the per-sale revenue adds up over time.

Is tagging a new idea? Not really. Tagging has been applied previously, although it has not seen great success in the past. In the cases that I know of, the difficulty has been in providing a return channel for the listener selection. The Ipod interface in this case completes that loop. Another form of tagging is used with the Sansa Rhapsody player and Rhapsody music service.

So far, two manufacturers have committed to producing tagging-capable devices: Polk Audio and JBL. Polk announced that the I-sonic ES2 would be available in October. The JBL IHD is slated for delivery at the end of the year. The Polk unit will have a retail price of $499, while JBL has not yet announced a price. The price seems high for a radio and Ipod speaker dock, but like most first-generation electronic devices, the first units are expected to be more expensive.

As the HD Radio rollout continues, many people frequently ask about the killer app and what it will be. No single aspect has proven to be the killer app for HD Radio yet, but by considering HD Radio to be a platform on which to build, individual enhancements have a place to develop, making the entire system a useful app.




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