HD Radio's Electronic Program Guide

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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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