September 27, 2005


Thinking about "Roadcasting" a bit this week. The article by Mr Kennedy [here] has had me pacing the hallways in thought.

My ex-flatmate has an iPod FM transmitter. She tunes her car radio into a frequency and "picks up" a transmission from her iPod Mini. Its a wireless solution, and range is no more than 4-5 metres.

Roadcasting is an advance on this idea, where each iPod/laptop broadcast can be tapped on a larger scale by way of community P2P. They are effectively Mobile Radio Stations.

The software would learn your musical tastes and then sift through the "broadcasts" on offer from various vehicles and choose the one – or mix of songs – that might suit your tastes. You wouldn't know which car the music was coming from as the only identification would be that you would get the chosen nickname of the "broadcaster".

The technology is described by the creators (a car manufacturer) as a unique, fun and exciting innovation. I think one major downfall is when some new technologies come through, the designers tend to forget that there are existing rules out there, and it seems the approval of their invention is made through a technicality. In this case, I refer to existing radio licenses. The device has every intention to overshadow existing frequencies (and broadcasts), although this largely depends on what kind of reach Roadcasters are able to have. 4-5 metres like iPod transmitters? or 4-5km like LPFM in NZ?

Not investigating RSMs stand on this, I wonder if existing FM license owners have submitted their dispute to this. A car radio is the most powerful radio station receiver out there, and "in the car" is the highest radio-listening zone, yet now with this technology, it allows each vehicle to leech the 'medium' that radio stations use, yet choose to override them with their own 'pirate-type' jukeboxes. I will get to "level of threat" a bit later.

The lines are blurring with every new invention and the rules should be changing with them. I would like to think that we could place black and white rules before approval is given to a new technology, but nearly always, the technology evolves in an unforseen way and creates loopholes. Maybe a detailed grandfather clause would fix this, or could there be a positive spin to these loopholes?

My next thought: The two ugly sides of copyright infringement.

Roadcasting is in a form of P2P technology, using the airwaves instead of internet as its medium. This medium is heavily regulated and really is a can of worms. Broadcasting Standards, Licensed Frequency Infringement, Copyright Law, Technical Standards and eventually (like blogs and podcasts), advertising will find a way in (quite easily I suspect) bringing Advertising Standards into it as well. Traditional radio offers us either talk, music, or a mix of both (or a talking clock in some places). I go back to blurring lines: Is Roadcasting for private use, or public use? This I think is a very important question that will ultimately hold its fate.

I guess the "level of threat" needs to be determined by existing radio and record companies. It directly impacts radio, and the record companies may see it as an uncontrolled medium.

Dubber points out to me that "the fact that the record industry is doing its utmost to prevent this going on at all entirely misunderstands the role of music as an occasion for shared and social experience." True. It always seems to be the record companies who are the bad guys in any equation with multimedia technologies. Radio on the other hand is much more transparent.

As a working example, Radio has embraced iPods (so far). Having listeners time-shift their stations content is still considered 'listening', and has potential to INCREASE crucial radio listenership statistics like TSL (time spent listening) especially around survey time, because iPod users are more relaxed when listening, and listen over longer periods of time. Their morning trip may take 45 minutes and a radio show may be 60 minutes long. If the iPod listener pauses, then continues to listen on the trip home for example, then that 60 minutes of listening can be accurately measured as listening to the radio. Radio advertising (or sponsorship) will still be heard (or partially heard), so its considered a win. Same deal with podcasters, although it leaves commercially driven podcasters behind when it comes to zoning. Ads in highly subscribed podcasts (dayparts) may increase the rate-card for that show. Another win for all (less ads, more revenue). If podcasting had never come around, would radio have gone the other way and not supported iPods? I don't think so. They are just another way to market and listen to your station - and in this respect, Roadcasting might just be another way existing radio can evolve within its medium.

I find myself at the opposite end of my initial reaction to Roadcasting. A technology that threatens traditional radio, yet radio itself can embrace (and probably monopolise). I suspect Radio, the Record Companies, and RSM will be looking carefully at this.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have no problem with using ipod transmitters, as a LPFM operator I do have issue with roadcasting, as they are effectively taking away potential listeners to the LPFM station I run.