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Call for Metadata to Be Embedded in Radio Programs

After a holiday trip to Michigan, Cameron Barrett of Camworld suggests that the radio industry develop and implement a metadata standard for descriptions of programming. He focuses on music, but as much information could be provided about information-oriented radio programming, like financial advice and political talk shows.

Because some of us are very active listeners to radio, CTDATA has some interest in the subject. Read on for an explanation of what we know about the subject, and where we think technological progress is most likely.

We have experienced the state-of-the-art in Europe: the Radio Data System standard which provides a bit of the information that a full-blown metadata system would ultimately provide. The RDS system is interesting, if you understand how radio broadcasting is organized in the European Union, and if you understand the information that your radio is trying to deliver to you. It would have been helpful to have the PDF document that we linked into this paragraph as a reference when we traveled to Switzerland, Italy, and France this past July.

It should be noted that the Radio Data System has never gotten any traction in the United States. A few radio stations have attempted to implement the RDS travel announcement feature, but there were never enough car radios compatible with it to make it a useful service.

We think that with the consolidation of traditional radio broadcasting in the United States into larger and larger networks, it would be easier to implement such a metadata standard than it used to be. However, our understanding of the way consolidators like Clear Channel Communications operates is that they acquire stations and to achieve economies of scale in delivery of audiences for advertising. (This is documented in the book It's Not the Big that Eat the Small, It's The Fast that Eat the Slow, and in the "Clear Channel Creed" on their web site.)
As such, we expect technological advancement to be greatest in this area and not in the area of describing the programming to the audience.

Another factor in any radio metadata development would have to be the potential emergence of satellite radio in the United States. This is currently being implemented by XM Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio. We have never used these services and wonder if they have implemented some sort of metadata subcarrier for their services already.

Nevertheless, we expect that the European market will continue to drive any progress in this sort of technology for the foreseeable future. It is much easier to sell the broadcasters, advertisers, and the public on enhancements to a system that already works at a minimal level than to try to create a market for such services in places where most consumers do not yet see the benefits of any similar technology.

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