by Chris Byrnes
I first heard about RadioPlayer in late 2010, soon after it was demonstrated at a Radio Festival in Manchester. It was officially launched in England in April of 2011 when virtually every commercial and BBC radio station united to deliver a single internet-based player that would look, feel and function the same way as a digital streaming service on iOS, Android, and through a desktop player.
This platform is credited with growing online listening in England by 40% since the launch, based on the official radio audience figures. The app is consistently the highest rated radio app in the IOS and Android stores and attracts an audience of 7 million unique users a month. If the same happens in Canada, radio stations here should expect to see a bump in hours tuned, provided that tuning in captured by the ratings measurement system.
I occasionally listen to English stations online so have experienced the RadioPlayer platform myself and found it really easy to use, other than having to remember my old London postal code. The RadioPlayer console plays audio when you click “listen live” or play “listen again” content via the individual radio websites. Each player has a common search, allowing users to find results for stations by genre, artist or station name. The search uses the tagging information provided by radio stations (meta data) to deliver results. “The interface has been purposefully kept simple and will be continually updated,” says Michael Hill, UK RadioPlayer Managing Director.
When RadioPlayer launches in Canada sometime in late 2016, Canada will be the 7th country to adopt this platform. Germany, Ireland, Norway and Belgium are some of the countries that have also adopted RadioPlayer. Hillary Hommy from Sparknetworks tells me, “We’ve just signed the paperwork and we are now working with RadioPlayer worldwide to develop the launch plan. They will now build the platform specifically for Canadian radio. According to the RadioPlayer Canada press release it will allow listeners from coast to coast to enjoy almost 500 radio stations on their connected devices, anytime, anywhere and in both official languages. Users will be able to access live and past radio broadcasts across the country through the RadioPlayer browser-player, and on connected devices. The real benefit I see for Canadian radio is that while there is no chance of ever getting your station app onto the car dashboard, unless you use something like TuneIn, there is a good chance that RadioPlayer will end up in the CarPlay or the Android echo system, as has already happened in England. Here is the app in action in England
Here is the Apple Car Play in action again in England where someone physically connects their iPhone to the car via a USB cord. These days many cars allow wifi connection.
In England, RadioPlayer is now available on Apple Watch, and you can see it in action here
I talked to radio futurologist James Cridland recently and asked him why he thought this was a good move for Canadian broadcasters. “When you jump into a connected car – a car with internet apps on the dashboard – you’ll instantly understand why a radio platform like RadioPlayer is a good idea. Pandora or Spotify will be there, with an app that works well and is easy for auto manufacturers to integrate. The radio industry, however, has been expecting auto manufacturers to contact each of the broadcasters; and then every single broadcaster has to ensure that their app works with their system. It’s nuts. Auto manufacturers want this to be easy and want one call to make. RadioPlayer, as a unifying platform for all radio broadcasters, achieves that. Canada, particularly, is in constant danger of submerging under the huge amount of US content. TuneIn and other live radio apps don’t care much about Canadian radio. But Canadian consumers really love great radio from their country; and a Canadian RadioPlayer can ensure that proper radio is front and centre for every Canadian radio listener.”
James went on to say, “Additionally, RadioPlayer in the UK has succeeded in acting as a joint R&D facility for the entire radio industry, ensuring that UK radio is on the Apple Watch, Android Wear and, as of last month, the Amazon Echo. Behind the scenes, that means extensive work on speech recognition and UX design. RadioPlayer is quick to innovate in these areas, and that means broadcasters can focus on proven technologies and shared data.”
Here is why James feels Canadian broadcasters should embrace this platform “It’s easy to think of RadioPlayer as an app, and then think ‘well, we have an app, so there’s no point being on RadioPlayer.’ That would be the wrong thinking. RadioPlayer’s a platform. It doesn’t replace anything you currently have. Instead, it makes sure that more people can find your station; that your station’s details (logos, names, descriptions) are available in a standard format, and that all of Canadian radio can act together. There’s real strength in that, particularly against already existing national and global brands. One output of that is an app; another is integration into car dashboards; another is significant work with auto companies to make the radio experience better in car. RadioPlayer also has great research and data to help the industry move forward.”
When is comes to generating revenue James said, “For the UK, stations can monetize RadioPlayer however they like – from banners and registration through to pre-rolls and ad replacement. It’s got all the big services like AdsWizz and Triton built into it to enable that. The UK hasn’t, though, worked together on monetization (partly because the commercial-free BBC has a 50% market share); though RadioPlayer in Ireland, particularly, has looked at a joint monetization strategy. Perhaps Canada can show the Brits how to do it.”
The other benefit I see for Canadian radio stations is that a listener using the app in a connected car could potentially start out listening to a HD signal, drop back to FM and then seamlessly switch to the station’s audio stream when the FM signal becomes weak. This means you could drive from Vancouver to Toronto and listen to QMFM all the way. Cridland told me that in England, “RadioPlayer will automatically switch between DAB and IP. RadioPlayer are also working on a car adaptor which will switch between DAB, FM and IP. That is another benefit of having one platform for broadcast radio that can enable that kind of thing. Imaging trying to do that with Canada’s diverse set of broadcasters! There’s no reason that the technology behind it couldn’t follow a station from FM analogue to an HD2 subchannel somewhere else, and then onto the internet – and back again. And you’re right, that’s a real benefit for HD broadcasters.” However, I am also being told that this will require some development work to build this function into the Canadian RadioPlayer and there may be a cost to that.
“The secret to the platform’s success was its fairness, openness and its not-for-profit status,” says Michael Hill. “The RadioPlayer platform is there to provide the best user interface and listening experience for the audience. It’s there to enhance the station not detract from it. And all radio stations, regardless of size or impact, have the same technology open to them.
RadioPlayer’s not just about apps, web players, and streaming – they are on a mission to help keep radio simple, on anything that’s connected to the internet. In England for example they are developing ‘hybrid radios’. Just as a hybrid car combines the advantages of a petrol and an electric engine, a hybrid radio combines what’s great about broadcast radio (FM, DAB etc) with the power of the internet. It means a radio in a kitchen or a car can be receiving a station via its aerial, at the same time as it displays logos and other information on its screen – via an internet connection. There are open international standards for this kind of radio, co-ordinated by a brilliant group called RadioDNS. They’re helping broadcasters and radio manufacturers develop hybrid radio – and RadioPlayer’s working with them to support this.
Listeners with hybrid radios (which combine DAB and FM with extra features powered by the internet) will see colourful logos and programme information on their radio screens, thanks to RadioPlayer’s new ‘hybrid adaptor’. Using existing data and images held for each station, it’s a free service that helps member stations improve their visual impact. The BBC will also provide hybrid information for all their stations shortly, joining Global Radio (owners of stations including Capital, Heart, LBC and Classic FM), who have been publishing the additional visual data for listeners since 2013. The coordinated industry approach means that more than 90% of the live radio consumed in the UK will shortly be compatible with the latest hybrid radio technology. Any radio that supports the international RadioDNS Hybrid Radio standard, will now display logos and extra information for those stations. Michael Hill says, “This is a huge leap forward for hybrid radio – not just in the UK, but around the world. As more and more stations embrace hybrid radio, more and more manufacturers will build great radios for cars and kitchens. We’re proud to have played a part in establishing this virtuous circle”. The RadioDNS Hybrid Radio standard is an open international technology that links broadcast radio with the internet. It allows manufacturers to build better-looking, more interactive radios – helping stations connect better with their listeners. RadioDNS launched ‘Project Logo’ earlier this year, an initiative aimed at boosting the number of hybrid-compatible radio stations around the world. RadioPlayer invented its ‘hybrid adaptor’ technology in response to this, and will now offer it to other countries which use the RadioPlayer system – including Germany, Ireland, Austria, Belgium, and Norway.
Here is the RadioPlayer pricing for Canada
“The good thing is that everything that Radioplayer worldwide is working on, is possible to be included in the Canadian version. It will be up to the RadioPlayer Canada Board of Directors to determine if they want to take part in that innovation and what that would look like in terms of the funding, given it would need to be customised for the Canadian market. Moreover, if the Board feels there is an innovation they want developed we’re able to invest in that ourselves and RadioPlayer worldwide will develop it. However, if all the other users around the world want that innovation then it will be developed and added to the platform at no cost” says Hillary Hommy from Sparknetworks. Canadian radio will also be able to leverage the relationships that RadioPlayer has developed. I am told that Hill wants to improve internet radio sets and lobby Apple and Android phone manufactures, to switch on or install FM chips, so people can access the radio on the move – when there is no 3G or Wi-Fi within reach.
If you would like to be part of the RadioPlayer launch in Canada contact Hillary Hommy at Sparket via email at email@example.com. Hillary will send you a license agreement with RadioPlayer Canada which is currently being finalised. This will allow a station to use the platform and get access to support. From there the station will send in the assets they want to populate the player and receive training on how to use and manage the platform. Once RadioPlayer Canada is ready to launch the hope is that most of the 500 stations will launch at the same time. Thi swill be accompanied by a major publicity campaign.
Based on the experience of radio stations in England, Ireland and elsewhere, this appears to be a smart move for Canadian radio, and in time perhaps all Canadian radio stations will adopt this player. It will make it easier for listeners to consume radio on multiple platforms and both the industry and consumers will benefit from product enhancements and new innovations as they are rolled out.