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New Apple patent could kill commercial radio

A new patent, posted by Apple, has the capacity to kill the commercial radio industry by replacing the ads.

Apple have posted a fascinating new patent which allows for "seamlessly switching media playback between a media broadcast, such as a radio broadcast, and media from a local media library."

It's quite an interesting read. Apple argue that you might not like a particular song on a radio station, but currently you still have to listen to it. With this piece of technology, my device could automatically switch away from the live broadcast, play something else, and then tune back to the live broadcast when the rubbish song has finished. Carly Rae Jepsen, your time is up.

This patent uses language that might confuse broadcasters, so for ease of understanding it: by "local media" they mean an MP3 on your phone, for example, while by "broadcast stream" they mean any linear thing ike FM, AM, or an internet stream.

So, you can switch away from the broadcast stream at any time - say, if a 30" ad for an Android phone comes on - Apple could play you a locally-stored 45" ad for some lovely aluminium computer instead. Once the Android ad has finished, Apple could buffer the broadcast stream within the device for a bit, and then seamlessly flick you back. And you'd be none the wiser. And, more interestingly, nor would the radio station.

Because the interesting about the patent is that it it doesn't require the radio station to do anything. Yes, sure, the radio station could signal some information within its broadcast, but it doesn't have to. A "specialized entity" could do that. And it's also thought-provoking that the patent talks (a lot) about radio, rather than TV. It's just as viable for TV: but they've clearly got their minds on radio.

Some initial thoughts from this:

1. Absolute Radio have been offering this for a while - where live broadcasts are seamlessly switched with personalised pre-recorded local files at their encoding farm. It means I get less ads and more music when I listen. Their product is called InStream. It's very good. It's awfully similar.

2. Adswizz (crap name, quite interesting product) is the current technology behind Absolute's InStream product. They've offered this to other clients for a lot longer than Absolute have been doing it.

3. A product like this was described in a Radio Festival presentation in 1995 by Quentin Howard.

4. This might be a patent Apple would licence to, for example, TuneIn - and perhaps it gives TuneIn a way of monetising their mobile listeners.

5. This potentially means that Apple (or their licensees) can strip out all the ads on your radio station, and just play similar music tracks from a user's MP3 collection instead. Or a set of different ads.

For radio, this could be the killer app: in the tech sense and for the industry.

So - who controls the user experience of your radio station on an electronic device? And how much control do you have against an idea like Apple's?

James Cridland is the Managing Director of Media UK, and a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business.
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16 comments

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Recommendations: 0
Calder Jon
posted

Technology once again re-writing the rule book. I wonder how the dinosaurs in radio will cope.

Recommendations: 0
Jon Curnow
posted

For TVs, aren’t Sky planning something similar with their targeting advertising play for sky+ boxes?

Recommendations: 0
Peter Symonds
posted

It wouldn’t particularly work with talk radio

Recommendations: 0
Mike Russell
posted

Interesting read James. Commercial radio will have to come up with more and more innovative ways to advertise and market to the listener.

It’s also interesting to note that the old Music app (for podcasts) allows you only to skip back 30 seconds. The new Apple ‘Podcasts’ app allows you to skip back 10 seconds and skip forward 30 seconds – exactly the same length of the average radio commercial – coincidence?

Recommendations: 0
Paul Dale
posted

This is very similar to YoSpace’s CDS system, which is for for TV. YoSpace are up for an IBC innovation award for a live ad substitution system over IP.

Recommendations: 0
Glyn Williams
posted

they’re only 30 seconds in Europe Mike, most in the USA are a minute long

Recommendations: 0
Mike Russell
posted

I guess that’s a double click for those in the USA then Glyn? ;)

Recommendations: 0
Adam Bowie
posted

As ever with patents, I think it should be emphasised that this is a US patent. I’m certainly not a patent lawyer, but as James says, some of the technology does seem to already exist. Not that this has ever stopped someone getting a patent anyway. But then Patent Law in the US is completely and utterly broken on a truly epic scale.

Of course, were Apple to attempt to launch such a product, then expect all the major US TV networks to come down on them court like a ton of bricks. At the moment there’s some pending litigation between those networks and Dish Network who have a device that allows seamless skipping of ads altogether on programmes you’ve recorded to your PVR.

Technology will always challenge our business models. Advertising funded models are just one of those as we’ve come to see with PVRs.

But Apple needs programme makers and media suppliers to drive their hardware business model. Many of those could walk away from the platform if everyone doesn’t play nicely.

Recommendations: 0
Alex Gray
posted

1) I’d hardly describe it a ‘a fascinating new patent’ – seems a blindingly obvious technique that anyone one could have supposed, and as you indicate, many have. It’s also been mooted at regular intervals for commercial TV. Would be interesting to see if Apple could make it stick in Europe simply as the first company to think it patentable. It’s also non-specific on the only aspect of any real potential innovation – ie in how media items are identified. It just says what any could have suggested from the pram – using explicit metadata provided by the media source, or using audio analysis.

2) It’s novelty and effectiveness clearly depend entirely on the effective identification and classification of material. Digital stations have made that a lot easier for songs by supplying stream metadata on what’s playing, but there must be a lot of scope for them to play cat and mouse with such a system by subtle variations in identification and in misidentifying advert metadata.

A more effective system might be a souped up audio pattern recognition à la Shazam – if that could identify audio items quickly enough to do it by looking ahead in the buffer and switching as the item starts, that could be very effective. Though even that might be tripped up by ads starting with well known pieces of music!

3) Another possible way for Apple to monetize this would be for it to sell licences to radio stations to be able to customize and target their ads more like Google et al do for online ads, based on user preferences and marketing intelligence (aka ‘snooping’ of users online activity).

4) This could be something of a tangled web for the copyright licensing bodies! If listeners can’t be guaranteed to be hearing what the radio station is transmitting, how do you assess royalties equitably – will the Apple app do its own music reporting? :-)

Recommendations: 0
Alex Gray
posted

PS I wonder how close to infringement of this patent radio stations could come for existing widespread practice of downstream switching of a core syndicated service to insert regional idents, adverts etc?

Also it could raise some thorny problems at the time of an election re Representation of the People Act… “You don’t like party x? No problem – just subscribe to TwitZap®, powered by our voiceprint database, and you can have their voices instantly replaced by birdsong”!

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