F. Sheheryar , Director General (IBS) , Prasar Bharti

The world over, broadcasters are following different strategies to implement digital broadcasting. Many countries have set the cut-off year for digital as 2017, but it is being revised and in all probability, fully digital will be possible only by 2022.

One of the oldest methods of radio communication is broadcasting. It was analog all through these years. Emergence of digital communication has changed the scenario of broadcasting. The advantages of going digital are many including spectrum efficiency, noise free transmission, use of less power, versatile data transmission, and so on. While digitization is completed in almost all means of communication like telephony, satellite, navigation etc., broadcasting took a back seat until 1990s. Now, the traditional broadcasting is facing many challenges from nonconventional modes of broadcasting like satellite, cable, and Internet-based modes of broadcasting.The availability of wide bandwidth and high-speed data made Internet broadcasting possible. Is it a threat to traditional broadcasting? Or an opportunity? In general we can say that traditional off-air terrestrial broadcasting is supplemented with broadcasting through satellite and through Internet-based social media broadcasting which will be an advantage to the broadcaster.

In order to reap the digital dividend, broadcasters over the world are adopting digital technology for content production, distribution, and transmission. While, the latter two components of production and distribution are easy to implement, transmission is a challenging job. This is mainly due to the fact that the end-user is required to change the receiving device for the new technology. There is always a cost involved for the listener to get a new digital radio as the existing analog receiver will become obsolete.

World Scenario

The world over, broadcasters are following different strategies to implement digital broadcasting. Many countries have set the cut-off year for digital as 2017, but it is being revised and in all probability, fully digital will be possible only by 2022. Radio broadcasting organizations have already converted or are converting production facilities and studios into digital. Country-wise details are not available as of now but the progress made is substantial. For transmission countries are adopting different technologies. The prominent radio broadcast transmission technologies in operation are, Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM), high-definition radio (HD radio), digital audio broadcasting (DAB), and integrated services digital broadcast (ISDB).

India has adopted the DRM open standard for its AM broadcast through MW and SW transmitters.

Indian Scenario

According to FICCI, the radio industry in the year 2016 was worth 22.7 billion INR which has grown over 14 percent compared to year 2015. This is expected to go up to 47.8 billion by 20202021. This will be about 1/8th of the TV entertainment industry which is worth 394 billion INR. Radio which was considered as losing its sheen to its sibling TV has emerged as a powerful medium in the recent past.

An FICCI report also suggests the idea of strengthening of all the four pillars of digitization plans to make the program successful. These four pillars are: digital technology, receiving devices, government policies, and infrastructure. These four pillars are most important to hold the digitization plan together to make it successful. Market forces alone are not sufficient for the success. There has to be a sustained campaign and support from all stake holders to make the digitization plan successful.

An IIT Mumbai study revealed that 27 percent of the Indian population still listens to radio. This amounts to about 35 lakhs of the Indian population, and mostly rural. AIRs FM expansion and emergence of private broadcasters has resulted in the availability of variety to the radio listeners. Cheaper FM radios and the inclusion of FM chip in mobile phones are the reasons for the resurgence of radio. In order to tap the potential market in the radio industry, it is essential to upgrade the content generating studio installations to full digital systems.

Studios and Systems

All India Radio has converted most of the major studio facilities into digital. This includes the recording systems, audio consoles, post production software and equipment. However, several upgradations are required in the next five years to make it fully digital and state-of-the-art.

Second-level radio stations like LRS and community radio stations are to be fully digitized. The audio consoles used at most of these places are mono and analog. The transmitters of these stations are FM and capable of stereo broadcasting.

The audio chain from production to transmission should be made fully digital and capable of stereo transmission. Multitrack recording facilities should be generated at all major studio centers with a view of transmission of 5.1 channels when we convert FM transmitters to digital. Even for marketing the in-house produced content we must have multitrack recording, especially the classical music and concerts.

Facility to transmit meta-data of the programs should be provided at all studio centers. Library of programs needs upgradation to have metadata integrated into the audio files. Archiving should be completed for remaining old programs. Facilities for Internet streaming and social media broadcasting should be created simultaneously with transmissions.

Distribution Systems

Transmitting stations are situated far away from the studio locations due to many reasons. Some of the reasons are to keep EMI to a bare minimum to the thickly populated urban areas, to reduce radiation hazards, and the requirement of large areas to set up transmitting antenna systems. At times, programs originate from the capital stations which are to be relayed through local/regional transmitters. Hence, invariably, a distribution system is employed for transporting/aggregating the content to the transmitting stations. Modes utilized for this purpose are studio transmitter links (STL), also known as VHF & microwave links, ISDN codecs, MLL/DLL managed network, optical fibers, telephone lines, and satellite links.

Among these modes, except the STL and telephone lines all other modes of distribution are digital. However, many of the AIR stations are still using analog STLs. In order to maintain digital quality, the entire studio transmitter chain has to be converted to digital. This would eliminate the technical problems of quality deterioration due to repeated analog to digital conversion involved in the chain. For maintaining redundancy to meet out any contingencies all AIR stations must have two sets of digital STLs independent of each other. For this we must go for two different mediums such as digital STL and optical fiber/MLL.

Transmitting Technologies

AM broadcasting. In order to reap the digital dividend it is necessary to reach the unreached by the digital radio broadcasting. The AM mode is the main backbone service of India's radio broadcasting and it reaches many of the remote areas of the country.AIR has rolled out an ambitious plan of converting MW/SW mode of broadcasting into digital mode by adopting DRM technology. Being the only open standard and widely accepted by as many as 120 countries, it was the right choice. As of now, 38 transmitters are converted to digital and are broadcasting through simulcast/fully digital modes. However, its potential could not be explored fully due to the nonavailability of cheap radio receivers.

In order to make this technology viable, popular, and effective, the government should announce a date of analog cut-off and convert all AM transmitters in MW/SW to DRM-capable digital transmitters before this cut-off date.

The government should initiate an inclusion of DRM/HD radio enabled car radios in all the new models of cars which will be produced and marketed in India through a regulation. The additional cost of a DRM chip in the car radio would be only about 1000 for a car costing many lakhs. It should also be made compulsory to include digital standards like DRM and HD radio in all the radios/music systems produced/marketed in India. Since these technologies are run by software, a single chip in the receivers can make it possible to receive any mode of digital transmission. This will enable the usage of digital radios by the middle class and economically better off population.

Enhanced quality of exclusive content should be produced to be broadcasted in pure DRM mode to generate an interest among the listeners to cajole them to go for a digital radio.

Since AIR is facing acute shortage of program producers and staff, we may go for buying high-quality content of popular interest from media houses and producers. In order to bring down the cost of digital radios, government may generate an initial demand of about 1 million receivers through mass purchase for distribution to communities and the economically underprivileged sections of the society. Huge volume of demand will bring down the cost of the receivers due to economies of scale as the chips cost come down drastically on huge volumes. If there is a demand of one million radio receivers the cost is expected to come down to 2000. This would amount to about 20 crore to the government which is very meagre but will turn out to be a game changer in the digital radio broadcasting arena. This method of popularizing was earlier done when FM broadcasting was introduced by AIR.

We have a number of SW services for overseas broadcast which is known as external services of AIR. Strategically this is the only mode of communication by which the nation can propagate into any country. This is essential for projecting India's view points, arts and culture, development, and even the propaganda during emergency situations like war. We must continue this service in both analog and digital mode till all the target countries are converting to digital transmitters. Digital SW is as good as FM in quality and is an easy method of transmission. Hence we must convert all SW transmitters to digital.

FM broadcast. Analog FM broadcast which AIR started in a big way as LRS service became very popular in a short period of time in spite of being a new technology. Introduction of exclusive FM channels added color to the analog FM Broadcast. Though we started as a mono FM service, much of our FM transmitters are now carrying stereo services. However, the opening up of FM to private operators brought the much needed boost to this sector.

Radio broadcast through DTTB. DVBT2 standard is adopted by Doordarshan for digital terrestrial transmission. DD is converting many high-power transmitters into digital. It is possible to have radio transmission through this TV transmitter at the cost of one TV channel. However, TV transmitters are in the UHF range and require radios to receive this frequency. In case of future development of this technology, the FM channels can be additionally transmitted through DVB T2 transmitters.

Social Media in Broadcasting

This is the new mode of broadcasting which is giving challenges to conventional broadcasting, but at the same time opens out enormous opportunities to broadcasters. Internet penetration in India has exceeded 50 percent of the population and is still growing. The average Internet speed in the world is 4.1 Mbps. With the introduction of IPV4 and IPV6, the average Internet speed is likely to go high. There are 300 million Internet mobile phones in the country and the number is likely to reach 700 million by 2021. The latest industry figures say that 75 percent of the mobile data is consumed by the age group of 15–34. Interestingly 75 percent of this data is for watching videos and listening to music.

The music industry's worth in the year 2016 was INR 12.20 billion, and is expected to reach INR 25.4 billion by 2021. It is almost double of the present market. Therefore AIR must focus on this area of Internet-enabled broadcasting. All AIR stations must start Internet-enabled broadcasting through streaming or social media, in addition to the traditional off-AIR broadcasting. Though AIR has started streaming many of the services through Internet and social media, we have no decentralized dedicated high band width channels to cater to a large number of audiences. Therefore, we must adopt the Link all AIR stations through a dedicated fiber- based VPN+CDN network for sharing the content.

Outlook

In order to reap a rich digital dividend a concerted effort is required to roll out digital services through all the modes of radio broadcasting. A time frame of 5 years down the line would be ideal and with December 31, 2022 as the deadline. Conversion of all existing analog transmitters to digital in both AM & FM mode is required.

The government should subsidize/give tax relief for digital receiver production for a period of five years to make the technology popular. Content will drive the industry, for which we need programmers and producers. To meet the immediate demand we need to source it from the market.