The Media Financial Management Association (MFM) has revealed the speakers for its two-day Media Tax Summit, scheduled for March 2-3.
The virtual event will be held from 11am-1pm Eastern on each of those days.
The summit was formulated specifically for media tax professionals. Its focus is the specifics of how technological advances, the evolving workplace environment, and recent and proposed legislation have converged to transform the expectations for, and responsibilities of, the media tax department. MFM has assembled expert speakers to delve into each of these topics.
The event is co-chaired by Sinclair Broadcast Group SVP/Tax Paul Nesterovsky, TEGNA Sr. Director of Tax Sean Hetzler, and Dan McGuire, a Partner for State and Local Tax with KPMG LLP.
The Summit schedule is as follows:
Tuesday, March 2, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. ET
CFO Panel – Expectations for Successful Media Tax Department
Moderator: Dan McGuire, Partner, State & Local Tax, KPMG LLP
Federal Stimulus and Relief Legislation – Media Industry Impacts
Moderator: Louis Lazar, Tax Partner, PwC
March 3, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. ET
Intersection of Tax and Corporate People Strategy
Moderator: Sean Hetzler, Senior Director, Tax, TEGNA Inc.
Trends, Opportunities, and Threats in State Taxation
Moderator: Duane Dobson, Director, Ryan
“We are excited about the experts and topics we’ve assembled for our inaugural MFM Media Tax Summit,” said Mary M. Collins, president and CEO of MFM and its BCCA subsidiary, the media industry’s credit association. “Realizing 2021 will present unique challenges; our co-chairs have been deliberate in identifying media-specific challenges along with thought leaders to address them.”
Registration is free for MFM corporate members, $200 for each of the first two attendees from a non-corporate industry member organization and complimentary for each subsequent media industry registrant. Others, including those who work for companies that offer products, goods, or services to the media industry, must pay either the member rate of $100 (if they are members) or the non-member rate of $250 (which includes a one-year trial membership) for each Summit attendee. No refunds or credits will be given after February 26, 2021.
Registered participants are eligible to receive up to four (4) CPE credits toward their certified public accounting (CPA) license. MFM is registered with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) as a sponsor of continuing professional education on the National Registry of CPE Sponsors.
For more information, visit the MFM website.
Sinclair Broadcast Group on Wednesday was the latest owner of over-the-air television stations to release its fourth quarter and full-year 2020 results.
Sinclair’s performance was good: Earnings per share exceeded Wall Street analyst estimates, while revenue came in line with forecasts.
Why, then, were Sinclair shares down nearly 4% upon the release of the financial report card?
Sinclair Broadcast Group on Wednesday declared a $0.20 dividend payable March 24 to holders of Class A and Class B shares of record at the close of business March 10.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The FCC today announced the winning bidders and the final bid totals in Auction 107— also known as the “C-Band Auction.”
Auction 107 net winning bids totaled $81,114,481,921 and gross winning bids totaled $81,168,677,645. Twenty-one bidders won all of the available 5,684 licenses.
The Federal Communications Commission now has released more details about its plans for improving emergency alerting.
Among other proposed changes, state EAS plans would no longer be publicly visible on the FCC website, for security reasons.
As we’ve reported, the FCC has been instructed by Congress to review the current SECC system, explore internet alerting, gather information about false alerts and take other steps.
Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced this week that alerting will be on the agenda for the commission’s March open meeting.
Now the 52-page draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Notice of Inquiry has been released.
The NPRM would:
- Propose rule amendments to combine the current non-optional class of WEA “Presidential Alerts” with FEMA Administrator Alerts into a new alert class called “National Alerts.”
- Propose to amend the annual State EAS Plan reporting rule to require certification that SECCs have held a meeting in the past year, propose to provide a checklist of required information for annual State EAS Plan reports, and propose to amend the commission’s rule for review and approval or rejection of annual State EAS Plan reports.
- Propose rules for the FEMA administrator or a state, local, tribal or territorial government to voluntarily report EAS or WEA false alerts to the FCC Operations Center.
- Propose a rule to require repeating EAS messages when certain authorized EAS alert originators want a message repeated, and to ensure EAS Participants are technically capable of repeating.
And the Notice of Inquiry would:
- Seek comment on whether it is technically feasible to deliver EAS alerts through the Internet, including through streaming services.
- Seek comment on whether and how to leverage the capabilities of the Internet to enhance the alerting capabilities of the radio and television broadcasters, cable systems, satellite radio and television providers, and wireline video providers that currently participate in EAS.
Among the many items in the proposal is a stipulation that state EAS plans, which are currently accessible on the FCC website, would not be publicly available there except for names and some contact information of the SECC chairs.
This is because “disclosure of the plans, at least in form where each plan is one place and in a uniform and easily searchable format, could highlight potential vulnerabilities that malefactors could exploit, thereby potentially hindering emergency planning efforts.”
Here’s some obvious news from Kantar: Total TV advertising declined in 2020.
But, just how bad was the carnage at broadcast television created by the COVID-19 pandemic?
There was none.
Is it ensuring false information that can incite and create violence and insurrection is blocked from receipt by the American public, or is it an extreme violation of Freedom of Speech?
That’s the big question emerging from Capitol Hill, where Democrats and Republications in the House of Representatives have drawn a line in the sand on how “disinformation and extremism” can be prevented from dissemination by broadcast and cable media outlets.
An “enterprise-wide partnership” that will bring Futuri’s growth products, including TopLine, TopicPulse, Futuri Streaming, and Futuri Mobile, to all SummitMedia stations, has been forged.
“Broadcasters that want to grow their content, grow their audience, and grow their revenue are at a huge disadvantage if they don’t harness technology to compete,” said Futuri CEO Daniel Anstandig. “SummitMedia knows this and acted on it to revolutionize their go-to-market strategy with listeners and advertisers. The SummitMedia leadership team is among the best in the business, and we’re honored to partner with them.”
Randy Chase, who recently succeeded the late Bill Tanner as EVP of Programming at Birmingham-based SummitMedia, added, “SummitMedia is committed to delivering the best content to our consumers and exceptional results to advertisers, and Futuri technology like TopLine, TopicPulse, and their other solutions give us an advantage in today’s highly competitive environment. Expanding our partnership with a best-in-class technology company like Futuri helps us evolve and innovate at a time when stasis is not an option.”
With Greg Walden now retired as a Member of Congress and at the helm of brand-new K Street strategic advisory firm Alpine Advisors, the Ranking Member of the influential House Energy & Commerce Commission has become Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers, from the state of Washington.
She’s making her mark in fast fashion. And, she’s steaming mad at her Democratic colleagues for actions she and Communications and Technology Republican Subcommittee Leader Bob Latta (R-Ohio) believe put a threat to freedom of speech, and Freedom of the Press.
One week ago, the wife of influential talk radio pioneer Rush Limbaugh announced that he had lost his battle with Stage 4 Lung Cancer.
With iHeartMedia offering The Best of Rush for the foreseeable future, is there an opportunity for other radio broadcasting companies — including Entercom Communications — to snag some of Limbaugh’s listening audience?
It’s a question presented by a top financial analyst to CFO Rich Schmaeling and CEO David J. Field during Entercom’s Q4 earnings call on Wednesday morning.
During its “Stream On” event, Spotify announced that it plans to launch a Hi-Fi streaming plan offering lossless streaming in CD quality later this year in selected markets.
This announcement is significant. But, is it noteworthy and of concern to radio broadcasting companies in the U.S. and Canada?
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Until now, the Northern Virginia-based broadcast TV station owner once known as Gannett has been largely known for owned-and-operated stations including the CBS affiliate serving the Nation’s Capital and two digital multicast networks.
Now, True Crime Network and Quest are getting a sibling. And, it’s putting its focus on women — and perhaps LGBT audiences, too.
RBR+TVBR OBSERVATION: Is TEGNA too shy with who this new multicast network is really appealing to? C’mon, TEGNA — get out of the closet and say this offering is for the LGTBQ crowd. The name alone suggests it. [More below, for Members Only].
TEGNA Inc. this spring will officially launch its third multicast network.
Welcome to Twist, which TEGNA describes as “a women-oriented channel featuring lifestyle and reality programming.”
Initially, Twist will include home, food, and reality content, “much of it featuring exciting reveals – or twists – at the end of each show.”
Programming will be comprised of unscripted TV programs including Clean House, Top Chef Masters, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Dance Moms, Tabatha Takes Over, Tiny House Nation, and Flipping Out.
In a regular feature on the network, Twist will encourage viewers to submit their own videos of twists they’ve been thrown in life and how they persevered through them in a positive segment called “Share Your Twist.”
Brian Weiss, President/GM of TEGNA’s multicast networks, commented, “Twist will provide an exciting new viewing option for our female audience with content that has not been available through a multicast channel until now. The launch of Twist will enhance TEGNA’s leadership among non-fiction multicast networks, delivering the kinds of free content that over-the-air viewers crave.”
Carriage will be seen in 41 TEGNA markets. And, to bring it to New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia, a newly reconstituted Univision Communications has agreed to add it as a digital multicast offering. Seven other Univision markets have committed to Twist.
Even more, Twist will be added to 31 stations presently owned by HC2 Broadcasting.
These arrangements will bring Twist to DMAs covering 70% of U.S. television households.
And, additional distribution agreements are expected to be announced by summer, TEGNA says.
A preview reel can be seen at www.watchtwist.com.
— Editing by Adam Jacobson, in Boca Raton, Fla.
RBR+TVBR OBSERVATION: Is TEGNA too shy with who this new multicast network is really appealing to? C’mon, TEGNA — get out of the closet and say this offering is for the LGTBQ crowd. The name alone suggests it.
For a generation of LGTBQ adults, Twist was a popular nightclub in the heart of Miami’s South Beach. And, some may recall its association with the “Men on Film” skit as seen on the FOX sketch comedy program In Living Color some 30 years ago.
Yes, some may believe it is stereotypical to simply assume Twist is LGTBQ friendly because of Queer Guy. But, all of this programming isn’t singularly enjoyed by women. And, given the disposable income and show preferences of the LGTBQ community, particularly among gay men, TEGNA could see bigger riches and, believe it or not, free promotion from any group that may protest its arrival.
Strictly catering to women is limiting and not exactly a slam dunk, revenue-wise. Just talk to Meredith Corp.’s national media leadership. By bringing a LGBTQ-friendly, if not laser-targeted, digital multicast network to life, TEGNA could only further bring over-the-air TV’s longevity story in a world where cord-cutting stories have been hijacked by deep pocketed AVOD, SVOD and OTT platforms in a place no different than podcasters were in 2018.
Be bold, TEGNA. Give viewers a new twist by fully realizing Twist’s audience potential.
One of the nation’s largest audio media companies, with investments in podcasting and a growing streaming app, is rapidly recovering from not only COVID-19 fueled detriments to its revenue, but also from challenges largely associated with the November 2017 tax-free merger it successfully completed with CBS Radio.
Entercom Communications early Wednesday released its Q4 and full-year 2020 earnings report. While its revenue was down 22.8% year-over-year, it surpassed Wall Street estimates. Entercom’s earnings per share? That’s another story.
Entercom’s adjusted net income shriveled to $23.04 million (translating to a non-GAAP earnings per share of $0.17), from $53.38 million ($0.40).
Wall Street analysts expected non-GAAP EPS to come in at $0.18.
On a GAAP basis, Entercom’s EPS was negative, at -$1.21. That was far off from Street prognostications, as profit of $0.02 per share was forecast.
Total net revenue came in at $319.5 million, compared to $414.12 million in Q4 2019.
That said, year-over-year comps are being downplayed by the radio industry, which is intent on showing sequential quarterly improvements from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. And, those sequential improvements paint a positive picture for the owner of key Sports Talk properties as WFAN-AM & FM in New York and podcast players Cadence13 and Pineapple Street.
Total net revenue in Q2 2019 was $175.87 million, off from $380.67 million in the second quarter of 2020.
Of course, perspective is everything: Revenue was down 22.8% year-over-year in Q4. Revenue was down a steep 53.8% in Q2.
What was Entercom’s non-GAAP Station Operating Income (SOI)? In Q4 2020 it totaled $80.69 million, slipping from $129.66 million.
Then, there are the non-adjusted numbers, which show a diminished net loss in Q4 2020 of $162.4 million, from a net loss of $487.54 million in Q4 2019.
Lastly, Free Cash Flow, a largely important figure for the radio industry, came in at $37.97 million. While that’s down from Q4 2019’s FCF of $59.52 million, it’s a big swing from negative FCF of $47.87 million seen in Q2 2020.
The Q4 2020 results, while pointing to positive growth, are propelled by something that likely won’t be repeated for some time: incredibly strong political ad dollars.
Entercom in Q4 saw political revenue of $18.89 million — a record high that dwarfs Q4 2018’s revenue of $12.3 million.
Importantly, the record-crushing political didn’t diminish Entercom’s sequential improvements in spot revenue, or its network revenue.
Then, there is Entercom’s digital story. Not only has the company returned to growth, something finally seen in Q4 2019 after months of mediocre revenue trends, but it established a new division record in Q4 2020 — finishing at a mighty $58.8 million.
It’s extremely encouraging news for Entercom, which has invested heavily in its Radio.com streaming app and platform, inherited from the CBS Radio merger and completely rebooted.
The other interesting positive for Entercom: Sponsorship and event revenue isn’t totally comatose, with sequential gains pushing it to $9.6 million in Q4 from $7.24 million in Q2 2020. Year-over-year? That’s ugly, given the loss of holiday-themed live events Entercom would normally stage during the final three months of the year.
In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, Entercom offered revenue by “format,” splitting its music stations from its Sports and News/Talk broadcast properties. The improvement in revenue on a sequential basis is most noticeable at its music stations.
Entercom’s C-Suite, ahead of its earnings call for investors and financial analysts, also pointed to a slash in station expenses in Q4 as a key factor in achieving revenue growth.
Station expenses for the fourth quarter declined 16% to $238.8 million year-over-year and corporate expenses declined 6% to $20.2 million.
The big black mark for Entercom in Q4: Operating loss for the quarter was $204.9 million, as this includes a non-cash impairment charge of $247.4 million. Yet, this compares to an operating loss of $455.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2019.
In prepared comments ahead of Entercom’s 10am Eastern quarterly earnings call, Entercom President/CEO David Field pointed to “strong sequential operating improvement,” with podcasting and sports betting contributing to across-the-board revenue growth.
“While the pandemic continues to hobble a large number of our advertisers, particularly locally, we are optimistic about a strong recovery in our local ad sales later this year driven by vaccinations, fiscal stimulus and pent-up consumer demand in heavily impacted categories,” he said.
In particular, Radio.com enjoyed 34% year-over-year growth in monthly active users in the fourth quarter and 53% growth in smart speaker listenership.
The author is senior solutions consultant for the Telos Alliance.
This article appeared in Radio World’s “Trends in Codecs and STLs for 2020” ebook.
Radio World reports there are more than 22,000 licensed radio stations in the United States. Of these, more than 15,000 are tallied by the traditional accounting of full-power AM and FM stations. Low-power FMs, translators and FM boosters add about 7,000 more.
The vast majority of these stations employ some kind of audio link from the studio or other origination point to the transmitter site. That’s a lot of studio-transmitter links.
Changing STL Technologies
What kind of STL was used by the first radio station where you worked? Forty years ago our main STL choices were these:
- Equalized program lines from your local phone company;
- Discrete (L/R) 950 MHz (band) TX/RX radios — one for mono, two for stereo;
- Multiplex (MPX) 950 MHz (band) TX/RX radios.
More choices arose during the 1980s — digital choices — such as the QEI CAT-LINK, which transported FM MPX over a T1 or E1 telco link, and Dolby’s 950 MHz STL transmitter/receiver pair. More audio data-reduction codecs allowed further choices in the 1990s, both in wired and wireless STL systems, including stereo and even multichannel digital STL systems.
Most of these used either T1/E1 telco circuits or worked in the 950 MHz band in the United States, and other UHF bands for other countries. The 21st century brought upgraded digital RF STLs as well as a variety of budget-priced analog composite systems.
By the end of the 20th century, both wired and wireless STL systems began having some serious challenges. Telcos became less interested in supplying equalized program circuits — so much so that most stopped accepting orders for new circuits. And, in major markets — often with clustered tower sites — the 950 MHz RF band had no room for additional users.
Today, it’s nearly impossible to even order new T1/E1 service, and observant engineers can easily see the deterioration of their telco’s outside wire plant.
In some markets, ISDN usage became “unlimited,” so a few broadcasters employed either dial-up or “nailed-up” ISDN service with ISDN codecs at each end. These days, ISDN service is withering and new connections are generally not available.
Despite the disappearance of old telco services and the congestion in some areas of the 950 MHz band, engineers actually have more STL choices than ever before.
The key to new STL options is internet protocol — IP. And the best news about IP is that it can be transported in more ways than you might think.
Let’s edit and append our list to delete nonviable options and add new options:
- Equalized program lines from your local phone company;
- Discrete (L/R) 950 MHz (band) TX/RX radios — one for mono, two for stereo;
- Multiplex (MPX) 950 MHz (band) TX/RX radios;
- ISDN codec (came and went over a 30 year period);
- T1/E1 link (unavailable for new installation and dying quickly);
- Digital, discrete (L/R) multichannel 950 MHz (band) TX/RX radios;
- Satellite delivery (L/R) using audio codecs;
- Discrete (L/R) audio using IP audio codecs with appropriate IP connectivity;
- Public internet;
- 4G LTE carrier;
- Wireless ISP;
- Managed, wired IP link;
- Private, wireless IP link;
- Linear, discrete (L/R) audio using AoIP (Livewire+, AES67) with appropriate IP connectivity;
- Managed, wired IP link;
- Private, wireless IP link;
- FM Multiplex (MPX) using µMPX bitrate-reduced multiplex technology (for FM);
- Public Internet;
- 4G LTE carrier;
- Wireless ISP;
- Managed, wired IP link;
- Private, wireless IP link;
- FM Multiplex (MPX) using linear multiplex technology (for FM);
- Managed, wired IP link;
- Private, wireless IP link.
That’s quite a list of options we have now. And, yes, several sub-items regarding IP transport are duplicated. However, that’s to make a point: As our society’s reliance on IP connectivity grows, so also grow our options to acquire and use it on a reliable and professional level.
We engineers generally have three key criteria for our studio-transmitter links:
- We’re seeking at least five 9s of reliability. That translates to about 26 seconds per month or 5 minutes and 15 seconds of downtime over an entire year;
- Audio quality. Every moment of audio that we broadcast to the public will traverse our STL. There’s no room for any compromise here; it really must be perfect;
- We should consider both capital expense and operational expense (cap-ex and op-ex).
Let’s consider each of these three criteria, comparing traditional and IP-based STL systems.
Purpose-Engineered STL Systems
Purpose-built RF STL radio systems are generally considered to be reliable. They tend to work well 24/7/365 throughout their service life expectancy of perhaps 10 to 20 years. They tend to be thoughtfully engineered and well-built.
They should be, as some of these STL systems cost well over $15,000 for just the radios. Add-ons may include additional audio channels, ancillary data, serial transport, etc. Add to this the cost of antennas and coax cable for effective service at 950 MHz and a full-featured, purpose-built radio STL system can top out at $30,000 or more, plus tower crew installation. A full backup system will likely double that capex expense. The good news is that there is likely little or no continuing operation expense (op-ex), unless tower space and/or building rooftop rental is required for a given installation.
Lower-end RF STL radio systems can cost far less than the example above. A basic FM MPX STL radio pair can be purchased for under $4,000, though the antenna/coax/placement expenses would be similar to those above.
Audio quality of RF STL systems can range from “acceptable” to “pristine.” Purely analog RF STLs balance between wideband system noise and demodulated distortion. Any distortion of any type in the system will end up being demodulated at the STL receiver and retransmitted by the main FM signal. Traditional digital RF STL systems deliver crystal-clear audio with a very low noise floor. However, many of them are limited to about 15 kHz of top-end audio transport. The brick-wall filtering required is, indeed, audible on some of these systems when A/B compared to 20 kHz STL systems in which only the FM audio processor is doing pilot-protection filtering.
Finally, unless the digital RF STL offers linear audio transport, there will be some kind of psychoacoustic coding algorithm involved. And most likely the aggressive, multiband FM audio processor will follow this coded audio in the chain. The net effect is exaggeration of any coding artifacts in the station’s audio.
Some key benefits of 950 MHz RF STL systems are:
- Robust, reliable operation;
- Independence from third-party service providers;
- Op-ex costs ranging from “reasonable” to zero;
- Excellent expected equipment lifespan;
- Digital systems that offer very clean audio with low noise.
Some downsides to 950 MHz RF STL systems include:
- RF congestion that implies interference potential;
- Lack of RF coordination, which continues to result in occasional problems;
- Susceptibility to malicious interference;
- Higher capex costs, potentially much higher;
- One-way communication — no inherent return path;
- Psychoacoustic coding algorithms producing artifacts that are exaggerated by aggressive audio processing;
- Audio sampling (bit depth) likely only 16 bits.
Purpose-built wired STL systems typically depend on an incumbent telco provider for T1/E1 service or some other tariffed connection. These have had some assurance of reliability from the telco and, at least in the past, were given priority for clearing any faults. Indeed, before telcos became more interested in providing IP connections, such dedicated circuits as T1s and the like were considered very reliable, with “backhoe fade” being the most prominent risk. These days, anecdotal evidence suggests that T1 and similar services are no longer a priority for incumbent carriers.
Some key benefits of purpose-built, wired STL systems are:
- Robust, reliable operation;
- Immunity from malicious interference;
- A variety of user-end connection options — audio, data, POTS extension, etc.;
- Excellent expected equipment lifespan;
- Two-way communication with optional equipment.
Some downsides of purpose-built, wired STL systems include:
- Dependence upon telco service providers;
- Poorly-maintained telco cable plant that portends more faults;
- Higher capex costs, potentially much higher with optional add-ons;
- Psychoacoustic coding algorithms producing artifacts that are exaggerated by aggressive audio processing;
- Audio sampling (bit depth) likely only 16 bits.
Similar to digital RF STL systems, the audio is often brick-wall filtered at 15 kHz, with the attendant audible coloration of such filters. Also, psychoacoustic coding algorithms deteriorate the audio slightly, with exaggerated effect after the FM processing that follows.
IP-Based STL Systems
IP-based STL systems can be generally divided into two categories — linear and “coded.” Another disambiguation of IP-based STLs could be “wired” and “wireless.” However, we can also use wired and wireless IP transport methods at the same time, or with one backing up the other.
Linear IP STL systems will transport digital audio perfectly with the same 1s and 0s that go into such an STL being delivered to the far end. Twenty-four-bit, 48 kHz-sampled linear audio typically requires about 2.5 Mbps to transport. While this audio delivery is basically perfect, it typically depends on having zero packet loss. This zero-error scenario is often provided through redundant IP paths between the endpoints.
Coded systems will use some kind of coding algorithm to reduce the bitrate required for transport. The audio codecs in such STL systems are generally configurable from a wide range of bit rates, and perhaps even a selection of coding algorithms. Bitrates that are appropriate for broadcast audio range from about 128 kbps up to 756 kbps, depending on the chosen codec. Modern coding algorithms offer some “error concealment.” For example, the AAC family of algorithms claims inaudible error concealment with up to 20% of random packet loss.
Linear IP STL systems are particularly good for broadcasters in that they are absolutely transparent to the audio. Every sample of audio data from the studio arrives exactly the same at the transmitter site. The IP transport path must provide excellent packet delivery performance in a linear IP audio system. Indeed, a common approach to implementation is to simply extend the audio over IP network at the studio out to the transmitter site. With this approach we assume the AoIP audio channels we need at the transmitter already exist on the studio’s AoIP network. By providing a qualified IP path to the transmitter site, we can “subscribe” to the desired audio channel(s) from the studio.
One example of such a system is at Delta Radio in Greenville, Miss. The studio and rack room were fully Livewire AoIP already. A robust 5.8 GHz IP-radio link was established to the transmitter site, 13 miles away.
The only audio equipment required at the transmitter site, apart from the IP radio, is an Axia xNode. Four linear stereo channels are received there via the Axia xNode. For remote monitoring, there are four linear stereo return channels over the same IP connection. All this audio is 20 kHz in bandwidth, using 48 kHz digital sampling and 24 bits per sample. The aggregate data rate across the IP radio link is about 10 Mbps in each direction. A thorough explanation of this system, including IP radio performance considerations, is available in this article.
Other examples of IP-radio STL systems are becoming more and more commonplace, from stations in rural Australia and small Pacific islands to the largest radio markets in the U.S.
IP radios may be licensed or unlicensed, depending on the RF band selected for operation. While not an absolute guarantee against interference, licensed IP radio paths tend to be secure and free from such interference. An RF path and interference study is required as part of the licensing process. Unlicensed IP radio pairs are likely to work well in rural or uncongested areas, but careful consideration and backup planning are suggested for unlicensed operation in built-up urban locales.
Coded IP STL systems offer several advantages in terms of bandwidth requirements and recovery from packet loss. While a linear IP STL, as discussed above, needs a near-perfect IP transport path to work properly, a coded-based IP STL is less stringent. Codecs generally offer more packet buffering, error concealment and reordering of packets arriving out-of-order than a linear system. While audio codecs themselves will cost more than, say, a simple “node” AoIP endpoint, they offer more flexibility in their IP connection’s requirements. For example, using audio codecs at each end, one may install an IP radio link pretty much “out of the box” and have a working STL. One may also use public internet for either the main or backup link between codecs.
Another IP-based STL method has appeared in the past few years. It’s an FM MPX transport codec over IP. This is similar in connection to the audio chain as an MPX RF STL; the FM audio processor is placed at the studio, and the full MPX signal is carried to the transmitter site where it’s wired to the FM exciter directly. These MPX over IP systems also appear in both linear and coded varieties.
Linear MPX STLs require anywhere from 3 to 7 Mbps to faithfully sample and transport an FM processor’s MPX output. These systems may not offer any error correction but usually do offer connections for dual-path redundancy.
An interesting application of MPX-over-IP technology is to use one FM audio processor to feed identical audio to several FM transmitter sites. There’s no need for separate FM audio processors at each site.
More recently, an interesting and useful method has arrived for coding the FM MPX signal to transport it at a much lower bitrate.
The trade name is µMPX (or Micro-MPX). This proprietary method does not use psychoacoustic coding. Rather, it’s a novel application of mathematical data reduction that is well suited for the FM MPX signal. It is “well-suited” because artifacts of the µMPX algorithm tend to fall in time and frequency where they don’t affect the perceived audio. And, unlike psychoacoustic codecs, precise peak control is maintained through a µMPX STL system. The minimum bitrate for µMPX systems is 320 kbps, with a maximum of 576 kbps. The algorithm also offers dual IP path redundancy as well as forward error correction to rebuild occasional lost packets.(Click here to enlarge.)
The IP transport(s) for µMPX can be Public Internet, IP radios, Wireless ISP, etc. or any combination of those.
Some key benefits of IP STL systems are:
- Highest audio quality using 20 kHz (48 kHz/24-bit) linear audio;
- Lower-performance IP connections can use coded audio;
- It’s likely the lowest cost option, even with redundant IP path cost;
- Robust, reliable operation with redundant IP paths;
- Additional uses thanks to IP connectivity, e.g. monitoring, backup, disaster recovery, etc.;
- Two-way communication inherent in IP connections and AoIP;
- One-to-many distribution for single-frequency networks;
- µMPX distribution that offers excellent MPX performance at modest bitrates.
Some downsides of IP STL systems include:
- IT networking skills are needed for most robust configurations;
- Where applicable, psychoacoustic coding algorithms result in artifacts which are exaggerated by aggressive audio processing (does not apply to linear configurations);
- Ultimate reliability is based on having at least two IP paths for redundancy.
IP-based STL systems easily offer the most flexibility in terms of connection options. If a private, high-quality IP link, using enterprise-grade IP radios, for example, can be obtained, then two-way linear audio is the best option for perfect audio transport. That same high-quality IP connection can also be used for remote transmitter control, remote backup, disaster recovery options, security video surveillance, remote telephony and so much more. If only public internet or lesser-grade IP radio paths are available, then coded audio at the highest available bitrate makes sense.
In either case, having more than one IP path is truly important for redundancy. We know that packet loss and occasional outages from internet service providers can be a problem.(Click here to enlarge.)
The transactional business world, as well as the worlds of social media and entertainment, are now dependent on IP connectivity. For broadcast engineers this widespread dependency implies competitive low cost and wide availability of IP transport. Moreover, this active marketplace of IP equipment and services is delivering flexible system solutions; redundant systems and connections; and generally better audio performance that we’ve heard before.
Wrapping It Up
Radio broadcasters truly have more options than ever for their studio-to-transmitter link technology. Traditional 950 MHz RF links work well enough in most situations. Analog systems do exhibit some noise, while digital 950 MHz links may be constrained by filters and less bit-depth, or by audio coding artifacts. IP-based solutions afford engineers more options, including the possibility of the most pristine linear audio link they’ve ever experienced.
Congress wants the Federal Communications Commission to take steps to improve emergency alerting around the country. So that will be on the agenda when the commission meets in March.
Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said the FCC will consider new rules to keep the public informed. This will implement the READI Act, which was part of the federal government’s defense authorization legislation for fiscal 2021 (the bill on which Congress overruled a veto by President Trump in January).
The READI Act instructs the FCC to take several steps, most of them in consultation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Notably, it tells the commission to examine the feasibility of updating EAS to enable or improve alerts to consumers through the internet, including through streaming services, and to report about this to Congress.
Given the ubiquitous nature of the internet in American lives, this stipulation could lead to the biggest change coming out of the bill.
“We’re proposing updates to the way Americans receive emergency alerts wherever they are — on their phones, on television and on radio,” Rosenworcel wrote in a blog post, previewing the March open meeting of the commission.
But also of interest to broadcasters is an instruction from Congress regarding State Emergency Communications Committees.
In the next six months, the FCC is supposed to encourage states to review the makeup and governance of their individual SECCs (and to establish an SECC if one doesn’t exist). Congress then wants each state committee to meet at least annually to review and update its state’s EAS plan and to submit an updated plan to the FCC, which the commission is supposed to review and approve or reject.
The FCC is also supposed to establish a “State EAS Plan content checklist” for SECCs to use when reviewing their EAS plans.
In addition to those two issues, the READI Act requires the FCC to establish a way to receive reports of false alerts under the Emergency Alert System or the Wireless Emergency Alerts System, so it can track them and study their causes.
And the commission was told to modify the Emergency Alert System to provide for repeating EAS messages while an alert issued by the president, head of FEMA or other appropriate parties is still pending. This applies to warnings about national security events such as missile threats, terror attacks or acts of war, not to typical local EAS events like weather warnings.
Consumer demand for one-to-one digital audio is a powerful economic force in the 21st century. Depending on your perspective, radio companies are either embracing the trend or being forced to do so. Either way, companies continue to diversify in the burgeoning audio marketplace.
The ongoing digital transformation is redefining how audio gets consumed in the home, the car and elsewhere, as Americans turn more often to their smartphones, tablets and connected speakers for audio content.
Observers who spoke to Radio World say all signs continue to point to continued growth of podcasts and on-demand content as personalized media plays a larger role in this overall audio ecosystem.
[Related: “So, Where Do We Go From Here?”]
The dramatic pivot in audio delivery is of critical interest to radio entities that engage consumers in the increasingly cluttered media environment. It leaves C-suiters searching for the latest accoutrement to accent their digital audio catalogs.
The trend is reflected in how “radio” companies now describe themselves.
Cumulus promotes itself as an “audio-first media company” that has broadcast, digital, mobile and voice activated options, including the Westwood One Podcast Network. SiriusXM — which owns Pandora and Stitcher and has an investment in SoundCloud — calls itself “North America’s leading audio entertainment company.”
iHeartMedia would probably contest that, given that iHeart lays claim to being “the number one audio company in the United States, reaching nine out of 10 Americans every month,” with a quarter of a billion monthly listeners, “a greater reach than any other media company in the U.S.”
CEO Bob Pittman has pushed the company toward new audio offerings.
“Podcasting is wide open and the sky is the limit. It’s sort of an on-demand version of radio. We see it as an extension of radio,” Pittman said during a quarterly earnings report in 2020. Just this month the company announced another planned audio-related acquisition, that of Triton Digital.
The podcast business is thriving, with growth driven by consumers embracing on-demand audio; and radio firms have participated. Research from Borrell & Associates and the RAB shows that over 70% of radio stations produce locally-focused podcasts.
Entercom is another company emphasizing the power of audio. It released a study at the virtual CES 2021 show showing that the nature of audio content makes it more engaging for audiences than other media. The study tracked “immersion,” defined as “a scientific measure of emotional connection and attention,” and found that audio ranked highest in the test.
The proliferation of audio seems to be pushing radio broadcasters to adopt mobile apps and tech innovation to further their reach. And those efforts are expected to accelerate as hybrid radio in connected cars and voice activation tools like Amazon’s Alexa Auto proliferate. Understanding the “skills” required to integrate with new audio services will be critical for radio broadcasters, experts say.“Every channel matters”
Jeremy Sinon, VP of digital strategy for Hubbard Radio, said the company is quickly moving to digital, as in its partnership with PodcastOne in the on-demand space.
“We have a strong focus on our mobile apps, web listening and smart speaker listening. We also continue to focus on consumption via video on platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. Every channel matters and they all warrant attention,” Sinon said.
Hubbard Radio launched PodMN, a mobile app dedicated to local podcasting in Minnesota, recently. “The project has helped build a closer connection with podcast consumers in the state as well as local podcasters,” he said.
Beasley Media Group recently announced a partnership with Entercom to be included in the Radio.com platform.
“One of the most important benefits of these partnerships is incremental distribution. We engage our users where and when they are on our O&O assets — live over the air, live streaming, and time-shifted streaming,” said Todd Handy, chief digital officer for Beasley Media Group.
“By partnering with these platforms, we gain the opportunity to meet not only our current audience members where and when they are when they’re not on our O&Os, and also to be exposed to and engage with potential new audience members.”
Beasley Media Group, which has long been partners with the iHeartRadio app and the TuneIn app for streaming, has embraced podcasting; for instance it created the bPod Studios Networks where it’s innovating in other podcast-adjacent spaces, Handy said.
“The intent there is to not only meet current and potential audiences where they are, but also to bring them fresh, engaging content that in some cases is part of our general programming, and in other cases is more long-tail and niche focused.”
Finding ways to engage audiences through multiple distribution channels is what drives Beasley’s digital development, Handy said.
“Hybrid radio is the next evolution in that engagement. It combines the large reach of broadcast with online interaction, making radio even more powerful and dynamic. Hybrid radio will allow listeners to engage with content and marketing messages they hear in the car. This will increase radio attribution and overall advertising effectiveness,” Handy said.
Beasley Media Group also has invested in SpokenLayer, a leading provider of short-form voice and audio content for virtual assistant and connected devices, including Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.Short bites, daily habits
National Public Radio continues to invest development resources in its digital platforms, including station streaming, the NPR One app, NPR podcasts and the Alexa skill, according to Michael Smith, chief marketing officer for NPR.
Smith says the nimbleness of audio and the ability present it through new technology is critical to NPR’s growth.
“The new platforms have allowed us to create different kinds of content because the format has changed. People today are listening to what I call short bite or daily habit podcasts. Just 10- and 15-minute shows. It presents new opportunities to present NPR audio,” Smith said. “Therefore you have these new podcasts that deal specifically with finance or politics.”
NPR’s short daily podcasts include “Up First,” which is produced by the “Morning Edition” team, and “Short Wave,” which comes from the NPR Science Desk.
Smith, who leads NPR’s business development team, says the lines between what is a podcast and what is an Instagram post are blurring. “People are even consuming podcasts on YouTube,” he said.
In addition, there is growth in interest among younger audiences finding NPR programming on the new distribution channels.
“Younger listeners are eager to engage in news and information presentations but on the platforms they are already comfortable with. On social media and smart phones. That opens up a whole new audience for us,” Smith said.
He said research shows that the median age of NPR’s podcast listening audience is at least 15 years younger than the traditional terrestrial radio audience.
NPR is firmly entrenched in the podcasting ecosystem. Podtrac says it had 20 million unique listeners in the U.S. in December, with nearly 193 million streams and downloads.
Findings from a study by NPR and Edison Research in 2020 showed spoken word audio in the United States had increased by 30% in the past six years. Some of the biggest growth is among 13- to 34-year-olds.
Meanwhile, digital advertising continues to accelerate for commercial broadcasters, according to AdsWizz, as the number of mobile devices accessing digital audio grows.
The digital audio advertising platform said in its annual Podcast Trends report there was an 81% increase in advertising impressions between January and September 2020 among the publishers it works with.
iHeartMedia’s digital revenue was up 16.5% year-over-year in Q3 2020 with most of that growth attributable to podcasting, which grew revenue 73.6% compared to the previous year. The iHeartPodcast Network remained the biggest podcast publisher in December 2020 among the entities measured by Podtrac.
The country’s largest radio group acquired Voxnest at the end of 2020 and is now able to provide podcast advertisers with additional targetable inventory by allowing the effective and efficient monetization across an entire range of podcast inventory on our programmatic platform, said Carter Brokaw, president of digital revenue strategy for iHeartMedia.
“This additional inventory and the application of Voxnest’s programmatic capabilities will increase the monetization of iHeartMedia’s full range of podcasts and advance the podcast marketplace for both buyers and sellers,” Brokaw said.
iHeartMedia’s SmartAudio project, Brokaw says, is a data-driven platform for the total audio marketplace, which includes broadcast, streaming and podcasting.
“We look to establish benchmarks of success by measuring results of radio campaigns with total iHeart universe delivery, insights and attribution data. This allows for a much more holistic view of campaign performance from demand generation to preference building to demand fulfillment.
“We can now look at cross-platform audiences and attribution as one and enable brands to connect with consumers across multiple content touch points,” Brokaw said.
Triton Digital is among the digital technology companies that provide audio publishers with streaming services and automated buying services. A company official reported during a presentation on Jacobs Media’s Virtual Tour of CES in January that programmatic digital ad sales have grown significantly in recent years.
The company reported total global spending on programmatic digital audio between 2018 and 2020 surged 213%. Triton’s exchange totals 13,000 live streams and podcasts.
[Subsequent to initial publication of this article, iHeartMedia announced plans to acquire Triton in a $230 million move to further broaden its acquisition of companies and technologies related to the wider business of audio. Other recent audio-related additions at iHeart include Jelli, Radiojar, Unified and Voxnest.]Attribution is critical
Radio broadcast companies continue to search for ways to monetize their digital initiatives.
Bonneville International’s Audience in Motion (AIM) program gives advertising clients access to audiences across multiple digital properties. Those include display, video, audio streaming, social, native or sponsorship and programmatic opportunities.
The broadcaster is streaming audio over multiple outlets, said Jennifer Williams, director of digital media for Bonneville International, including Spotify, Pandora, Google Play and SoundCloud, in addition to the company’s owned and operated network.
And ad attribution is imperative, Williams says, now that clients expect it.
“In the past, we used to compete with budgets that had attribution, now we complement and extend the ad recall. We have been able to help prove ROI by including audio tactics in a traditionally digital campaign.”
Bonneville International is focused on an initiative to increase its video pre-roll and smart speaker options on its streaming services, Williams said.
“To be able to add a visual element to those initially logging on via web, and a catchy intro to those using at home devices in their new office set up will be a been a fun new way to show the evolution of audio,” Williams said.
Comcast-owned FreeWheel Advisory Service’s latest research report, “The Definitive Guide to Video,” explores the differences between linear and digital TV advertising.
Author David Dworin examines the progress the industry has made in bringing these two worlds together, specifically across two dimensions, in this report.
Where Arkansas meets Oklahoma via U.S. Highway 412 sits a dormant broadcast tower that’s home to a transmitter for a 5kw daytime/31 watt nighttime AM that has been owned by regionally known licensee Jay Bunyard for nearly 13 years.
Most recently, this station was an ESPN Radio affiliate. Now, it’s being sold — and a change in language is most likely on the way for this forlorn station.
With the last broadcast transaction of the year — a $55.8 million TV deal — the broadcast deal volume for 2020 passed the $1 billion line, closing with a total of $1.02 billion.
That’s an 87% drop from 2019, Volker Mörbitz of S&P Global Market Intelligence notes, clearly highlighting the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is, however, a volume 27% higher than that of 2010 when the deal market felt the full impact of the 2008-2010 financial crisis.
“Stations that choose to ignore optional EAS alerts can instead provide an unobtrusive, natural-sounding announcement in its place to convey the same message,” the company said.
“Furthermore, users can use ATMOS’ advanced scripting language (known as ATMOS Markup Language) to create scripts that suit their station branding and include their station name or slogan. When integrated with automation, the product can produce an alert announcement and gracefully insert it into the playlist.”
ATMOS is used by radio and TV stations to automate weather reports in a natural-sounding manner. It uses customizable script templates and AI-powered synthesized speech.
Summit President Paul Stewart was quoted in the announcement saying the intent of the IPAWS integration was to improve public safety in creating alerts that deliver the message without a robotic voice and are delivered without preempting a station’s programming.
“We heard far too often that optional alerts were being ignored on account of the National Weather Service voice engines sounding too robotic and jarring,” he said.
Summit worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to implement the interface needed to receive IPAWS alerts, he said. The interface is built on a cloud-based process that is hosted by redundant, geographically-separated tier-3 data centers.
Also new, Sponsor Manager provides a tool to manage advertisers and underwriters and appending their messages to weather reports.
“The new tool allows a user to create a sponsor, write a script, schedule the message and even track the number of times the weather report was performed. This is important considering each weather report may be aired numerous times an hour as prescribed by a station’s format and audience behavior,” the company said.
While the concept isn’t new, Stewart said, the environment makes it easy to edit, synthesize and schedule messages.
Also, ATMOS can now integrate with EAS equipment manufacturers, providing the ability to automate Required Weekly Tests from within ATMOS or through most automation or playout software suites. “This functionality is especially useful when inserted into a playlist to provide graceful execution of RWTs that do not interfere with programming or traffic breaks.”
ATMOS can be configured to provide a linear PCM (wav) file for ingest into automation or can be configured to play out the audio report directly. Subscribers are delivered a desktop application compatible with Windows 7, 8, 10, and Server 2014 or newer.
The National Association of Broadcasters announced a digital campaign called “Voices From the Field,” that is intended to highlight stories of broadcasters using first-person accounts.
The first segment features Shomari Stone, general assignment reporter for WRC-TV in Washington, who talks among other things about his experiences covering the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
“The campaign, part of NAB’s ‘We Are Broadcasters’ initiative, will spotlight how broadcasters are using their expertise, experience and dedication to local broadcasting to serve their audiences and uplift their communities,” the NAB stated in a press release.
Subjects will share why they became broadcasters and what they are passionate about in their careers.
“The campaign will focus on local reporters, on-air radio talent, photojournalists, broadcast engineers, producers and editors to highlight the people responsible for delivering news, weather, emergency information and public affairs programming to local communities.”
NAB said the campaign will use podcasts, video interviews and Q-and-As.