Why Satellite-to-IP Transition is only First Phase of Audio Distribution Revolution

By Joe McGarvey, Senior Director, Marketing |

Is the radio industry’s era of satellite-based audio content transmission coming to a close? Many radio networks around the world are involved in serious investigations of the many merits of moving their audio distribution operations to an Internet-based model.

The article covers a few of the remaining hurdles that must be cleared in the satellite-to-Internet distribution transition, as well as takes a forward-looking glimpse at some of the industry altering benefits made possible by the migration to a single, IP-based distribution model.

Satellite has largely retained its primacy in the audio distribution realm up until now due to the expense and unreliability of Internet access in remote or rural areas. While many radio networks have been transitioning to Internet-based transmission for the past several years in metropolitan and other areas with fast and reliable Internet connections, they have continued to rely on satellites to serve stations where high-speed broadband is still too pricey, non-existent or unreliable. But continued improvements in the availability and affordability of high-speed broadband to remote environments is convincing more and more radio stations to explore a conversion to IP.

The satellite-to-Internet transition is also being advanced by non-technology issues. Many small stations, for example, are looking to cut costs by giving up expensive and dedicated buildings and relocating to business parks or shared-office space, which often prohibit the installation of large or unsightly satellite antennas. For these stations, Internet-based transmission is the only practical option.

The rollout of 5G wireless technology over the next few years could also impact the fate of satellite-based audio distribution. If the FCC and other regulatory groups designate portions of the C-Band for the use of 5G, radio networks my look to move to the Internet to avoid overcrowding and other potential issues in that portion of the spectrum.

Transitional Process

Another factor that could play a part in accelerating the rise of Internet transmission in the audio distribution realm is the availability of distribution solutions and technologies, such as ATX’s XDS audio distribution and content management solution, that support both Internet and satellite distribution in a simultaneous and transparent fashion. Moving to Internet-based distribution in almost all cases is a transitional process that requires technology solutions that can support both media, enabling networks to use a single solution to deliver audio over satellite or IP to their stations. It’s imperative that networks have access to the same features and capabilities regardless of the transmission medium.

In reality, most audio distribution solutions lack support for Internet-based distribution, and those that do are only capable of delivering little more than the audio, severely crippling the feature sets and monetization capabilities of the receiving station.

“…the move to an IP-based medium opens up the opportunity for network operators to experiment with new delivery models and options, such as streaming content directly to listeners.”

Overcoming Roadblocks

An issue that could slow the inevitable transition to IP-based distribution is unfamiliarity with the technology among existing engineers, who are accustomed to working with satellite-delivered RF content. Internet-based transport requires familiarity with IP and dealing with things such as dual-honed Internet connections using multiple suppliers. Troubleshooting could also be more of a challenge in an IP environment. Tracking down the source of a problem in a satellite environment is pretty straightforward. An IP-signal may traverse multiple switches and take a variety of routes, somewhat complicating the troubleshooting process.

But radio networks are beginning to recognize that the benefits of moving to an Internet radio network outweigh transitional challenges. In addition to reducing cost and potentially operational complexity, the move to an IP-based medium opens up the opportunity for network operators to experiment with new delivery models and options, such as streaming content directly to listeners.

ATX is at the forefront of industry efforts to provide radio networks with the ability to move all of their distribution operations to a single, IP-based model, eliminating the need and the expensive of simultaneously maintaining traditional, or legacy, distribution systems.

By centralizing all operations in the cloud-based network headend, ATX is providing network operators with the ability to make their content accessible to any Internet-connected device, similar to the video distribution models of OTT video providers. In addition to eliminating the expense and complexity of supporting overlapping distribution infrastructures, this IP-centric approach would enable localization of content, such as station IDs and ads targeted at a specific market, to be executed from a single location and essentially on the fly.

Podcasts, live or on-demand shows and other content would automatically be distributed with real-time targeted playlists and manifests to provide ad content relevant to the listener, regardless of his or her location. Consumers would also have the opportunity to essentially do their own programming, assembling their favorite shows and podcasts into a customized and personalized station.

ATX will continue to provide updates throughout 2020 on its quest to reinvent radio through its market-leading XDS Audio Distribution, Management and Monitoring platform.

Stay tuned.