Apple recently introduced the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus & iPhone X (it’s 10th anniversary iPhone). Each of these new iPhones have an FM chip in them, I’ve read, that if turned on, could receive OTA FM radio signals, but these chips are not activated.
I’m not an engineer, but I suspect there’s more to making an iPhone receive FM radio than just turning on a software switch. I will let those more knowledgeable about these things weigh in on this aspect.
Streaming Audio & Data Usage
One of the reasons broadcasters cite for having FM chips activated in smartphones is that it uses less battery power and doesn’t consume your data plan like streaming does.
And the other reason is that FM radio stays on-the-air when cell towers go down in a storm, like Hurricanes Irma or Harvey.
NextRadio says it’s seen a big percentage jump in usage to their App in Florida during Irma by allowing a smartphone equipped with an FM chip to listen to over-the-air FM radio broadcasts.
Verizon’s Smallest Data Plan
I’m a Verizon customer. Have been for a long time. I was on their unlimited data plan until a Verizon rep said my data consumption was not even half of Verizon’s smallest data plan and that I could cut my monthly phone bill in half by getting off that plan. So, I did.
This past Memorial Day weekend I streamed Allan Sniffen’s WABC Rewound while driving from Massachusetts back to Virginia. I consumed almost all of my 1GB plan due to this. I called Verizon about what I could do and was told they would switch me to their new small data plan at no charge. It’s now 2GB, plus any unused data rolls over.
I have something like 4+GB now and it grows because most of my music streaming is done when I’m connected on WiFi and not over-the-air.
I expect that this will be expanded again by Verizon due to competition from other wireless carriers.
T-Mobile Unlimited Music Streaming
Back in July 2016, I wrote a blog article titled “SiriusXM Radio is Now Free.” That article still sees lots of traffic from people searching for this service. I think they thought I wrote that it was now free, but the nature of the article mused what if they made some of their music channels free and then sold commercials in those nationwide free music channels. It’s actually something that’s been kicked around by America’s only satellite broadcaster.
But in 2014, T-Mobile introduced “Music Freedom.” T-Mobile wrote, “With Music Freedom, T-Mobile Simple Choice customers can stream all the music they want – without ever touching their high-speed data – at no extra charge.”
Then in 2016, T-Mobile expanded this to more than 100 music and video services. T-Mobile CEO and president John Legere vlogged: “Music Freedom and Binge On have radically changed the way T-Mobile customers watch video and listen to music.”
T-Mobile & Sprint Merger
CNBC says that T-Mobile and Sprint are in active merger talks. If they do become one, they would become America’s second largest wireless carrier. Can you see how both Music Freedom and Binge On would provide a very competitive stance to AT&T and Verizon?
Radio’s Streaming Effort May Be Screwed
Then Mark Ramsey published part one of a two-part blog post titled “Radio’s Streaming Effort May Be Screwed – Part 1” and showed Triton streaming activity for broadcasters and pureplays year-over-year. It’s not pretty. Pureplays up 16.2% and broadcasters down 1.6%.
Radio is not getting more important in the streaming world.
I believe it’s because, like most people, I listen to OTA radio using a device designed for listening to this service, a car or home radio set.
When I stream, I go to things I can’t get over-the-air, like Smooth Jazz music.
I put two new Smooth Jazz radio stations on the air in my radio career. Both of them are gone, as is the format in most radio markets in America today. Streaming is about the only way to listen to this genre of music.
Streaming Audio & NetFlix
Streaming audio teaches people to expect a different listening experience as Netflix taught people to expect a different viewing experience. Like getting an entire season of a show (House of Cards, for example) released on the same day and not dribbled out one episode per week, like broadcast TV.
Dave Van Dyke’s Bridge Ratings just showed how broadcast radio is being impacted by streaming: “New behavior by on-demand streaming listeners has accelerated time-spent-listening attrition because radio has not been able to accommodate the volume of songs released by popular artists.”
Broadcast radio can now sympathize with broadcast television with the way new product is released to the listening/viewing audience.
In my broadcast capstone class, one of the books my students read was by Gary Vaynerchuk called “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World.”
Gary skillfully shows how you can’t take your message and just paste it across all the various forms of social media. That each platform is like a different radio format. Your message to be effective and cut through needs to be molded to fit the social medium. Facebook is different than LinkedIn that’s different from Twitter, that’s different from Pinterest et al.
I believe it’s the same with taking your radio station’s over-the-air signal and simply streaming it (with a few exceptions, like a 1010 WINS or WTOP).
When your offering can be as easily received, as every other audio offering from anywhere in the world, yours will need to be either the very best, very niched or one-of-a-kind.
10 responses to “FM Chip, Data Usage & Streaming”
And as we’ve talked about before, most radio stations streaming version sound much worse than the over the air version due to the way commercial integration is handled. If radio stations really cared about their streams, they’d make them sound as good as their ota signal, rather than a poor after thought. People would be fired if a radio station sounded ota like their stream. Actions speak louder than words. If it’s really important to you, put your money where your mouth is. Till then, your just playing at it.
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You’re right Frank and the problem for OTA broadcasters is that pureplays take their stream VERY seriously — like an OTA radio program director. -DT
Re: “Pureplays up 16.2% and broadcasters down 1.6%.”
The calculus that we never hear is how broadcasters use countless ad units to promote their online signal while pure plays have no such promotional tool. iHeartRadio (900+ stations) vs. Pandora (1 company) is one example. Add all the other broadcasters promoting their streams only exemplifies the problem.
Could it be that, just like HD Radio’s “stations-between-the-stations” tag, radio doesn’t create a reason “why” listening online is better than other choices.
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Interesting observation Ken. Thanks for adding that to the discussion. -DT
We stream our complete programming, spots and all, because there are parts of our listening area that we cannot reach 24-7. We broadcast in mono, but our stream is in stereo, with a separate audio processor. We promote our stream as another way of listening, along with our on demand products (podcasts, both original and archival) and we have Android and Apple Apps. We refer to the cellphone as the new portable radio. It’s a way for our listeners to hear us anywhere. We don’t look at streaming as an additional revenue source, we look at it as an extension of our air signal. We know there is in office desktop listening and we encourage that. For us, this works, especially when we see large spikes for special programming like high school soccer, basketball and football play-by-play.
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That’s the way to treat streaming for OTA radio Cathy. I wished you’d shared your station’s call letters and website so others can hear what you’re doing. Thanks for sharing. -DT
“Radio is not getting more important in the streaming world”
You’re right, and that’s because listening to the radio is not the same as streaming music. Two different functions. Streaming has replaced buying in the music world. Back in the 80s, people had the option of home-made cassettes in their cars. They didn’t have to listen to AM/FM. They could listen to their own music mix. Then they could make their own CDs. Now they can make their own streaming mix. They can do it cheaper than buying tapes or CDs. This is a disaster for the music business. You can see it in their sales figures. Streaming revenues are a fraction of what they once made in sales. The profit margin for streaming royalties is about 20% of the profit margin for sales of CDs or album downloads.
What does this have to do with radio? Nothing. Why? Radio really isn’t in the streaming business. Sure they offer their stations for streaming on various apps. And as you point own, use of those apps is down 1%. Not really a big deal. The big problem with streaming is the expense. With all the revenues Pandora has reported, they have yet to show a profit. As a result, their founder & CEO Tim Westergren was replaced, and Sirius has made an investment in Pandora. You can expect them to end free streaming. Sirius is in the subscription business, and that’s what they will do to Pandora.
When a radio station streams music, it pays digital royalties to SoundExchange, in addition to publishing royalties to BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC. That’s different from what they pay OTA. At the same time, their revenues are typically about 1/10th of what they make OTA. So while streaming the station gets them on a cell phone, it doesn’t make them a real profit. So why do it? For equality of platform? Seems like a high price to pay just to be as cool as Pandora. Once again, there is no profit in streaming. None. Yes, a lot of people stream, but they do it because it’s a free way to listen to music. That’s bad for the music business. They want to increase streaming royalties. Is that good for radio? You tell me. Is that really a business we want to be in, where we don’t control the cost or use of the content? I don’t think so. If we lose to Pandora, so what?
Streaming royalties are strong for the labels. Warner Music Group’s Q1 financials, CEO Steve Cooper proudly said,
“Our strong momentum continues with excellent first-quarter results including 11% constant-currency revenue growth on top of 11% growth in the prior-year quarter. While streaming continues to drive industry growth, we are outperforming the market thanks to extraordinary music from our artists coupled with first-class execution from our operators around the world.”
Others, like Cathy Grande posted here in the comments, look at streaming as a way to extend their reach and coverage area.
But people stream content for entirely different reasons than they use OTA radio content.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. -DT
Apple has confirmed that no iPhone model has ever had functional FM hardware, and in the case of the iPhone 7 and newer there is no FM hardware at all,
Thank You Bill.
I actually don’t use my iPhone to listen to OTA radio, but then, like you, I own a ton of working radio sets — many with batteries — that I use specifically for that purpose.