NextRadio releases usage metrics

Tuesday, November 26, 2013 - 12:25pm

Emmis-owned TagStation, which produces and distributes the NextRadio broadcast listening app for smartphones, released usage statistics for the program’s first 100 days of live operation. Headline brags are:

  • 75,000-plus app downloads
  • 5,100-plus FM stations tuned from the app
  • 33,000-plus listening hours total

In addition to the usage metrics, distribution is widening. NextRadio was first installed on Sprint phones equipped with FM receiver chips that are necessary for the app to work. That footprint was widened to HTC’s One Max phone a couple of weeks ago. TagStation today pre-announced an upcoming partnership with Boost Mobile in January.

The chip requirement means that NextRadio can only work with participating phone models, and, in fact, is not available at all from the Google Play app store when accessed by unequipped phones. A “stub” version of the app is built into partner phone models, and that stup must be activated before use. The activation accounts for the “download” metric above.

NextRadio is an interesting mobile broadcast play that seeks to leverage radio’s traditional mobility in an increasingly smartphone-dominated world. It also seeks to correct a blank spot that was arguably created by Apple. When Apple introduced the first iPod, it launched into an existing MP3-player market whose devices usually contained AM/FM receivers. Their manufacturers assumed some demand for radio listening along with MP3 mobility.

Apple’s iPods have never included broadcast reception, and as that mobile-player brand took over the market, walk-around FM listening fell off the default spec sheet for handheld music devices. NextRadio puts it back in, but requires special device builds to accomplish it. For that reason, roll-out of the NextRadio app is dramatically slowed.

In addition to competing with non-compatible phones, NextRadio competes with Internet delivery of radio webcasts, especially via aggregating platforms TuneIn and iHeartRadio. That might seem like a crippling disadvantage to user adoption, and OEM adoption. NextRadio's big advantage is that the Internet (and a costly data plan for receiving it) is not necessary. You just have to be in range of local stations.

We like NextRadio in concept, even as we recognize the app’s steep uphill climb. Here in the RAIN editorial office’s gadget museum, we have treasured MP3 players built years ago, with FM receivers still in use. They key to NextRadio success is to demonstrate demand for smartphone-received FM, sufficient to motivate OEMs to put that chip into their handhelds -- like the old days.

NextRadio enjoys “exponential” uptake in Sprint phones

Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - 10:20am

In long-ago days, before the Big Bang of Apple’s entrance into the music-hardware business, portable mp3 players were often equipped with FM receivers. In fact, the RAIN editorial office has one of those vintage devices in its museum, right … over … here. It is a Sandisk Sansa e280, optimized for the Rhapsody music service, and featuring FM reception as a standard listening option.

When Apple introduced the original iPod, the lack of FM reception was one way in which the breakthrough device was inferior to competitors, even as it achieved paramount success in the market. Because of that success, FM radio dropped off the standard spec sheet of mobile music devices. (Sandisk still includes it in recently-built Rhapsody portables. We’ve got one of them, too.)

Today, “mobile” means smartphone, and the smartphone category competes brutally with radio for listening hours. It also accommodates radio neatly by enabling station webcasts, aggregated in countless apps, the highest-profile of which are iHeartRadio and TuneIn. The advantage to webcast radio is the global reach; the disadvantages are data consumption, battery consumption, and compressed audio quality.

Purportedly to solve those disadvantages, but really to encourage local radio tuning and find new pipes for its signal, Emmis-developed NextRadio seeks to put over-the-air listening back into handheld devices. NextRadio is a mobile app that works in specially equipped phones. It launched in two Sprint models this summer (RAIN coverage here).

Last Friday, NextRadio hit the ground running in Sprint’s Galaxy Note 3, the first phone brought to market with the app available from the start. As such, it provides a clean baseline to measure adoption, and the NextRadio blog lauds “exponential” uptake -- which means 40,000 app downloads, and 12,000 listening hours spread across 4,000 FM stations. 

A few weeks ago, David Pogue, the New York Times tech columnist, hosted a panel during Advertising Week during which he called Next Radio “the dumbest idea ever.” In a modern context, with the easy availability of global webcasts and celestial jukeboxes comprising 30-million tracks, it’s easy to understand the sentiment. Massive adoption is difficult to imagine, but we’re glad to see the return of over-the-air FM to the interactive listening menu, if only for old time’s sake.

NextRadio-equipped Sprint phones hit stores Friday

Thursday, August 15, 2013 - 11:20am

Sprint's new HTC One comes preloaded with NextRadio, the Emmis-developed app that tunes in radio via FM. The new phone will be available Friday, accordint to GigaOm.

NextRadio uses the phone's FM receiver chip to tune in local FM radio (not streaming data) -- which is far more power- and data-efficient.

The app does use some data, however, as it displays a "now playing" visual, allows listeners to browse artist and album info, purchase music, and share song links.

Sprint HTC One owners can also download the app free from Google Play (it'll also work on the HTC EVO 4G LTE). Sprint reportedly will make the app available on other devices in the future.

Read more in GigaOm here.


New Sprint app bundle "Entertain Me" adds iHeartRadio, Slacker, Spotify to some Android phones

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 - 1:45pm

U.S. wireless carrier Sprint announced that select new Android and Windows phones will enable FM radio listening by way of the NextRadio tuner app.

To be clear: the phones will receive on-air, FM broadcast content (as opposed to streaming via the data network).

The NextRadio app, developed by Emmis Digital and announced in November, will enable "backchannel" data that will allow broadcasters to supply additional information ("now playing data," images to accompany ads, for instance). This data link will also allow communication in the other direction (for the listener to interact with programming).

Unrelated to the FM radio news, Sprint also announced a streaming app bundle called "Entertain Me" for the "Sprint Zone" on Android phones. "Enterain Me" will include apps for iHeartRadio, Slacker, Spotify, and Sprint Music Plus (downloads and ringtones) -- as well as other entertainment options.

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