GeoBroadcast Solutions (“Geo Broadcast”) met with key Federal Communications Commission regulators, members of Congress, and staff regarding late last week to discuss its innovative proposal to introduce geo-targeting for radio.
Consumers, small businesses, and advertisers alike are increasingly seeking geo-targeted content, and radio is currently the only mass medium that cannot satisfy this demand. Geo Broadcast has developed a technology that would allow radio broadcasters to deliver locally-targeted news, weather, traffic, emergency alerts, and advertising information. The only thing that stands in the way of this innovative technology—called ZoneCasting™—from being deployed is one FCC rule.
The FCC rule is minor, and relates to what programming FM booster radio stations can transmit. Geo Broadcast has asked the FCC to amend this rule to permit (but not require) booster radio stations to originate some of their own programming. With this tweak, radio broadcasters could insert localized content at specific times in specific areas of their community. One rule change is all that is necessary—no changes or waivers of the FCC’s rules on interference are required.
The benefits of such a rule change that would give broadcasters the option of deploying ZoneCasting are numerous:
Broadcasters would be able to air hyper-localized content to different areas of their community of license. The FCC recently recognized the value of this capability in its 2017 order authorizing the voluntary deployment of ATSC 3.0 (also called “Next Gen TV”).
Broadcasters would be able to offer advertisers the ability to reach a smaller segment of a station’s community of license. This means that consumers would be subject to fewer advertisements not applicable to them, while small businesses would be able to reach their desired audience at a significantly reduced cost.
Deployment of this technology is voluntary, meaning that radio broadcasters will only deploy it if they determine it is beneficial to their market and their circumstances. If they choose to launch ZoneCasting, listeners will not need to make any upgrades or purchase any new equipment to enjoy the benefits: ZoneCasting is both backwards and forwards compatible and works with both analog and digital radios.
The details of Geo Broadcast’s proposal are contained in an ex parte presentation filed with the FCC on November 29, 2019. The presentation is supported by detailed studies from BIA Advisory Services and Edison Research. According to the BIA study, radio is currently missing out on a projected $75 billion in location-based advertising revenue that is being enjoyed by direct mail, location targeted mobile, and out of home outlets. The deployment of ZoneCasting could incrementally generate up to $750 million dollars for local radio broadcasters, according to a conservative model developed by BIA. The Edison Research survey confirms consumers’ interest in geo-targeted radio content: 77 percent of respondents would pay more attention to ads on the radio if they were for business or products in their local area; and 72% would listen to radio more often if commercials were better targeted to their local areas.
“ZoneCasting is architected to deliver hyperlocal content, while ensuring a synchronized broadcast that presents a near-seamless experience for radio listeners moving through a market,” said Bill Hieatt, CTO, Geo Broadcast. “The benefits for radio broadcasters, who face increasing competition from streaming and multimedia services for audience share, are enormous from a revenue-generation and audience engagement perspective. Advertisers benefit by reaching the population they desire at a significantly reduced price, and consumers receive public safety, news and other content that matters most to their lives.”
ZoneCasting systems use a network of synchronous FM booster or cellular transmitters to originate and insert programming separately from the primary FM station and transmitter. The technology uses lower-power and lower-height FM transmitters that operate on the same frequency and within the service contour as the primary transmitter. Since the booster transmitters utilize the same channel frequency as the primary station, broadcasters operating on adjacent channels are unaffected by the ZoneCasting broadcast.
“GeoBroadcast Solutions seeks only this one very defined rule change, as no other changes are required based on the careful architecture of ZoneCasting solutions,” said Hieatt. “We applaud the FCC for their continued diligence in reviewing the business benefits and technical details of ZoneCasting systems, and look forward to the commission’s response to our proposed rule change for the delivery of geo-targeted content.”