The Road Ahead

Wired Magazine put out a story on the future of radio. In the story, three of the five experts consulted said Internet radio would eclipse traditional radio. However, if the following excerpt is any indication, reality will probably lie somewhere in between traditional and Internet radio:

With the availability of online audio streaming technology, it's easy to play DJ. Is anyone listening? Not during drive time. But more and more people will be clicking rather than tuning in at the home or office, says Williams. According to Sakai, Internet radio and traditional radio will eventually merge: "Radio will become digital, and the receivers (clients) will make pulls through cellular technology." Meanwhile, Mellgren believes that Internet radio will remain a niche format, "appealing to those who want to listen to sporting events, local hometown radio shows, specific personalities or topics not otherwise available." Besides, Yoder points out, "radios are cheap; computers aren't. And computers involve a learning curve; radios don't.

A possibility for the future is the advent of multicasting, a broadcasting system that allows one sender to broadcast to a huge number of recipients. For reference, RealNetworks estimates that their current broadcasting ability allows them simultaneous delivery to approximately 15,000 users (at its best). With the existing multicasting technology, it is possible to deliver information simultaneously to 250,000 users, and in the near future developers are expecting to be able to double that figure. The addition of multicasting technology to the Internet would make both video and audio broadcasts much more effective and efficient. It would also eliminate proprietary software--all information would essentially be a flip of a channel away.

Critics of multicasting say it will change the Internet so that it is indistinguishable from the other broadcast mediums. The advent of one-to-many multicasting may take away a lot of the advantages that currently exist. Does the one-to-many capability of multicasting demand more rigid broadcast schedules?

If PC users plan on watching television via the web, multicasting will have to be the carrier for this service. So, it appears that multicasting will be inevitable. Nonetheless, developers are cautiously approaching the issue. "Ultimately, applications and the technology have to find each other," said Stephen Collins of StarBurst Communications, a multicast information-delivery company. "We're in a little bit of a search mode right now."

Regardless of multicasting or unicasting, radio will still blossom over the Internet. The international and long-distance reach of the network still allows users access to numerous kinds of broadcast material and information, regardless of geographic location. The Internet is always changing, but one thing remains constant: Radio is here to stay.

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