Thursday, March 13, 2008

No HD Radio Spin

I hate writing about HD Radio. Why? Because there's really not much more that can be said. Thus far, the free market has spoken. Virtually nobody cares. It's like beating a dead horse. Could it turn around? Ahh sure, anything is possible.

OK, so why bring it up? Good question.

My friend and former colleague Mark Ramsey, President of Hear2.0 and Mercury Radio Research, was at the Radio Ink convergence conference in San Jose and wrote an excellent post on this very subject and I thought I would share it with you. The conference was more about what can and should be rather than what never was.

From Mark Ramsey and hear2.0:

Black Friday for HD Radio

This week's Convergence conference in San Jose was a terrific gathering of broadcasters and their partners who feel radio's best days might very well lay ahead. No sticks in the mud, these. Rather, folks with brains and vision and a plan, or at least the hopes of developing one.

This was no place for spin doctors and conventional wisdom. So I was not surprised when Kurt Hanson spoke on radio's future with an emphasis on radio's inevitable future on the Internet.

Nor was I surprised when Kurt veered left to discuss - and dismiss - HD Radio.

What fascinated me was the reaction.

Any room full of broadcasters is full of HD radio doubters, nowadays. But the vibe in this room was remarkable for the eye-rolling and audible snickering that greeted virtually any mention of HD.

Kurt disassembled HD's premise by dividing the total number of radios now in circulation by the markets in which those radios live and other relevant assumptions (I did something like this a while back myself). He arrived at the conclusion that the average HD radio advertiser in any given market could reach more prospects by standing at the bottom of their driveway and handing out fliers.

In a panel session immediately following Kurt's, the lone iBiquity spokesman filibustered on his talking points, spitting one after the next, but the effort seemed surprisingly desperate. You could almost hear the sweat forming on his brow as he reiterated his case, oblivious to the thrashing that had just occurred.

Although he described himself as Kurt Hanson's "evil twin," the feeling in the room was that he was at least half right.

It left me feeling that a corner had been turned. That broadcasters understood new media presented scores of new opportunities, few of which had anything to do with selling newfangled radios to consumers who don't want or need them.

This should create great hope for those of us in radio: Hope that good ideas really will rise to the top. Hope that we're too smart to be taken in by pyramid schemes. Hope that those with a vested interest will be revealed for what they are. Hope that those with the interests of broadcasters and listeners and clients at heart will create the kind of future those constituencies demand and deserve.

All along, HD radio was designed as the industry's counterpunch to XM and Sirius. As the satellite titans near a merger (which I do believe will happen and could come any day now) in order to save themselves, as satellite's control over one pocket in the dashboard accelerates, as another pocket opens up for all-things-Internet, HD radio will rapidly dim into obsolescence like the technological also-rans which preceded it.

All technology is transitional, but some never make it to the transition.

In this new media world, opportunities are actually less about "convergence" than about emergence. Chaotic storms of passion bring audiences together. Their whims and tools and discussions allow them to take the driver's seat. We are and always will be in service to them.

HD radio was always about what the industry wants, not about what consumers want. That's why it was doomed to fail from the start.

And, unless there's some remarkable consolation prize embedded into the satellite radio merger decision, that day shall be Black Friday for HD radio.


Anonymous said...

Ramsey was dead-right on this one - at least broadcasters are starting to see that HD Radio is DOA:

Jerry Stevens said...

We can't really say that HD Radio is DOA because we really don't know when "A" is. Yesterday, today, next year? There is no bright white finish line at which point the game is over. So HD soldiers on. Is it pathetic in its current form? Yes it is. Will it ever take off. We don't know.

You could have pronounced the Internet dead in 1980. Who knew Marc Andreessen was going to invent a graphical user interface (Mosaic) in 1993 and open it up to the masses?

I think the suits screwed up when they (we?) decided that the critical element of HD was multicasting. It's as if Delta Airlines was hit with the problem of low seat occupancy and decided to resolve it by buying more planes! We can't command the price we need for the seats (ad avails) we have now. I know, let's acquire MORE seats. I would have thought that the ideal HD solution would have been the absolute technically best kick ass digital sound WITHOUT having to add more channels that have to be stuffed with an already scarce resource: High Quality programming.

paul vincent zecchino said...

HD jams. That's what HD does. It jams. And listeners don't like jamming. They know it's blather when BigRadio tells them they have to give up their variety of stations so as to gain new HD stooge stations.

They know this is like being told they have to chop three spark plug wires on their SUV's V-8 in order to enjoy crushed velous upholstery.

Enough already. The mistake with HD was sticking it on AM and FM bands and thinking the public wouldn't notice.

They noticed.

Paul Vincent Zecchino
Manasota Key, Florida
19 March, 2008

HARVE ALAN said...


The Delta seats analogy is a good one. However, I believe that superior high audio quality would not have moved the needle and shown itself to be very limited in its mass market appeal. The audio freaks dislike digital to begin with.

I agree the internet without the browser probably would have been dead. Thankfully, Mosaic was born. Marc Anderson gave birth to something that has literally changed everything.