Tuesday, June 26, 2007

HD Radio - Hindsight is 20/20

We all know the saying Hindsight is 20/20 all too well. As I keep looking at HD Radio there are so many things that we, as an industry and Ibiquity as a producer, could have improved on. Here's some thoughts:
  • The Name - HD Radio: HD is quickly becoming all about TV. With all the new flat screens and more and more programming being rolled out and all the marketing on TV that's going on for HDTV it's really confusing the consumer. Imagine if we'd decided to market FM Stereo as - Color Radio. We'd probably still be on AM and the FM band would have been set aside for something else. We could have called it Digital Radio or even better yet we could have built the model around surround sound (digital 360) and instead of just improving the quality in terms of frequency range we could have build a system that would have made the ultimate in car audio and maybe brought back more in-home listening.

  • The Boxes - Does this look Hi-Tech in any way? While there are some other models most are not ground breaking. The satellite radios are a bit more interesting and different looking. After we all saw the 'glow' of the I-Pods it should have been a wake up call that the radio makers needed to at least try for some innovation in the design. We should have and could have focused a lot more on the visual display here. Having pics of the artists, logos, trivia, maybe even some artist history or gossip. But the display is not much more than time/channel and maybe song title if it was programmed in right.

  • The Programming - The rush seemed to be all about variety and the number of channels being offered. Instead of focusing on building unique products hundreds of HD channels in a box were created and a coalition of owners 'issued' the formats out to the member stations so there wouldn't be any 'in-fighting.' Why didn't we focus on building unique products. What if all the efforts were put into some unique offerings like regional/local indie channels aimed at the new indie rock movement and 16-24 year olds that we'd pretty much written off on our main signals? Instead of just a few imaging pieces and a bunch of mp3 files spinning on a computer we could have made a full effort with real jocks, some feature programming, flashy web sites, and had a real radio station here. We've all heard Live365 home brew web stations that sounded better than many of the HD offerings. Getting 1 hit channel would have been worth a lot more than launching 300 channels no one cared about.

  • Marketing - Radio's done a lot here with tons of promo spots all over the bigger markets. The flaws noted in the 'Name' section above are holding back the effort and causing confusion, but at least we have put a message out there. Think about how much stronger the message would be with a unique presentation, programming that catches attention, and some hip-sexy looking products.

Over the next few weeks are going to watch Apple launch the I-Phone. Much like the launch of the I-Pod this product will have a wave of Hyper P1s sign up and praise the product in a cult like progression. From that legion of early adopters (mostly people who were lucky enough to get in line early enough to reserve one and afford $600 for a phone/i-pod) it will likely grow to at least see millions using the product within the first 6 months or so. We've been working on HD Radio for 3 years now and we still don't have a million people able to hear the product.

I do think the I-Phone will not be the runaway hit that I-Pod is for Apple. The launch was well done but Wall Street and so much of the press expects this to be such a huge hit I don't think they will be able to live up to all the spotlight and hype. There are other phones out there with some cool features, ATT doesn't have the strongest network for coverage and data delivery, and the cost of the phones is pretty high. You can get a lot of the features in a phone that comes free with a lot of other services. Still, they have put enough marketing savvy and fuel in the tank to make sure I-Phone gets off the ground. If only HD Radio had done the same.

There's still time to make Digital Radio a success. While we've made some mistakes not enough of the audience knows about it to have formed a negative impression yet. We can't fix the name, but we could start to center the product around surround sound, do more unique programming, aim a lot more HD programming at the under 25 audience and really put an effort into it - not just 'hard drive' it. We could also get the radio mfg folks to put out something sexy - maybe WE should make a cell phone with HD Radio in it - why not?????


Dan Kelley said...


I believe this is much of a chicken or egg dilemma; hard for companies (especially those publicly held) to justify investments in programming when there's a lack of receivers (and lack of interest in those receivers) in the market.

A start would be for Ibiquity or the NAB striking a deal with the auto industry to make HD a standard feature on new models.

A small, but very important step. More receivers mean more potential audience and easier to justify expense.

"All Channel" legislation by the FCC would be helpful - ala TV's UHF all-channel legislation in the 1960s; but that would require the government to adopt Ibiquity as the HD Radio standard.

Ibiquity/HD Radio is already the standard by default - although there's at least another system out there.

Given that Ibiquity requires a licensing fee from receiver manufacturers, this could be a tough road.

Just some thoughts from Michigan...


PocketRadio said...

HD Radio is a farce:

“HD Radio on the Offense”

“But after an investigation of HD Radio units, the stations playing HD, and the company that owns the technology; and some interviews with the wonks in DC, it looks like HD Radio is a high-level corporate scam, a huge carny shill.”


“4/4/07 - FCC: Market to Decide Fate of HD Radio”


“Sirius, XM, and HD: Consumer interest reality check”

“While interest in satellite radio is diminishing, interest in HD shows no signs of a pulse.”


"What kind of digital radio are listeners searching for?


“U.S. automakers not jumping into HD Radio”


“Bridge Ratings: Sweat the cell phone and don’t count on HD”

“In other words, Bridge says interest in HD radio is decreasing even as your station works hard to increase awareness. What can I possibly add to this honest and bleak picture that I haven’t said before? My well-intended warnings about HD’s “premature death” seem to be rearing their ugly heads almost two years later.”


“But is ‘availability’ of HD radios the problem?”

“And one broadcaster reported to me that he asked an iBiquity rep how many HD radios had actually been sold as of the most recent accounting. And this was his answer: 150,000.”