HD Radio has made no progress in the last couple of years in terms of raising awareness, according to a recent study by Mark Kassof and Company. In fact, according to the report, ”Awareness has actually declined. In ’08, 67% had at least ‘heard of’ HD RADIO; now, 54% do. And consumers’ understanding (and misunderstanding) of HD is virtually identical to what we found three-plus years ago.”
While people who have heard of it seem to understand what it is – that understanding seems to come mostly from the “HD” which – thanks to tv technology, is easily understood as high definition. Very few understand that it is much more than that, more channels and choice, music tagging, traffic and other innovations.
Bob Struble, President and CEO of Ibiquity, the HD Radio company, recently noted that AM/FM radio was the only analog technology on display at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. He was distressed to note that “AM/FM radio[was] the only analog technology remaining at CES, everything else [was]digital.”
Struble notes that many other industries have already advanced to digital. “Broadcast and cable television, mobile phones, audio and video physical media, … all were analog, now are digital.” Digital technology provides a better customer experience, and that has spurred competition. Automakers were on display in force, thanks to the exciting developments with a digital dashboard.
The reason awareness of HD Radio is so low is because so few broadcasters have invested, adopted and promoted it. Thinking their position on AM/FM dials was secure, they never felt the urgency to spend a lot of money improving the quality of their offering. As connected devices in dashboards become more ubiquitous, radio’s final bastion will be challenged.
When it comes to introducing new technological features that could increase revenue as part of their media offerings, broadcast groups that own more than one station are moving much more quickly than stand-alone stations. Group owned stations are better able to finance the deployment of new features – in fact at about twice the rate of independently owned stations.
That’s bound to impact the rate at which the two groups – group owned and independent stations – will be able to grow revenue. Group owned stations are much more likely to have video on their website, mobile listening apps, multiple channel streaming and even broadcasting in HD, according to a new “Progress Report” on Revenue Generating Radio Technologies sponsored by Wheatstone Engineering.
The study surveyed technical radio professionals – radio engineers, operations managers, etc. and attempted to gauge how fast new technologies are being adopted by radio professionals. The survey was sent to the email list of two industry publications that are likely to be read by tech folks. While the results are interesting, I weighed in earlier and pointed out to Josh Gordon of Alethea Research that it looked like he was hearing from more of the technologically savvy folks. For example, this study finds that between 20% (AM) and 37% (FM) of stations are broadcasting in HD, but according to Arbitron’s Radio Today report just 4% (AM) and 10% (FM) of stations are.
When respondents were asked to pick the one new technology that they thought would make money for their station before all others they chose streaming their signal over the Internet over a list of others.
It’s an interesting assessment of broadcasters’ attitudes toward new media. There’s obviously an opportunity for vendors who can figure out a way to make it affordable for independent stations to implement some of these new technologies..
HD Radio units sold, currently at 3 million, will reach 4 million units by the end of this year, according to ABI Research. That number pales in comparison to the 13.5 million DAB radio receivers sold in Great Britain and Europe, but it’s a healthy increase of more than 25% this year. Digital radio technologies, including satellite radio and Internet radio, are expected to reverse trends of decreasing listenership to radio.
You got that right.
TWICE, a consumer electronics magazine recently produced a special print issue focusing on the changing nature of radio listening as well, citing satellite radio, digital radio and Internet radio as the fuel for future radio listening growth. Summarized in Radio World – an online industry publication, the article notes that the meaning of the word radio has changed to encompass all these various listening platforms.
“Like it or not, our industry consists of more (than) AM and FM over-the-air signals. If we don’t change our own thinking about that along with the market, we unnecessarily limit ourselves; we exclude radio’s businesses and our own careers from potentially exciting growth.”
The broadcast radio industry is at a crossroads. The choice…view themselves as audio content businesses and proceed to foster, develop and expand as many new listening technologies as they can, or remain focused on AM/FM over the air signals, sacrificing other channels.
The demands that FM receiver chips be mandatory in cellphones as part of a deal broadcasters are striking with record labels is a wrong turn for broadcasters. Heavyweight industry associations are lining up against it – Consumer Electronics Association president Gary Shapiro is incandescent with rage. “Rather than adapt to the digital marketplace, NAB and RIAA act like buggy-whip industries that refuse to innovate and seek to impose penalties on those that do.”
Arbitron publishes an annual report Radio Today that provides an interesting snapshot of radio listening in the US. For the first time, the 2009 report includes streaming stations in its list of National Format Shares and Station Counts.
48% of all FM stations are streaming their programming while only 10% of those stations are rebroadcasting it on HD. 32% of AM stations are streaming, less than 4% are distributing it on HD. Of the stations that are also producing additional HD multicast channels (537 in all), 46% are also streaming that programming on side channels.
Classical stations are most likely to stream their programming – 82% of classical stations are streaming. After that, Contemporary Christian, CHR, Alternative and AAA formats are most likely to be streamed. Interestingly, only 52% of news/talk stations and 48% of talk/personality stations are streaming. Those stations don’t have to pay per performance music royalties, which keeps some broadcasters from streaming, so it’s surprising that they’re not distributing their content online.
You can download the study here.
Radio is well positioned for a transition to a digital future, according to a new study by the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism. Radio has the ability to maintain and grow its audience through several digital audio platforms and is doing a better job than other traditional media such as television, newspapers and magazines.
Radio is on its way to becoming a new medium called Audio, according to this study. Listeners are tuning in via many channels including Internet radio, podcasts and satellite radio, which are contributing audience growth. Not all newer digital audio technologies are growing audience however — the study notes that HD Radio continues to struggle both with the lack of audience and a static number of stations converting to the HD platform of delivery.
Radio is experiencing an “intriguing fragmentation” across other audio platforms, which are also providing broadcasters with opportunities to grow revenue. Over the next five years, Internet radio and mobile revenues will continue to increase.
The main focus of the study is the impact of new media on news, and the appetite for radio news is dropping on AM/FM stations. But 24% of adults 18+ indicated they had listened to a newscast online – either streamed or downloaded. A stated conclusion is that the slow increase in online listening corresponds to a simultaneous loss of broadcast radio audience.
All of this emphasizes the wisdom of broadcasters who are distributing their audio content across multiple channels. It’s more important than ever to strategically develop a diverse digital audio platform that feeds the digital audio audience’s diverse appetite.
Big news for HD Radio this week is that it’s available on iPhone. While the HD Radio app for iPhone is free, listening requires the purchase a Gigaware HD Radio receiver accessory, which costs $80 and is only available at Radio Shack.
In this interview with wsj.com, iBiquity chief executive Bob Struble mentions that first HD Radio went portable with Microsoft’s Zune, and now extends its mobile offerings to Apple’s incredibly popular iPhone. In addition to being able to listen to your favorite stations digitally, the app enables you to tag songs that you hear and like for future purchase.
HD is simply a brand name for the digital upgrade to AM and FM, says Struble. AM/FM is the last analog medium in the US, and HD is the digital version of those offerings.
The question is, will listeners adopt the new HD technology and move to HD devices and listening, or will they shift directly to an alternative like Internet radio? Streaming Pandora, for example, is free for everyone on iPhone. The reason to purchase the HD Radio iPhone accessory, according to Struble, is that it will allow listening to HD Radio stations on your iPhone even when you don’t have a wifi connection. (but your purchase of the iPhone required you to pay for a monthly data plan that gives you unlimited broadband…)
He hopes they will convince Apple to build HD Radio receivers directly into iPhones and iPod Touch devices, which would eliminate the need for additional hardware. It sounds far fetched to me, but a while back I was betting against FM on iPhones…
In October, CBS will begin integrating Last.fm into its broadcast radio offerings when it launches an all new station to be broadcast on CBS RADIO’s HD multicast stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco and streamed online. CBS says its the first time a music website has been transformed into its own broadcast entity.
“Last.fm’s newest initiative is a novel way for the CBS Interactive Music Group to exercise its radio programming knowledge with a fresh and innovative approach,” said David Goodman, President, CBS Interactive Music Group. “Last.fm has a large and loyal following both here and abroad, and we’re thrilled to be taking this step to expose additional listeners to the world class service.”
The new Last.fm station will feature an eclectic mix of music aggregated and influenced by the service’s user-generated weekly charts, combined with live performances and interviews from the Last.fm studios in New York, and event updates. The new station will expose audiences to underground, breaking and established artists and songs popular with Last.fm’s more than 25 million monthly users.
Last.fm is a social music streaming service where listeners can build stations and recommend them to friends. The music played on this new station will be influenced by what people are listening to on their personalized stations on Last.fm.
Why not? This is an idea that works for a bunch of reasons. Last.fm is a popular music site with a large online following – so why not extend its reach onto another platform such as HD. It makes Last.fm a bigger brand. CBS has the channels, and has made the investment in the HD technology, so this gives them a great source of hot new programming while branding their premier online station Last.fm with a new group of listeners.
I’m not a big believer in HD Radio as much more than a way to diversify over the air programming. (Ultimately, I don’t think it grows radio’s audience.) But broadcasters like CBS are already in pretty deep with the technology, so kudos to Goodman and CBS for coming up with some hip creative programming that highlights all that CBS has to offer.
The ever optimistic HD Radio fans, in the form of an HD Radio Alliance, claimed progress in a recent announcement that 1000 stations are now broadcasting a digital HD2 channel, and 100 different models of HD Radios are now for sale. According to the Washington Post report, it’s remarkable that broadcasters have invested what it takes to get to the 1000 mark, given that the vast majority of their listeners can’t hear them because they do not have an HD Radio.
The 100 model mark for HD devices is less impressive, given that it’s taken five years to get that far and the most inexpensive model is $79. Not to mention that the devices are not well merchandised at any store I’ve ever been in – do you ever see a sale on HD Radios, or one advertised in a Best Buy flyer? Or an even better question – do you know anyone who even knows that HD Radio exists, or is considering purchasing one – or better yet, do you know anyone that has one?
As I have said before, the best bet for broadcasters who are already in too deep with investments in this technology (or in Ibiquity itself), one benefit is that these alternative channels can also be streamed online, where they’ll likely find a larger audience, and make the investment in the programming of the channel more worthwhile.
Last week the Wall Street Journal’s Sarah McBride wrote an article questioning the future of HD Radio. While the tone of the article is not very optimistic for HD, it does point out that Internet radio may well be the bright spot for all the broadcasters who are developing additional channels of programming for HD, because they can easily also stream those additional channels and amass streaming audience, which is growing at a much faster rate.
HD Radio is a touchy subject with many broadcasters. Many of the larger broadcasters are financially invested in HD. There’s also a lot of wishful thinking with HD – broadcasters would really like to believe that HD technology is going to reinvent radio – as FM reinvigorated AM radio. This, argue the folks at iBiquity, is not a quick process, so it’s not surprising that it is taking a while to catch on.
I understand the comparison to early FM, when folks did not have radios that could tune in the FM band and the market had to wait for the hardware to get distributed within the population. The problem with that comparison this time around is that there are too many easily available alternatives to compete with HD. The HD Radio Alliance says that according to their research 3 out of 4 persons are aware of HD technology. Arbitron Edison found that number to be closer to 1 in 4. My own casual, non-scientific research among non-radio people makes me think the Arbitron Edison number is optimistic. I don’t know anyone who has purchased an HD Radio or plans to.
With the announcement last week that Delphi, a major manufacturer of auto radios and stereos, will be partnering with a company to produce automotive wifi devices, is an example of the kind of technology that will sideline HD Radio. Why would anyone want an HD Radio in their car when they could have a radio that can access the internet? Car manufacturers want to install devices that will help them sell cars and I just don’t think anyone is going to get excited about a radio that can get HD. To be fair, I think satellite radio is done for as well – see my post here about that.
The WSJ article does point out that HD channels that are streaming on the internet are making headway. So while HD technology is a distraction for broadcasters in terms of the investment they have made or are making in equipment to broadcast in HD, their investment in developing programming for those channels will not be wasted as long as they grab the opportunity to distribute and monetize those channels online as well.