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.