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.
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…