John Anderson of DIYmedia.net (link on right) has kept abreast of the debacle that has been HD radio, and this latest post, reprinted in its entirety, pretty much sums it up. How can this company, with no basic income, still be around — particularly given the hopelessness of its product and prospects:
HD Radio Still Awaiting Breakthrough
According to the FCC, less than 20% of radio stations in in the United States have adopted the HD protocol, nearly nine years after its proliferation was sanctioned; some have since turned it off. The technology has failed to crack any significant international markets. iBiquity and its mostly-conglomerate backers have tried various tweaks to the system in hopes of improving its robustness, but none show any potential to be a game-changer.
The HD Radio Alliance, a consortium of proponents who have devoted hundreds of millions of dollars worth of airtime to promoting HD Radio, also appear to be slacking on that support in favor of investments in other digital technologies which don’t directly involve over-the-air broadcasting.
Two-thirds of the respondents to an informal Radio Business Report poll say they have no plans to adopt HD. This seems to accurately reflect an increasing disdain within the industry about the system and its prospects. (The only exception to this seems to be Radio World commentator “Guy Wire,” but it’s hard to take a nom de plume seriously and even he seems to be wavering).
These are just the quandaries facing the transmission side of HD adoption. Receivers remain scarce; some manufacturers and retailers have abandoned the technology and those who have invested in an HD-capable radio are underwhelmed by the system’s performance in the real world. There’s no evidence to show that listener demand for HD Radio is improving from its anemic condition, either.
Proponents of the technology cite the fact that more vehicle manufacturers are implementing HD Radio into their dashboards, but this is not a viable sign of its popularity.
Last decade, when the notion of tethering smartphones into the car and/or directly implementing in-vehicle wireless Internet access was more idea than reality, automakers resisted the implementation of HD Radio because of its proprietary nature (with associated costs) and lack of qualitative usefulness. In a nutshell, they did not see the value in adding HD functionality to their entertainment systems because it didn’t provide enough return on investment.
Now the auto industry is enthusiastically embracing the “glass dashboard,” in which HD Radio is just one functionality — and a subsidiary one at that — among many new features. Now it’s become economically inconsequential for vehicle manufacturers to add HD compatibility in the midst of undertaking such a significant investment in the promulgation of other, newer mobile communication and entertainment technologies. In this context, HD Radio is a dull piece of bling in the galaxy of dashboard convergence.
iBiquity has responded in scattershot fashion to try and wake the patient from its coma. The company slashed its licensing fees, offered generous financial assistance to encourage broadcaster adoption, and most recently, implemented a weak “contest” with cash prizes in an attempt to inspire local radio sales staffs to pitch FM-HD’s multicasting feature more pointedly.
CEO Bob Struble recently penned a column in which he predicted the success of HD Radio would rest on the datacasting element it brings to the radio experience. But even he’s sounding a bit desperate: “[W]e need to get on it, now, because fully featured devices are being sold, now, and consumer impressions are being made, now. Most folks understand the upgrade process will be gradual, but the industry needs to show consistent progress.”
Therein lies the dilemma: how does a company with no independent revenue entice broadcasters to adopt a digital radio technology with net detriments, and how can it possibly convince receiver-makers and listeners to care in the face of such a feeble situation? There’s no credible answer to these questions, and so long as that remains the case it’s difficult to see how HD Radio can honestly claim title to broadcasting’s digital future.