Digital Radio: Norway and U.S. Pursue Different Paths, Yet Share Uncertainties

There’ve been some interesting developments in the digital radio realm over the last couple of months. The one that’s gotten the most press is Norway’s decision to begin shutting down its FM radio stations in favor of its DAB/DAB+ digital radio network. This has been a long time in coming, first proposed in 2015 by the Norwegian government and with buy-in from the country’s national broadcasters. That’s an important point, because the FM-shutdown, as reported in various press outlets, insinuates that all FM broadcasting in Norway is being silenced immediately.

Not true: the shutdown of stations that began this month, and continues incrementally throughout this year, only affects the country’s national broadcasters; local FM stations have at least another five years on the air before they, too, may be asked to cede the analog airwaves. A lot can happen in those years…at present, the popular sentiment in Norway about the FM shutdown is running 2-to-1 against it, especially as the analog stations disappear, their coverage areas are not served by DAB/DAB+ to the same extent as they were with plain ol’ FM, and Norwegians find themselves forced to buy digital receivers to stay engaged with radio.

It comes as no surprise that American journalists, seeing themselves at the center of the universe, would pose the question: could such an analog/digital shutdown happen here? If they were more knowledgeable about the digital radio technologies that exist they’d know the answer is no, as the U.S. has elected to use its own homegrown and proprietary digital radio technology, whose adoption is entirely voluntary. There’s also the fact that Norway only has a population of five million people — equivalent to the state of Wisconsin – and navigating a shutdown in a nation with 64 times the residents means an entirely different transition-mechanmism, which hasn’t even been seriously consered by any constituency here. Read More

Fiscal “Threat” Posed By NY Pirates Belied By Broadcasters’ Own Data

As a part of the campaign now underway to bring the (nonexistent) hammer down on unlicensed broadcasting in the New York metropolitan area, licensed broadcasters are alleging a variety of “harms” caused by pirate stations. Many of them are vastly overblown, such as the threat of interference they pose to a variety of communications networks, dangers from uncontrolled radiation — and, in the newest charge, economic hardships they cause to licensed stations.

The contention that pirate radio stations infringe on the radio industry’s right to make mad profits was first floated in an April 2015 blog post by Republican FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly; he claimed unlicensed broadcasting “causes unacceptable economic harm to legitimate and licensed American broadcasters by stealing listeners.” Read More

HD Radio: “We’re Still Here”

After its lackluster appearance at the NAB Show earlier this year, HD Radio‘s new owners, DTS Inc., are trying mightily to demonstrate that the technology remains a viable future for broadcast radio. In May, DTS announced its first-quarter financials, representing the first full quarter of its ownership of iBiquity. As expected, the acquisition had a positive effect on DTS’ bottom line, no doubt from the revenue stream involving licensing HD receivers in cars (for which the company gets paid as much as $12 per unit).

Presently, however, HD Radio is found in just 37% of all new vehicles sold in the United States — a far cry from widespread penetration, but more than enough to move the needle in DTS’ ledgers. According to a company conference call earlier this year, the acquisition of HD Radio is part of a pivot by DTS away from developing/acquiring audio enhancement systems for home entertainment technologies (which are on the decline) and toward the mobile and portable device spaces (which are growing mightily). By the end of 2016, DTS expects its automotive division (which includes HD Radio) to account for some 40% of all revenues. Read More

NAB Show Leaves Radio in Shadows

According to reportbacks from the just-concluded NAB Show in Las Vegas, it was a lopsided affair in favor of the future of television. And why not: broadcasters stand to make billions over the next year selling off their spectrum, and those who stay on the air will be rolling out a new digital television standard with new content and datacasting potential.

Meanwhile, the radio industry’s been rocked back on its heels by a slew of bad fiscal news. iHeartMedia, for now, has managed to stave off several billion dollars’ worth of its debt being called in early by angry bond-holders, but the company’s effectively now engaged in increasingly nasty legal maneuvering to decide its debt end-game sooner rather than later. #2 conglomerate Cumulus Media’s still squeezing its broadcast properties also in hopes of keeping bankruptcy at bay. Emmis faces delisting by NASDAQ in early June. Even the relatively fiscally-sound CBS has announced its intent to spin off its entire radio division into a separate company, selling it also seems to be an open option. Read More

Love/Hate on Pirate-Hunting

Some interesting — albeit contradictory — rhetoric out of the radio industry regarding the “problem” of pirate radio and how to deal with it. First up is FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, the self-designated point-man for the unlicensed broadcasting issue. He’s spent the last year blogging up a storm about pirates and convening meetings with broadcast executives and lobbyists to scheme strategies to bust them.

His latest comments came at the NAB’s annual Radio Show, held this year in Atlanta. On a panel not ironically entitled, “FCC Experts Talk Radio,” O’Rielly touted the increased level of political heat pirate broacasters now face thanks to his tirades, but he’s lamenting the fact that “enhanced enforcement efforts” seem to be “in a holding pattern for a long time to come.” He’s asking the Commmission to begin a serious pirate crackdown “before Halloween, or at the latest, Thanksgiving. It’s time to put together a game plan and start executing.” Read More