After breaking the story about General Motors abandoning HD Radio in several makes and models, I watched with interest to see what the industry reaction would be.
First the damage control. Radio World gave iBiquity Senior Vice President Joe D’Angelo the chance to try and put some positive spin on this development. He calls it a "slowdown in adoption," but says it’s only temporary, and claimed that 40% of all new vehicles sold in the U.S.come with HD Radio.
Of course, there’s no way to confirm that number, but with iBiquity’s history of fudging on this front it’s safe to assume it’s puffery. The whole notion of a temporary hiatus is also absurd—auto manufacturers lock down a vehicle’s features more than a year before they actually start building it. Thus it is also safe to assume that GM had been planning this for a while.
I also wonder if this has anything to do with iBiquity’s ongoing legal wrangling with OEM parts mega-supplier Continental Automotive over HD Radio license fees. For those just tuning in, Continental disputes the expense of iBiquity’s license fees on HD receiver componentry, and stopped paying them last year. Now iBiquity is suing Continental for that money and the company’s compliance with its licensing terms. This could be a case of Continental upping the ante in that beef…but without any evidence, it’s pure speculation.
Automotive industry analyst Roger Lanctot remains bullish on HD Radio. He says that "just as many GM ‘platforms’ are adding HD radio as are dropping," though he provides no evidence for this claim. He also thinks that HD will make a return as part of GM’s efforts to provide real-time traffic information to drivers. The provision of such data via HD signals is relatively well-established in many major urban areas, but competition from satellite and IP-based providers is fierce.
Contrast that with Tampa Bay Lightning director of broadcasting Matt Sammon, who blogs that HD Radio faces an existential threat. His perspective sounds a lot like my book: underwhelming technology, lack of new content, lack of broadcaster and receiver manufacturer support. Reality is not pretty: "if HD Radio doesn’t see what’s going on, doesn’t re-brand and reinvent, and doesn’t aggressively try to put out better content, then it will go the way of other period technology."
Mark Ramsey weighs in as chief critic, calling HD Radio "A digital solution grafted onto an analog expectation with a jumble of unpredictably random Frankenstein products indifferent to consumer tastes built by and for the broadcasters which finance it." He encourages the industry to take the GM development as an opportunity to think beyond AM and FM: "From the consumer’s perspective, there is no such thing as ‘over-the-air radio’ per se….Over-the-air radio is a slice of a channel of distribution in a sea of distribution channels battling for the nexus of content and attention."
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the industry reaction to the GM news is the relative lack of it. Hopefully this will be a topic at the upcoming NAB Radio Show in Indianapolis next week. By then, the technology’s apologists may have their spin under better control.