In a new blog post, iBiquity Digital Corporation Ceo Bob Struble reports back from the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show about the changing landscape of automotive infotainment, and HD Radio as an "indispensable requirement" in today’s media environment.
HD Radio has some sort of foothold in "every car manufacturer" now, "and was built into 1/3 of all new cars sold in America last year," writes Struble. But that’s not enough: "Cars are coming with big, bright color screens as part of these infotainment systems. Car designers want advanced HD Radio features like iTunes Tagging and Artist Experience – album cover art – to take advantage of those screens and provide listeners with the experience they expect." The takeaway: broadcasters need to step up HD adoption.
This year’s CES saw the rise of the connected car, which Struble says broadcasters can compete with by offering HD-related datacast services like traffic and weather information. "Radio is jockeying with dozens of digital infotainment services in the car for listener time and attention," he observes. "It requires the industry to upgrade its basic offering to remain competitive in the dashboard. CES again showed that HD Radio technology is a fundamental competitive requirement in cars." The takeaway: broadcasters need to step up HD adoption.
Struble also laments the dwindling number of stand-alone radio receivers in the marketplace; HD’s presence here is almost nil. He urges the industry to "work collectively to turn it around – with lower cost and more fully-featured home and portable products, with HD Radio technology as an essential feature. Maybe an initiative to develop specific programming or promotions that could shore up home listening as well." The takeaway: broadcasters need to step up adoption as well as work to prevent the abandonment of HD Radio by the consumer electronics industry.
For nearly 2,000 words, Struble waxes on about the "continued rapid progress" of HD Radio, but repeatedly prods radio broadcasters to "redouble their efforts to keep their hard fought place in the media mix." In his world, HD Radio is flying high.
Contrast that with Consumer Reports. The venerable product ratings/review agency just released their annual auto issue, and of three automotive features they recommend you avoid, HD Radio is one of them. Dissed in just three sentences: "It’s advertised as having better fidelity than conventional AM/FM signals, but we’ve seen little benefit on the road. It’s offered by most major carmakers. We’ve found that the [digital] signals tend to come and go, resulting in annoying changes in sound quality" (p. 9).
This represents a change in perspective since 2011, when Consumer Reports first gave HD Radio a mixed review. The sad thing is that the technology exists to improve or even eliminate this particular problem—but doing so would require iBiquity to open the black box surrounding the system’s intellectual property. HD Radio’s proprietary nature is integral to iBiquity’s business model, and the company would rather continue to own all of nothing than a part of something meaningful.
The National Association of Broadcasters will hold their annual big-tent convention in Last Vegas next month. I asked the NAB if I could be a part of any panel/presentation that it was organizing on digital broadcasting, but was unsurprisingly denied. That’s too bad because it’s one of very few opportunities during the year for broadcasters to strategize directly about resuscitating radio’s digital transition, and the hunger to do so is palpable. The next big opportunity will be the NAB Radio Show in September.