Friday, December 12, 2008

HD Radio and the MMTC -- WTF

So the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council has weighed in on the issue of mandatory inclusion of HD Radio tuners on satellite radio receivers. According to Radio Ink:

"The MMTC feels the FCC "should require seamless scan AM/FM and HD Radio capacity in SDARS receivers because, without such a requirement, Sirius XM could use its satellite monopoly in the marketplace, the cost savings generated from the merger, and its relationships with equipment manufacturers and retailers to retard the growth of terrestrial services."
As they state on their website, the MMTC's concerned about promoting and preserving equal opportunity in the mass media and telecommunications industries. But is that cause really being furthered here?

One proposed condition for the merger was to have some frequencies set aside for minority broadcasters. MMTC support for that proposal would make a lot of sense, as it keeps the door open for others to enter the satellite radio game.

But this petition only makes sense in the strange alternate universe of the NAB. In this mythical realm, broadcast radio's audience is only declining because of satellite radio's existence. Listeners are lured to the pure, digital sound of satellite radio. If only HD Radio had a fair chance, broadcasters know they could win those listeners back!

In such a world, the MMTC's reasoning makes sense. After all, "
Sirius XM could use its satellite monopoly... to retard the growth of terrestrial services." Therefore, by placing AM/FM/HD receivers on satellite radio tuners, listeners wouldn't be forced to only get the programming that SIRIUS/XM monopoly doles out. The world would open up for those boxed-in listeners.

Well, in this reality things are quite a bit different. First off, broadcast radio listeners aren't exclusively fleeing to satellite radio. They're moving to MP3 players to enjoy their own music libraries, and smart phones for streaming Internet radio. They're enjoying "radio on demand" (podcasts) and services such as LastFM and Pandora that let them program their own radio stations. And almost all of this is commercial-free (or at least not as commercial-heavy).

Secondly, the appeal of satellite radio isn't the sound quality -- it's the content. A lot of subscribers are grousing about the programming after the merger, but it's only in comparison to what each service offered before. I doubt you'll find anyone saying broadcast radio has far better music options!

Thirdly, HD Radio's been pitched as having better sound quality (which no one really cares about), and no subscription fees! But what people are subscribing to is the content. And since most stations simply simulcast their main signal on their HD Radio frequency, that's not much of an incentive. (And I grant public radio's done a much better job in this regard). Which is why, even after five years in the marketplace, HD Radio's gone nowhere.

And fourth, the satellite radio monopoly really isn't one at all. It's a subscription service. If you don't pay the subscription, you're not cut off from news, talk, sports, music or any other audio information. You still have the above-mentioned terrestrial radio, MP3 players, smart phones, etc.

So the MMTC's stance doesn't really wash. If every satellite radio receiver had AM/FM/HD built in, how much do you think they'd be used? Remember, these devices are in the hands of people who are paying money for content they can't get on terrestrial radio in the first place.

And if it's so important that every citizen have access to HD Radio, why is the petition limited to just satellite radio tuners? Why isn't there a mandate requiring every radio receiver have HD Radio built-in? And really, to be fair, why isn't there a petition requiring every radio receiver to be satellite-ready? After all, if a "seamless scan" of AM/FM/HD is vital for SDARS receivers, then shouldn't AM/FM radios also provide a seamless scan through HD and SDARS as well? Wouldn't that really be equal opportunity, as it places all platforms on all devices?

I'm sure the MMTC only wants to ensure that all people have access to all media -- but I just don't see how this petition does that. The only "winner" I see here is iBiquity. Because if this requirement is passed, then iBiquity will receive a licensing fee for every satellite radio tuner manufactured. And even if not a single owner ever turns on the HD Radio option, it won't matter. iBiquity will -- by government mandate -- make a fortune.

And IMHO, there's nothing fair or equal about that opportunity at all.

- Ralph
Day 172 of the WJMA Web Watch.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:36 PM

    "Now on HD Radio: Subscriptions, Pay Per Hear, and More"

    "A new 'conditional broadcasting' feature for HD Radio called RadioGuard, from NDS, will allow owners of compatible HD radios to pay for premium content via a subscription, a one-time charge, or as part of a sponsored deal... They're primarily looking at home and car use right now because it's hard to design a device like this to consume so little power that it can be carried away from a power source."

    This all came about because of the 10+ year-old FCC requirement about SDARS receivers capable of incuding other digital radio. Once iNiquity gets RadioGuard approved by the corrupt FCC, HD Radio won't be free for long - but who would pay for this junk programming, anyway. This would also antiquate all current HD radios, requiring yet another round of purchases. This is why I started this blog: