Wednesday, April 01, 2009

HD Radio Keeps Pushing the Rope Uphill

The HD Radio Alliance is at it again. They’re launching a new ad campaign to help education consumers. According to their press release,
“Research tells us that consumers think they are listening to HD Radio because the promos on the station say `broadcasting in HD Radio,’” a spokesperson said. The new ads “will continue educating consumers that they need a new receiver to enjoy the HD experience.” All ads therefore will incorporate the tag, “If you don’t have an HD, you’re not hearing HD. It’s time to upgrade.”
HD Radio technology was approved for use back in 2002. Let’s think on that a moment. Seven years later, people still don’t seem to know (or care) whether they're actually using this technology or not.

Bravely pressing on, the Alliance hopes to let radio listeners know that:
  1. If they don't have an HD Radio tuner, they're not getting HD Radio.
  2. They should get an HD Radio receiver because they're missing out on loads of fantabulous programming.
  3. They should get an HD Radio receiver because, unlike certain other kinds of media (read: satellite radio), it's free -- there's no subscription.
  4. They should get an HD Radio receiver because of the pure, digital sound.
So why is HD Radio still stuck at the starting gate after seven years? Well, primarily because of the stations. The networks weren't willing to invest in new programs until the receivers had reached market saturation. But why would you buy a special radio that only tunes in dead air?

For the past three and a half years the HD Radio Alliance has been beating the drum, hawking the charms of this exciting new technology. Live Text Updates! Audiophile digital sound! Fantastic new programming!

The reality has been far different. Few stations did any text at all. The digital signal is better than analog, but still highly compressed (and far from “audiophile”). And as for programming, most stations simply simulcast the same old sh*t they were spewing out of their FM channel.

Here’s the way it’s supposed to work. Identify a consumer need. Create a product that addresses that need. Make consumers aware that you have answer for their need (and it’s better than anyone else’s).

With HD Radio, the product came first, then the “need” was crafted to fit what it could do, and then the struggle began to educate the consumer that they really did have this need they weren’t aware of.

And radio’s been trying to push that rope uphill for the past seven years.

According to their press release,
“In this economic environment, being able to receive all these extra stations around the country for free is immensely appealing.”
Fair enough. If you’re strapped for cash, HD Radio’s better than satellite radio, because there are no subscription fees. But I can just stick with my beat-up old AM/FM radio that still works just fine and not buy anything at all -- and if you're talking saving money, that's even more appealing. Am I missing out on amazing programs? Perhaps. But it’s tough to miss programming you’ve never heard.

Rather than a campaign to educate the public about HD Radio, I think someone should launch a campaign to educate radio broadcasters about the increasingly apparent DOA nature of HD Radio. I’m not sure which would be more difficult, or less successful.

- Ralph

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