HD radio: The next big thing that wasn’t and isn’t
Call it the case of the sound technology no one asked for
March 6, 2017
By the editors of Media Life
Everyone knows the lessons of New Coke from back in the 1980s.
The Coca-Cola Company introduced New Coke, a reformulated version of its original, in 1985. The company was losing market share to the newer Pepsi and diet drinks, and figured a shakeup was exactly what was called for.
Of course, it wasn’t. Nobody liked New Coke. It bombed, and bombed hard. The company reintroduced the original Coke to the marketplace within months, to great expense and great embarrassment.
The lesson? You can introduce something new and improved, but you can’t make the public want it.
Alas, that’s a lesson not heeded by HD radio.
It’s not quite the bust that New Coke was, but it’s never delivered on the promise many saw when the technology was introduced more than 15 years ago.
There’s almost zero consumer interest, and buyers say it’s the least-promising of the new technologies that have been introduced in radio in recent years.
“HD radio doesn’t feel like a thing,” sniffs one buyer.
“Most people won’t be able to hear the difference between HD and regular radio. That’s a problem,” says another.
Little interest in the technology
Rolled out by iBiquity Digital Corp., HD radio uses digital to deliver a larger amount of data in a radio wave, which translates into better sound quality.
In essence, the digital receiver turns FM broadcasts into CD quality and makes AM sound almost as good as FM.
It also displays information such as the name of the radio station and what song it’s playing.
That’s all for the good. The problem, as our buyer suggests, is that consumers have never been wowed by HD’s superior sound.
Study after study, including several by BIA/Kelsey and Arbitron before it was acquired by Nielsen, have found that the majority of people know about HD radio but the percentage interested in using it has never risen above 10 percent.
Buyers also say the radio industry failed to get behind HD and market it to consumers. Stronger industry support could have made a difference.
“This technology has been around for years,” notes one buyer. “The industry failed in promoting it, and it has been lapped tenfold by online radio.”
Still, despite the limp consumer response, HD isn’t going anywhere.
According to iBiquity, half of new cars have HD radio capabilities, and roughly 10 percent of all cars on the road have adopted it. More than 2,000 stations are HD capable.
But at this point it seems unlikely they’ll ever have much of an audience for it.
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