HD radio, terrestrial radio’s perennial “wait till next year” magic bullet, gets a lukewarm reception from the WSJ ($), which allows that “HD Radio’s Prospects May Improve”. But even that’s too generous. A more accurate headline: “Regular Radio Screwed, With Or Without HD Radio”.
That’s because even if HD Radio succeeds — meaning that you, some you know, or someone you’ve heard of ends up listening to HD Radio at some point — it won’t help CBS, Clear Channel (CCU) and the rest of conventional radio industry solve its fundamental problem: Competition for listeners’ attention from the standard litany of new distractions: Internet, satellite, games, iPods, etc.
HD Radio – which isn’t actually in “high definition” – is supposed to sound better, but the main attraction to broadcasters is that it lets them jam extra channels into your receiver. Theoretically, that will let them diversify their programming and give listeners more choice. But more channels don’t mean more revenue, because the number of listeners doesn’t increase. In a best-case scenario, HD Radio just slows down the erosion of radio’s base.
Update: Fred Wilson, who’s an investor in HD Radio developer iBiquity, says that HD is great and that when your car, iPod or iPhone comes with HD built in, “consumers will be able to tap into the thousands of new free radio channels that have been launched using HD technology in the past couple years. And when they do that, they’ll see how great digital radio is.”
But digital radio better be pretty awesome. As Fred noted earlier in the week, his kids have long abandoned conventional radio for their MP3s:
The only time they listen to radio is when we have it on in the car for short rides. If it’s a long ride, we almost always plug in the iPod and they’ll take turns DJ’ing. Jessica is an amazing DJ if I may say so myself. She has mastered the art of gracefully moving from The Beatles, to the Arctic Monkeys, to some obscure new band I’ve never heard of and not miss a beat. In my generation, she’d have been working the high school or college radio station. Now she’s more likely to start an mp3 blog.
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