HD Radio gets big boost from Wal-Mart
By David Lieberman, USA TODAY
NEW YORK — Radio stations eager to promote their growing array of free digital broadcasts get a potent new ally Monday as Wal-Mart (WMT) starts selling receivers for the technology known as HD Radio.
The world's largest retailer will carry a high-definition car radio from JVC in 1,989 of its stores in 85 markets, priced at about $190. Being on the shelf at Wal-Mart "underscores that HD Radio is ready for prime time, it's ready for the masses," says Peter Ferrara, CEO of the HD Digital Radio Alliance, a consortium that includes radio broadcasting powers such as Clear Channel and CBS Radio.
HD Radio offers CD-like sound quality and requires a digital tuner.
Stations in the 85 markets will donate airtime for Wal-Mart-produced ads about the HD Radios. The ads fit into the larger effort to popularize HD Radio. Stations have pledged $250 million in ad time in 2007, an average of 126 ads a week on each of the alliance's 700 stations. "HD Radio will be the No. 1 advertiser on radio in 2007," Ferrara says. "We will spend more money … than Geico will, than McDonald's will, and than General Motors will."
Wal-Mart says the free ads didn't tip the scales in its decision to make room for the new radios. "The factor for us is what we believe customers want to see," spokeswoman Tara Raddohl says. She adds that the chain will see how the radios sell before making room for other models or home high-def radios.
Still, landing Wal-Mart is important. Since 2004, when HD Radio became available, "It's been a niche product," Ferrara says. With prices for HD Radios ranging from $250 to more than $300, "Some of the devices have been pretty expensive."
He hopes that will change now that "Wal-Mart identifies it as something that is on target for its customer base."
More than 1,200 stations have invested in HD Radio
They see it as a way to help keep listeners from moving to satellite radio or iPods, and advertisers from diverting dollars to the Internet, cable TV and direct mail. The industry's ad sales last year rose just 1%, to $21.7 billion, vs. 2005, according to the Radio Advertising Bureau. Digital broadcasting makes it possible for station owners to piggyback multiple high-def channels on the same airwaves used for a single AM or FM transmission.
That appeals to station owners who hope to boost market share by offering subsidiary channels for niche audiences. For example, KLOS in Los Angeles offers Fusion Hispanic and Anglo Rock. New York's WKTU serves country music fans, who don't have an outlet on AM or FM. And St. Louis' KYKY offers a format called Eclectic Chill-out Music.
Il pubblico generico vuole davvero queste benedette radio digitali, come sostiene Tim Clark di Wal-Mart? In onde medie il salto qualitativo del segnale e soprattutto il raggio di effettiva copertura di una stazione, farebbero pensare diversamente. Sottolineo però la grande diversità tattica tra Ibiquity e il consorzio DRM: la prima ha curato fin dall'inizio la presenza quasi simultanea sul mercato di apparati per la digitalizzazione delle trasmissioni radio e di apparecchi capaci di ricevere queste trasmissioni. Le prime trasmissioni DRM, viceversa, sono partite tre o quattro anni fa e ancora oggi possono essere ascoltate dai tecnici degli impianti in onde corte e medie che effettuano le prove (molto deludenti sulle corte, su questo concordano in parecchi) e da qualche appassionato fornito di computer. Se HD Radio è poco noto negli USA e i potenziali acquirenti non hanno ancora ben capito di che si tratta, il DRM è una tecnologia sofisticata e completamente arcana, conosciuta - letteralmente! - da poche centinaia di addetti ai lavori. Come può rappresentare il futuro a brevissimo termine di un mezzo utilizzato, magari con qualche calo di interesse, da miliardi di persone? Mi pare una situazione tragicomica.
WAL-MART STORES INC. and the HD DIGITAL RADIO ALLIANCE announced that HD digital radio receivers are launching today in 1,989 WAL-MART stores in 85 markets. WAL-MART will initially stock the JVC HD-W10 Mobile HD Radio receiver, which will retail for less than $190. The store has also created a variety of programs and educational tools around HD RADIO.
"We know our customers want mobile HD digital radio products," WAL-MART automotive buyer TIM CLARK. "We're thrilled to offer a high-quality unit like the JVC stereo at a competitive price that will make it easy for customers to discover the great benefits of HD RADIO."
The move by WAL-MART will be supported by new radio spots that represent the next phase of the ALLIANCE's $250 million marketing campaign announced in DECEMBER. The spots will include a mix of :15s and :30s in all 85 markets.
"WAL-MART brings HD RADIO to an incredible new level of reach and power and we are very grateful for their leadership," said ALLIANCE Pres./CEO PETER FERRARA. "This underscores that HD RADIO is now within easy reach of millions of consumers nationwide and WAL-MART is an ideal partner to make that possible. WAL-MART customers not only get a terrific HD digital radio at a great price, but they can hear lots of new radio stations on the dial for free!"