In questi giorni a proposito di HD Radio e Ibiquity ho letto due articoli di segno opposto. Una testata online del Michigan, MLive, racconta nella sua sezione economica di un forte aumento dell'interesse da parte dei costruttori di autoradio nei confronti della radio digitale terrestre free. Un interesse che spinge Ibiquity a potenziare le proprie strutture commerciali a Detroit. Una analoga testata, ma dello stato dell'Indiana, spiega invece che intorno a HD Radio si concentra soprattutto lo scetticismo: delle stazioni radio locali, incerte sull'opportunità di investire in nuovi apparati, e del pubblico, poco interessato a una novità che nessuno percepisce come realmente utile. L'offerta HD Radio, scrive il Fort Wayne Business Weekly dalla hometown della stazione WOWO (ascoltabile, in condizioni molto favorevoli, anche dalle nostre parti), si limita nello stato dell'Indiana a pochissime stazioni, che hanno creato solo una manciata di canali digitali davvero alternativi agli analogici.
Chi dei due giornali ha ragione? Probabilmente entrambi. In effetti viene descritta la stessa situazione: la radio digitale di Ibiquity finora non ha raccolto sufficienti consensi proprio perché l'interesse da parte del mercato car radio è arrivato tardi. E' un po' come una statica battaglia dell'era napoleonica. I fautori della nuova radiofonia digitale, terrestre o satellitare che sia, devono capire se le truppe inviate dai generali dell'autoradio sono ancora in tempo per sbaragliare la cavalleria (un po' disordinata ma irresistibile) dei contenuti veicolati attraverso piattaforme IP e MP3. Io, dopo i milioni di iPhones 3G venduti nelle prime settimane, comincio a nutrire qualche dubbio.
Growth of high definition radio developer iBiquity Digital triggers move to Auburn Hills
Posted by sarigg August 07, 2008 06:20AM
Mark BialekJeff McGannon of iBiquity Digital Corp. in Auburn Hills.
iBiquity Digital Corp.'s Michigan automotive sales office is growing fast as it projects a surge in demand for high-definition, or HD, radio. Growth expectations triggered the company's move from its Pontiac office to a larger space in Auburn Hills.
iBiquity is the developer of HD radio technology, which it licenses to radio manufacturers such as Delphi, Visteon, Alpine, Kenwood, Yamaha and Panasonic.
The number of HD radio stations grew from 11 in 2002 to 1,500 in 2007, creating demand for receivers. Some manufacturers' HD radio receivers' prices have dipped to the $100 neighborhood, putting them in a position of being able to market to a wider range of buyers. Radiosophy began selling a receiver for less than $50 and Coby produces a tuner for less than $100. Receivers are available at retailers such as Best Buy and ABC Warehouse.
Thus, iBiquity, with 2007 sales estimated at $9.3 million by Hoovers Inc., vaults into a position to market itself to a broader audience.
Here in Michigan, the Columbia, Md., company has put a strong focus on automakers and the automotive aftermarket. Ford Motor Co. in January announced that starting in 2009 it will include HD radio technology in its Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles. The company now offers HD radio receivers as dealer-installed options on most of its vehicle.
BMW was the first to offer it as a factory-installed option, and was followed in 2007 by MINI USA. Scion and Mercedes have announced that HD radio technology will be included in those vehicles, and Jaguar, Hyundai and Volvo are offering or including it as standard.
Jeff McGannon, iBiquity vice president of OEM business development, calls the auto manufacturers partners, although none of them are direct customers.
"The majority of my group's job is to work with the automakers and help them deploy HD into their radios in a much quicker time frame," McGannon said. He described HD radio as CD-quality sound, while listeners who have digital radios can listen for free. There are 23 stations in Michigan that broadcast in HD radio now, and 16 of those are multicast stations.
"Multicasting simply means that a radio station can have its main station, like '98.7 Smooth Jazz,' and can also have its HD radio station, which is 98.7 HD2. On that station, they broadcast what I call true jazz. And WRIF has its main station, then WRIF HD2, which has more local content bands," McGannon said. "That gives them a real cool ability to program some real content."
HD radio skeptics say the biggest challenge facing iBiquity and digital radio is consumer awareness. Even then, consumers may be unmotivated to purchase equipment because they're generally satisfied with AM and FM.
"Digital radio is seen as a response to satellite radio," said Dick Kernen, Specs Howard School of Broadcasting vice president of Industry Relations. "When the satellite services launched in 2000, they did an extraordinary job of convincing everyone that terrestrial radio was a dead technology like the eight-track tape. So investors bailed in large numbers and radio stocks have been suffering for a long time as a result."
In response, iBiquity launched digital radio soon after, improving AM signals and allowing FM stations to broadcast up to four channels on the same frequency.
Since 2002, when the first HD radio stations began airing programming, iBiquity has had no competitors in the United States and was selected by the FCC to develop a digital system for AM and FM broadcasting, McGannon said.
"We get a lot of questions from automakers about if we compete with satellite. The answer is no. They license part of our intellectual property pool," McGannon said. "Basically digital radio is like getting basic cable, but it's free. Then if you want premium content like NASCAR ... you would opt for premium subscription services like XM or Sirius."
The National Association of Broadcasters followed iBiquity's lead and lobbied car companies and radio retailers to put digital radios in cars and on store shelves, with some success.
"The thing they've failed to do is to give consumers a reason to buy one," Kernen said. "Why would you buy one? What's the point?"
So station managers and owners are promoting digital radio.
"They have to do something to encourage people to buy the radio, and then to listen to the second station," Kernen said. "WRIF has stood out as a station that's having some success with that. WRIF 2 is spending time and money getting an audience, a small number of devotees who are youth oriented."
Others who are trying, and having varying degrees of success, are WOMC, which plays what Kernen calls "older oldies," and WYCD HD-3, which runs 24-hour psychic programming.
"That's intriguing to me. As someone who did morning talk shows in another century, I would occasionally interview psychics and the phone never stopped ringing. What I like is that it's out-of-the-box thinking. You have to do something besides music. It's harder and harder for radio stations to hang their hat on just music, because they compete with the Internet and iPods."
Kernen believes, as more stations provide special programming on the digital frequencies available to them, that it won't take long before consumers do tune in and start to buy receivers and bring the price down further.
Advertisers could follow, as they have done for specialty cable television programming, which enables them to market to target audiences who watch shows on stations such as Home and Garden Television.
"If you're Lowe's or Home Depot, you won't get the audience on HGTV that you would advertising during 'Desperate Housewives,' but those viewers watching Home and Garden are a goldmine," Kernen said.
As radio stations market digital content, McGannon said his vision is for all radio - digital and analog - to just become digital.
"My goal is for no one to have to ask to buy a digital radio. They'll just buy a radio, much the same way no one ever asks to buy a color television. They just buy a TV," McGannon said.
Though HD radio isn't at that point yet, and isn't going to reach that point in the immediate future, it is still growing fairly rapidly, particularly in the last three years.
"In 2000, we had no one in Detroit. We started with a small staff of three people, and now we're up to nine, and we'll add a couple more this year, and next year we'll add three to five people to our staff," McGannon said.
To keep up with the growth, the company is moving from its office at Centrepoint Parkway in Pontiac, where it has been for five years, to 5,000 square feet in Concorde Center at 691 N. Squirrel Rd. in Auburn Hills.
"This company could be huge," said Matt Osiecki of CB Richard Ellis, who represented iBiquity in its five-year lease. "They're not necessarily auto related so they're not as affected by the local economy as much. They don't manufacture here - it's service based. And everything is going HD so this company is going to grow."***
Low awareness of high-definition radio
By Derrick Gingery
Northeast Indiana consumers will have no choice but to adopt high-definition television in February, but high-definition radio is still waiting to be embraced, even by local radio stations.
Two stations in Fort Wayne, WOWO, 1190 AM, and one of the Northeast Indiana Public Radio stations, WBOI, 89.1 FM, have created separate, HD radio channels. They are the only two stations among the 17 Arbitron-rated analog stations serving Fort Wayne and surrounding areas to do so.
Local radio executives said the technology to broadcast in HD is available, but they are not sure the investment is wise at this point. Consumer use is nowhere near widespread.
“I don’t see us doing it until someone comes up with a really good reason why we should,” said J.J. Fabini, general operations manager at Summit City Radio Group.
HD radio technology allows stations to broadcast digitally with better sound quality. As with HDTV, stations can add more channels to their lineup with different formats and offerings. Users must purchase an HD radio receiver to be able to listen.
NIPR received a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to help purchase and install its digital broadcasting equipment. The entire project cost about $250,000 and when completed in 2005, helped NIPR boost the power of its classical music service, which at the time was hampered by a weak signal that did not reach the entire region.
NIPR since has purchased another conventional FM station, 94.1 FM, to improve the classical music service signal strength in the Fort Wayne area.
Classical music is one of three digital formats NIPR offers. Edward Didier, NIPR’s director of engineering, said he doesn’t know how many HD listeners there are in the region, but he knows they are out there.
“There are (listeners), and they’re loyal,” Didier said, “because they call when it’s down.”
NIPR also simulcasts programming from the 89.1 FM analog signal on an HD channel and jazz music on a third HD channel. Didier said at first he was reluctant to move to HD radio, but now he loves it.
“The biggest benefit is the multiple streams,” he said.
WOWO was the first radio station in the region to broadcast in HD. Plans call for the eventual move of more of WOWO’s sister stations into the HD realm, said Mark DePrez, general manager of WOWO owner Federated Media’s south office in an e-mail message. He would not provide more specific details.
DePrez said in his message that HD radio, Internet access in cars and FM tuners in cell phones all are affecting the direction of the radio business. He said it’s hard to tell which technology will resonate with consumers, but for the time being his group is “betting on all of them.”
A national publicity campaign currently is boosting awareness of HD radio. It includes a cell-phone text message campaign allowing participants to obtain rebates and other promotions, according to material from the HD Digital Radio Alliance.
In spite of publicity efforts, less than one-third of Americans surveyed by Arbitron this year said they were interested in HD radio. Forty-one percent said they were not interested at all, and another 25 percent said they were not very interested, according to the Arbitron 2008 Radio Listening Report.
That’s a small improvement from last year’s survey, when Arbitron found 44 percent said they were not interested at all and 24 percent said they were not very interested. The same percentage in 2007 as in 2008 said they were interested in HD radio.
Prospects could improve, however. Several car makers already have indicated that new models will include HD radio receivers, and many retail stores are selling HD radio receivers, according to the HD Digital Radio Alliance. As with conventional radio, the HD service is free once the consumer has the equipment.
Prices for HD receivers vary. The Circuit City Web site advertises an HD radio alarm clock for $130, a tabletop HD radio for $199 and an HD-ready car stereo for $140, as well as more expensive HD components and systems.
Fabini said he thinks Internet radio will catch on rather than HD radio because it’s become a lot easier to gain Internet access, and cars will have Internet access soon. He said friends in the business working for companies with HD channels are using them more like a jukebox. They have expanded music playlists and, in one case he mentioned, there are no commercials.
“A lot of people are using HD channels to do what they really want,” Fabini said. “For the most part, it is really stuff they wouldn’t put on the air.”
Roger Diehm, vice president and station manager at Oasis Radio Group in Fort Wayne, said HD broadcasting is under consideration, but he is waiting for the product to see more widespread consumer use. He said, percentage-wise, the number of people with HD radio receivers in the area is insignificant.
“… It’s not as big an investment as the TV stations made, but it is a big enough investment that you want to make sure you’re ready to do it, and it will do you some good to do it,” Diehm said. “If 50 percent of people in northeast Indiana had HD receivers, you can bet all of us would be broadcasting in HD.”