09 settembre 2008

HD Radio, anatomia di un flop

Durissimo il commento di John Gorman, consulente dell'industria radiofonica americana, sulle ragioni per le eterne promesse mancate del sistema digitale HD Radio. Gorman sostiene che i soldi, quasi 700 milioni di dollari, che la HD Radio Alliance ha riversato in varie iniziative di marketing stanno per finire. E che le stazioni radio che hanno adottato il sistema venduto da Ibiquity dovranno fare da sole per promuovere una tecnologia che nessuno vuole.
Ce n'è davvero per tutti ma il primo colpevole sarebbe Peter Ferrara, il presidente della HD Radio Alliance, reo di averle sempre sparate troppo grosse sulle cifre relative ai ricevitori digitali venduti (l'ultimo comunicato stampa in effetti è assurdamente trionfalistico). A parte che le radio capaci di ricevere il segnale digitale IBOC sono brutte come un incrocio tra uno scanner della polizia e un parchimetro, sostiene Gorman, il vero problema è la mancanza di contenuti. Concludendo il suo intervento Gorman cita la nuova strategia CBS a favore dello streaming via Internet e senza menzionarla si riferisce certamente a strumenti di "radio digitale" come AOL Radio: forse è il segno che qualcosa sta cambiando, che il settore si sta finalmente focalizzando su contenuti radiofonici che la genta abbia davvero voglia (e possibilità) di ascoltare.
Non ho la sfera di cristallo e non ho proprio idea di come andrà a finire per HD Radio. Resto dell'idea che alla fine il sistema verrà adottato da una nicchia abbastanza consistente del mercato e a quel punto sarà il regolatore a decidere il destino della radio analogica. E sarà probabilmente un destino di graduale phase out: ormai l'idea che la radio analogica non possa reggere il confronto con gli media digitali è passata e anche se finora tutti i tentativi di digitalizzare la radio attraverso uno schema di modulazione diverso dai due sistemi covenzionali oggi utilizzati sono falliti, non credo che l'industria avrà la forza di continuare a scommettere sull'analogico. Ho ricevuto l'altro giorno l'ultima edizione della newsletter che Ibiquity invia per tenere aggiornati gli addetti ai lavori sull'evoluzione del sistema Ibiquity fuori dagli Stati Uniti. In Colombia è partito un esperimento di Caracol, a Bogotà. In Brasile sono in corso altri test. E curiosamente ci sono ben due costruttori italiani, RVR Elettronica e Elettronika Srl, forniscono apparati HD Radio su licenza Ibiquity. Tutto questo renderà sempre più difficile continuare a dare la caccia ai segnali (analogici) lontani. Pazienza, è stato un hobby molto piacevole finché è durato e personalmente mi sono divertito parecchio. Quello che mi interessa ora è che la radio possa recuperare il terreno perduto sul piano della creatività e della qualità. E non credo che i sistemi digitali possano, da soli, consentirle di raggiungere questo traguardo.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
Radio: The HD Radio Alliance's blame game

Welcome to the fantasy world of HD Radio where the alleged 1,700 or so stations broadcasting in a second-rate digital system were just told by the HD Digital Radio Alliance that they will now be on their own. Next year it’ll be up to the stations to do their own creative to supplement the national promo spots they’re committed to run by the Alliance. That’s their way of telling radio, “Don’t blame us for our failure.”
That was the edict proclaimed by Peter “Sgt. Bilk-o” Ferrara, President and CEO of the HD Digital Radio Alliance, which calls itself the “joint initiative of leading radio broadcasters to accelerate the successful (their prejudiced description) roll-0ut of HD Digital Radio.” Let's listen in as hacki di tutti hacki Bilk-o delivers the Alliance’s definition of “Mission Accomplished.” It’s purely Presidential.
"When we began putting the pieces in place for the Alliance in the fall of 2005, there was little attention being paid to HD Radio and the industry lacked a plan to make it a reality. There were only a few HD stations on the air, no automakers offered an HD Radio and no national retailers carried receivers," said Bilk-o. "Today, it is gratifying to know how far we’ve come in three short years. While there is still much to do, this has been an unprecedented effort with unparalleled success within the radio industry. It’s a testament to what broadcasters can achieve when the industry comes together with a clear purpose and mission."
The Alliance committed radio to an estimated $680 millions of dollars of free advertising for digital radios, which translated to little interest in the product and no retail sales to speak of. Now, everything is fair game. The gloves are off. The Alliance is leaving the future of HD Radio in the hands of the station owners.
I want to nominate this as the new slogan for the HD Digital Radio Alliance: We broke it, you bought it! Though they have not been able to produce a single document to back their seemingly illusory sales figures, the Alliance claims that 330,000 HD Radio receivers were sold in 2007 – calling that number a whopping 725 per cent increase over the alleged 40,000 sets purchased in 2006.
Stop me if you heard this one before. The only thing the Alliance has delivered on is a steady stream of b.s., exaggeration, and outright lies. Prove me wrong. How many non-radio people do you know that own one – even with those 75-80 percent of retail price discounts?
Even the hard core techno-geeks passed on this debacle. Consumers don’t buy into new technology blindly. They buy products they feel will in some manner improve their lifestyle. HD Radio isn’t one of them.
When you create new technology that people can use, the money always follows. Just ask Sergey and Larry at Google and Steve Jobs at Apple. Just don’t ask iBiquity President and CEO Bob “Booble” Struble. With exception to trustafarians, most of the wealthy people I know and know of got that way by breaking rules to give consumers something they wanted so badly that it becomes a need. HD Radio is needless.
Content? Most HD Radio formats are automated dreck. Granted, there's a few good experimental formats on HD Radio – but how can they be effectual if no one is hearing them?
Design? Most HD Radios look like a cross between a police radio and parking meter. Radio Shack is slowly – or perhaps not so slowly - phasing out their HD Radio commitment. Show me one retail outlet that’s added space to their HD Radio display. You can’t. Wal-Mart never committed to retailing HD Radio in the manner Bilk-o claimed they would. It was nearly impossible for retailers to sell consumers on HD Radio.
The few retail outlets that did carry them had difficulty picking up the digital signal in-store. History will look back on HD Radio as one of the greatest scams leveled on the radio industry.
Booble, who operates in the shadows of the company that landed the U.S. digital radio broadcasting deal in the U.S., may be the bagman – but it's the station chains that are stuck holding the bag. He eats the radio industry for breakfast, and lunch and dinner. And then he hands it the tab. It may not be as bad the Great Depression, but it’s a feast of burden in the radio industry.
Broadcast stocks bear an uncanny resemblance to penny stocks. Time buys are scarce. Rates are being discounted. Programming and talent has to be outsourced or voice-tracked. Those still employed are doing triple and quadruple duty, with no attention to detail. Now add the backdrop of the needless expense and time consumption created by the HD Radio folly.
The Alliance also made a not-so-unexpected announcement that effective January 1, 2009; Bilk-o will step down as President and CEO of the Alliance to become its Strategic Advisor. That’s a fancy way of saying “consultant.”
His explanation for exiting? Tell ‘em in your own words, Bilk-o: “Because the Alliance is moving more and more into becoming a marketing organization for HD Radio.” Pause for laughter. The real reason for his exit is his health. He’s hemorrhaging something far worse than blood. It’s credibility. It’s character.
Bilk-o's replacement was also bred at Clear Channel Radio. Meet Diane Warren.
She's the Alliance’s Executive Vice President and oversees its futile marketing campaign. Also like Bilk-o, she’s been with the Alliance since its creation three years ago. And what does Bilk-o say of his replacement? “I feel that my skill set is not as strong as Diane’s." Did he just call her a better liar?
Here’s what she said. “In 2008 we will have sold the one millionth HD Radio receiver” and “As we look forward, we’ll remember 2008 as a breakout year for HD Radio.” A million HD Radios will be sold this year? She's good.
For the sake of space and time, we’ll skip the fact that Sgt. Bilk-o said the same thing about 2007. Ms. Warren also came up with a dramatic and unaccredited claim that interest in HD Radio has “exploded” with 80 percent of HDRadio.com’s visitors going to the site for the first time. You can tell she’s a former Clear Channel exec. She declined to provide actual numbers.
In what we will come to know as Diane-etics, Ms. Warren offers this unsubstantiated claim: The number of HD Radio stations has increased from some unknown time when there were 300 to over 1,750 today – and that’s not counting another 800 multicasts, though we’re not certain if she counted each multicast twice. That’s Diane-etics – not to be confused with Diane’s ethics.
Have you noticed that on CBS Radio there’s been a whole lot more streaming audio promotion and a lot less HD Radio? Maybe they’re on to something.
The radio industry will be able to get back on track a lot faster once it concentrates on programming radio stations people can hear.

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