It’s a weird thing about HD Radio. Like the topic of abortion on Talk/Radio, it is guaranteed to bring out extreme reactions. So while I’m expecting the usual negative comments from the usual naysayers, I hope the rest of you take a few minutes to read and consider today’s post.
It’s about HD Radio from a different perspective: the view from car makers, automotive engineers, and marketers.
Regular readers of this blog know that Paul and I made the trek to Las Vegas this month with a different plan for attacking CES. Last year, we simply took in the show, walking the floor to get a sense for the hot new gadgets, the vibe, and just how this convention is so different from what we’d ever seen before.
And we came away with a renewed respect for CX – the Customer Experience, a philosophy espoused by Ford, Verizon, Time Warner, and scores of other major electronics brands.
This time around, we had a different mission – to get a sense for what is happening with cars, entertainment, information, and the new dashboards – or as I am calling them, “moving desktops.”
And CES cooperated by gathering most of the automotive companies together in the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center. We walked from brand to brand, also taking the time to talk to some of the smaller companies marketing innovative ways to hook up smartphones in older model cars.
The results of our trip to CES and videotaped interviews will be presented later this year. But in our journey to learn more about how the automakers conduct research and then prioritize which apps, brands, and media to include in their systems, we learned something else:
HD Radio is generally perceived as a positive – a digital entrance requirement to these in-dash systems for broadcast radio.
The people we spoke to at CES obviously don’t read radio trades. They tend to view HD Radio as a digital gateway that provides continuity with the other offerings on their system desktops.
Here’s Ted Cardenas, director of Marketing/Car Electronics Division of Pioneer, on where broadcast radio fits into his company’s plans:
Then there’s that new Cadillac system – CUE. We ran a highly visited post a few weeks ago that included a video demo. At CES, we were able to speak to Cadillac’s Senior Creative Designer, User Interface for CUE, Scott Martin. Here’s his “take” on HD Radio and his brand:
Many of you have read about Ford’s Jim Buczkoswki (pictured), a leading voice at Ford. Jim is a Henry Ford Technical Fellow and director of Electrical and Electronic Systems, Ford Research and Innovation.
Buczkowski and Ford aren’t just throwing together lots of disparate parts into SYNC. They take a holistic approach and speak to creating great experiences and creating competitive differentiation. Part of the goal with SYNC and MyFord Touch is to create the ability to search across the various sources – from satellite radio to an iPod to a broadcast radio station – to find content, information, and entertainment. In short, options that will personalize the in-car experience.
So where does HD Radio fit in? Well, you can see the problem in a system like SYNC when you compare the look and feel of satellite radio, for example, to the typical AM/FM experience. With the former, you get logos and clean artist and title information. With most broadcast radio, RDS is a mess and the overall appearance is substandard compared to what the consumer experiences from other sources. Here’s Buczkowski:
Finally, another after-market view, this time from Jacob Hardin, National Product Supervisor from JVC. His company views HD Radio and its features as a way to stay ahead of the OEM’s. Here’s how he sees the competitive landscape:
Our Techsurvey8 – which will be presented at the Worldwide Radio Summit in April – will represent thousands of radio listeners from more than 170 participating stations’ email databases. In other words, core P1-heavy radio consumers.
The study will help us quantify the impact of in-car systems like SYNC and Entune, while measuring interest in future options.
The battle for attention in the dashboard will be a major challenge for traditional broadcasters. It is no longer conventional warfare in vehicles where all you had to do was win a pushbutton for your station, and compete against a cassette or CD player.
Moving forward, radio has to be on its game with both its content and its technical presentation, or get squeezed out by a myriad of digital competitors. As you’ve heard the auto execs, designers, and marketers say, HD Radio is broadcast radio’s way forward.
So there we are. The radio industry has had its ups and downs with HD Radio, its false starts, and its disappointments. The recent study from Mark Kassof suggests that consumer awareness for HD Radio has stalled. From commitment to marketing to technical issues to consumer interface, it’s been a tough, uphill climb, and our company has shared in the frustration with the Alliance and iBiquity, trying to move the ball forward.
But if broadcast radio peers out the windshield and takes a long, hard look at where in-car listening is going – the last location it can dominate – it may have to make some difficult choices about the future.
As we have symbolically implored radio to consider Detroit for a future NAB/RAB Radio Show, the powers that be in broadcast radio would be wise to spend more time thinking about radio’s storied relationship with the car, as well as the industry’s reliance on automotive advertising.
Mistakes have been made with HD Radio. But now the car industry’s commitment to electronic information and entertainment opens the door to radio participation that can ensure a healthy future.