Good Times, Bad Times

January 10, 2013

If you’ve never been to CES before, it is difficult for me to describe the magnitude of it all.  I know you’ve heard it all before – 35 football fields of gadgets has become a cliché.  But the daunting size and dense crowds are what make CES amazing and challenging at the same time.

Over the last couple of days, I have felt my emotional barometer go way up and also way down.  And sometimes this roller coaster phenomenon occurs when you turn a corner and happen upon a booth, gadget, or person you haven’t seen before.

There are all sorts of pundits and pros doing CES wrap-ups, trying to bring their readers an honest accounting of what’s happening here, but I’ll give you mine from the radio POV.

The good:  Radio is in the air.  I have seen more logos on exhibits for iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and other broadcast radio/digital brands.  Over at the Ford exhibit (you can’t call it a “booth”), Greater Media’s logo and their station apps are on display as well.  Livio is talking about a new product called “FM Connect,” and all the car companies reaffirm what we’ve known all along – radio has a very solid place in today’s dashboards – and in the cars of the future.

The bad: All of the above is true, but there is something very important happening with connected cars, and it is amplified this year at CES.  There’s a collision of content occurring, underscored by how every automaker and supplier boasts about giving the consumer more and more options and greater personalization.  From Aha’s loaded dashboard content (an impressive smorgasbord of broadcast and digital choices) to being able to check out the optimal traffic patterns for your commute with Blue Link’s “Daily Route Guidance” on new Hyundai vehicles, the array of options is mind boggling.

The good: Maybe all this content will be overwhelming to many consumers.  Where do you start?  And personalization requires having to truly think through the options, choices, prompts, and “trees” that are part of choosing what’s optimal for you.  So the simplicity of listening to your broadcast radio station circumvents all the buttons, options, bells, and whistles.  Just as it’s been since you first remember being in a car, your favorite radio station is always there.

The bad:  Radio now competes – head to head – with so many different in-car options.  More than ever before, it will force broadcasters to step up and focus their efforts.  It isn’t about just producing good radio anymore – it is understanding what consumers “hire” radio to do for consumers when they’re in vehicles.  More research to come in Techsurvey9 on this topic, but this is a big issue that gets thornier every year as these digital dashboard systems proliferate.

The good: The automakers continue to talk up and value HD Radio, its data, traffic, and information capabilities, as well as features like album art that elevate broadcast radio’s look and feel on the dashboard to compete directly with the other “radio” choices in vehicles – Pandora, SiriusXM, and Internet stations via sources like TuneIn.  And as you’ve read in the trades, HD Radio is available in many more vehicles at CES 2013, and in a myriad of aftermarket products, too.  I saw the standard HD Radio system in the new Chevy Traverse and it’s a really nice piece of work.

The bad: The radio industry’s angst over HD Radio, and the inability to see this technology as the field leveler that automakers do continues to be a real dichotomy.  HD Radio has many industry detractors “inside radio,” and yet at CES, it is mostly perceived as the technology that provides a seamless look and feel as consumers move from Pandora to satellite radio to their iPod and to FM radio.  This contradiction is something we recognized at CES a few years ago, and it continues to be a head scratcher today.

The good: Sprint’s announcement about FM chips in cell phones could be the beginning of a trend in consumer electronics, thanks in no small part to the dogged pursuit of Jeff Smulyan.  This could provide a major boost for broadcast radio if other players and platforms fall into line.

The bad: There’s a lot of work to be done with other cell phone manufacturers, and there may be costs along the way as well.  And, of course, all of this will take time.

The good: All the automakers talk about the customer experience – the importance of safety, choice, and simplicity.  In fact, Chrysler told us that their digital dashboard mimics an FM radio because that’s a device that everyone understands how to use.

The bad: Customer experience is often a foreign term inside most broadcast radio circles.  After the last few years at CES, it is clear to me that this is an area where radio needs to understand that the world of consumer electronics has changed, and it’s all about the consumer.

The good: Ford unleashing its dashboard to app developers, and the integration of partner companies like jacAPPS and Kaliki.  This could be a game-changer for radio and the digital dash.  To hear Ford talk about broadcast radio at the big press conference Monday, and at events at their exhibit this week is all about R-E-S-P-E-C-T for radio.

The bad: A stupid contest that the IEEE is staging at their booth where CES conventioneers guess which device is most likely to end up in the “Gadget Graveyard.” Arbitron’s Dr. Ed Cohen pointed it out to me.  It’s staged by a holograph of Thomas Edison, and its simply depressing.  I’ve avoided the South Hall.  And hey – where’s the netbook and the eReader on this list?

The good: There is an amazing spirit of optimism at CES – you feel it every year.  I’m thankful that Greater Media’s Buzz Knight cajoled me to get here a few years ago.  My company’s attendance here, along with the research, interviews, and connections we’ve made at CES are obviously paying off in many ways.  I can’t imagine not attending CES.

The bad: There are still so few radio people here.  The energy and excitement is what makes CES different from many radio conferences.  AND radio has a place at CES that is growing every year.  Isn’t it time that radio joined the rest of the world and recognized that consumer electronics is at the epicenter of consumer and business for all of media?

As always, I’m interested to hear your feedback, especially if you were here in Las Vegas taking it all in.


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18 Responses to Good Times, Bad Times

  1. Bob Bellin on January 10, 2013 at 8:26 AM

    What strikes me about CES is that radio should be thinking about its product, not gadgets. Radio’s ease of access advantage will be gone in a few years and the only answer to that is superior programming and content.

    I think the HD radio ship has sailed and there was never a revenue model for it before the market said Bon Voyage. But even if I’m wrong, its future will be decided by the product. And given its current programming and reception issues, one HD radio in the market is one more than is deserved.

    Radio needs to take a good hard look at its product too. It has done an incredible job of holding onto its audience against an onslaught of attractive, progressively easy to access competitors. But there is a tipping point coming Ebeneezer Radio. Take a look at the ghost or radio’s future. It doesn’t have to come to that – but IMO its where its heading now.

    An old friend and mentor of mine (Gerry Green – who died way too soon about 20 years ago) liked to ask a question: “DO you want to win?” Then he would follow up with: “Are you willing to pay the price?”

    • Fred Jacobs
      Fred Jacobs on January 10, 2013 at 9:29 AM

      Yes, it will come down to product. Access and gadgets matter, but as we saw at CES (and we know in our heart of hearts), consumers have a multitude of choices to make. How radio approaches the consumer experience and meeting the audience’s content needs will tell the tale. Thanks for weighing in, Bob.

    • Michael Smith on January 10, 2013 at 10:45 AM

      Hmmm. There wasn’t a “revenue model” that worked for FM until content was developed that people wanted to listen to. Many said FM was dead in the 60′s.

      I do agree with your 3rd paragraph.

      • Fred Jacobs
        Fred Jacobs on January 10, 2013 at 11:00 AM

        Thanks for taking the time to read our blog & comment, Michael.

    • Greg Smith on January 11, 2013 at 12:52 PM

      Bob, You are correct about the issues with HD Radio. There are so many flaws with the technology that it is alive simply due to corporate inertia (iBiquity and their investors). The Public never had any interest, and the ones that tried the technology, ended up returning the radios, if there were any to be found in the first place. There have been many complaints to auto dealerships concerning HD Radio, it is a wonder that the automakers invested at all in the technology – iBiquity must have given their CEOs a piece of any potential iBiquity IPO. Also, I read on the AVS HD Radio forum from Dr. Don Carpenter (Don Carpenter CBS Morning Show) that a lot of the auto deals were cut back in 2007, but Ford did not install HD Radio until last year (?). In time, I believe that all of this will blowup in iBiquity’s and the automakers’ faces as complaints continue to increase. Of course, the dealerships may be told by corporate to just disable/defeat HD Radio to avoid complaints. Meanwhile, iBiquity gets credit (royalties) for selling another HD radio. In recent tests in Brazil, HD Radio was rejected for having poor performance.

      • Fred Jacobs
        Fred Jacobs on January 11, 2013 at 1:34 PM

        Greg, as always, I respect your opinion. But for a different perspective, you should visit CES, an automotive conference, or even an auto show. I don’t expect it would change your thinking, but it might help round out the way you see it from a radio perspective. Or not. Thanks for taking the time.

  2. Greg Smith on January 11, 2013 at 2:15 PM

    Hi Fred,

    Are multiple-coats of glossy paint on a seriously-flawed product going to ultimately gain consumer acceptance? Anyway, thanks for not shutting out my opinions… Greg

  3. Jim Obrien on January 11, 2013 at 5:46 PM

    Great discussion here about HD, product, technology and priorities. I’d invite anyone to come the Detroit Auto Show and see the emphasis on the customer experience. The auto companies took the consumer for granted, and it almost destroyed them. Sound familiar? We have to create excitement (on air and in the business sector) – and if HD radio and relationships like the one JacApps built with Ford get us in the door… Then I’m all for it.

  4. Greg Smith on January 15, 2013 at 3:53 PM

    “Those of us ‘inside’ this industry should take a clue from these observations. We cannot expect representatives and partners from related industries (like automobile OEMs) to have any more respect for what we do than we do ourselves. The continued berating of HD Radio by some industry insiders is counterproductive, to say the least. When we look in the mirror we should endeavor to see what they are seeing in us, not just an ugly image developed by years of misinformation and (in some cases) out and out hatred of the technology. I’m not suggesting that HD radio is ‘the fairest of them all’ either; I’m simply saying the mirror is not cracked, and what I see looks fine.”

    Wow, did you say this, Fred? Was some of it edited out? Misinformation? Obviously, you are referring to iBiquity. Back n 2002, at an NAB conference, Struble mentioned that HD Radio would have the same coverage as analog, and not cause interference – I found the old article in the Wayback Machine. Yes, there is a growing hatred of the technology, as it destroys community radio services, and is destroying such stations as WYSL, as you know, owned by Bob Savage. Such sites as HDRadioFarce, Prometheus Radio Project, StopIBOC, Digital Disaster, and Keeping the Public in Public Radio are needed to expose the true motives of iBiquity.

    • Fred Jacobs
      Fred Jacobs on January 15, 2013 at 5:42 PM

      Greg, I am publishing your comments but have nothing to add to them. Where is this quote from? You may know my stuff better than I do. At any rate, I always welcome comments from readers of the blog.

      • Greg Smith on January 15, 2013 at 10:49 PM

        “IBOC Digital AM and FM Technology Launch”

        2002 – “In terms of coverage, the answer is it replicates the existing analog coverage, and that is all it can do. Not technically, but because of a regulatory reason. We could easily boost the IBOC power, but guess what, then that steps on the station next door… What the NRSC did say though, and we think this was a great vote of confidence, is, rather than bog down the process and wait for those nighttime results, we know we love it in the daytime, we know it represents, I think their words, a revitalization of the AM band… Bob Struble.”

        This is an article from iBiquity archives on the Wayback Machine from 2002. These are direct quotes from Struble at the NAB news conference, announcing HD Radio/IBOC. Obviously, Struble knew back then the problems with HD Radio, but the FM-HD power increase up to -10db was approved, anyway by the FCC. Struble lied about the coverage of IBOC, too. Notice how Struble blows off nightime AM-HD testing.

        • Fred Jacobs
          Fred Jacobs on January 16, 2013 at 7:27 AM

          (Sigh). OK, Greg, let’s move on. Today’s post has nothing to do with HD Radio.

  5. Greg Smith on January 16, 2013 at 9:48 AM

    Give up? LOL!

  6. John Caravella on January 23, 2013 at 1:03 PM

    iBiquity did not want to talk HD radio at CES this year. All they had was two full-color glossy handouts of simulated screens of ‘what could be’ and nobody that was really interested in talking nuts and bolts. Big Big disappointment to me (unless the people who did know what’s going on was visiting other booths). From what I could tell, the “screens” on the handouts were not real photos, but examples of what HD COULD be: weather data for the next 4 days, traffic updates and a list of what GPS units would interact with HD. The only thing interesting is it appears that Audiovox will offer a duplicate of BestBuy’s Isignia FM-only portable, plus 2 other HD units (FM only, or AM-HD included?) Not impressed at all.

    • Fred Jacobs
      Fred Jacobs on January 23, 2013 at 2:50 PM

      John, first of all, thanks for commenting even though this is already an old post. Second, I am not an appointed offender of iBiquity or HD Radio. But third, I WAS at CES and had a very different experience that you did. There were many people from iBiquity giving tours, talking to convention goers, and spending time with everyone. They had many vehicles on the floor with actual displays of content from Vegas stations. And Greg, telling me about a “thread” from Radio Info that contains John’s observations – followed by a few people who WEREN’T at CES brings no value to our blog or our readers. Please submit comments with substance that are additive to the conversation or I’m going to move them over to Spam.

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