HD Radio In Your Car, Your Music Player, and Your Phone

I haven’t talked much about HD Radio lately on this blog. Longtime readers know that I’ve been an investor in iBiquity, the developer of HD Radio technology for almost 10 years. It’s been a long time coming and a lesson in how hard it is to move an old medium into the digital age. But this year at CES, iBiquity showcased three things that I think are critical to consumer adoption of digital radio technology.

As the WSJ discusses in this article in today’s paper, iBiquity announced a big automotive deal with Ford, an iTunes relationship, and the coming availability of mobile and portable HD radio devices.

The reality is people don’t buy radios anymore. They buy cars, iPods, and mobile devices. When HD radio is in the car, or the iPod, or the phone, then consumers will be able to tap into the thousands of new free radio channels that have been launched using HD technology in the past couple years. And when they do that, they’ll see how great digital radio is.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. bg porter

    Doesn’t HD Radio fix the wrong end of the problem? I used to work in broadcast electronics and spent more time than I care to remember talking to station management and engineers at the NAB show every spring — the engineers were doing their best to deal with management that was rarely anyplace outside a line extending from ‘clueless’ at one end and ‘feckless’ at the other.Just like displaying the remake of “American Gladiators” at 1080p doesn’t make it suck any less than it does on NTSC, going to IBOC digital isn’t going to make the programming that’s on American radio any less inane or vapid.Maybe Google will start buying stations and shaking things up; after they bought dMarc a while back, I thought that this might be where they were heading…There’s some interesting work to be done in this area, but the likes of Clear Channel will just keep shuttling the same batch of programming consultants pulling out the tricks that last worked in the 70s…

    1. fredwilson

      Lots of new stations means the potential for innovationIts already happening but too few consumers have the radios that can tune inFred

      1. bg porter

        Do I misunderstand the FCC licensing model? I thought that the existing license holders had the exclusive use of the digital channels on their frequency, so that depends on the existing crew doing something besides shovelling more of the same crap into the pipeline… Like Jack McCoy would object on Law and Order, “Assumes facts not in evidence”I desperately hope that I’m wrong — having grown up listening to college radio, and then working in college radio, I understand the value of having a conduit to new music. I’m just not sure that the reason that the broadcast chains haven’t innovated is because they don’t have enough spaces on the dial.I also got burned early in my career working on the American version of the RDS standard, which suffered from the same chicken and egg problem. Every year we were told this this was going to be the year that RDS-equipped radios were going to be standard equipment in American cars, and that the RDS data encoder I designed was finally going to start selling BIG. We started shipping that product in 93, and it’s still an uncommon thing to see a radio that displays RDS data…For the sake of your portfolio I hope that you’re right; all I know is that I and everyone that I know have created other ways to discover new stuff (or just listen to the same stuff they’ve always listened to…)

        1. fredwilson

          Good pointsI think its a bit different with hd because radio is really behind hd in a big wayOn the question of who programs these new channels, I think we’ll see the HD2 and HD3 channels adopting a number of interesting ideasJust as bob dylan, little stevie, and jonesy have become djs, why couldn’t cbs radio give david byrne one of their HD2 channels to program?Fred

          1. bobyoung

            “I think its a bit different with hd because radio is really behind hd in a big way”What planet do you live on fredwilson? The IBOC Alliance which represents ibiquity ONLY is behind HD in a big way because they make the most money from this scam, most broadcaster’s realize what bad technology they have on their hands and can’t wait to get rid of it , NPR is one of the biggest users of the scam and wouldn’t een have it if they hadn’t have had the government and the taxpayers pay for it’s installation for them. Also if radio is so big on it, NPR’sTalk of the Nation did a segment under the title “Gizmos Galore at Consumer Electronics Show”, why didn’t they even mention it?

          2. PocketRadio

            It is just the HD Alliance stations that have the FCC giveaway of our airways to this monopoly:“HD Radio on the Offense”“But after an investigation of HD Radio units, the stations playing HD, and the company that owns the technology; and some interviews with the wonks in DC, it looks like HD Radio is a high-level corporate scam, a huge carny shill.”http://www.eastbayexpress.c…iBiquity claims that there are 1500 HD stations, but:”Have 200 HD Radio stations gone missing?””The HD Radio camp is advertising that there are currently over 1,500 radio stations now broadcasting in HD (from its website, to press releases as well as in various other promotions)… but yet only 1,300 have filed with the FCC.”http://www.orbitcast.com/ar…And, the AM-HDs are starting to abandom HD/IBOC:”Editorial: AM IBOC in Distress?””Citadel Director of Corporate Engineering Martin Stabbert embodied questions about the efficacy of full-time AM HD when he ordered all his AMs that had already converted to cease transmitting HD at night, using language that must have given Ibiquity officials heartburn. Separately and for different immediate reasons, Cox, in a “let’s wait and see” move, has tried HD on most of its AM stations but is taking it off the air day and night, once tested at each facility.”http://www.rwonline.com/pag…

          3. fredwilson

            Do you enjoy surfing the web finding negative posts about hd radio written by angry radio nerds who wish digital radio would go away?Fred

      2. Pierre

        Absolutely Fred. The big broadcasters are opening Pandora’s box with this one.Some new broadcasters are going to hop on the HD channels of under performing stations on a time-lease basis. They will then proceed to destroy the incumbents because the incumbents are locked into a set way of doing things that’s no longer relevant. They are really having a hard time delivering what people want. I have been in a few radio station meetings lately. They are frantically trying to figure things out. And that’s without a million HD stations… imagine what’s going to happen in a few years with so much competition!?The fragmentation of the market that all of those channels will bring won’t be a good thing for the big chains. It’s going to be hard to sell ads with less ratings. Radio stocks are in for a bumpy ride.HD is a dangerous thing for them. It’s a playground for the innovators. I can’t wait to see it.

        1. fredwilson

          Me too!!

      3. PocketRadio

        “Can Sony Make HD Radio A Winner?”“So, the old consumers don’t want HD. Young consumers think the concept is laughable. Big retailers can’t sell it. And radio companies won’t invest in it. Sounds like a winner to me.”http://insidemusicmedia.blo…

        1. fredwilson

          That’s all true but when its in your ipod, car, or mobile phone all those things stop mattering and people will find a ton of free new content waiting for themFred

  2. Tony_Alva

    “Doesn’t HD Radio fix the wrong end of the problem?”Nothing more to add…

    1. fredwilson

      It mightImagine if one of the leadind radio station groups built a web based ‘build your own web radio station’ service. Like live365 but integrating concepts from last.fm and pandora tooAnd then imagine if they made the post popular web djs (people like us) the djs for the HD2 and HD3 channels and cut us in on the advertisingIts a new world. And they know that too. It just takes time to move big old lumbering companiesFred

  3. markslater

    i dont get it. i agree with BG porter. HD radio to me sounds like ‘whipped cream on dog s**t’ – i think that there are branding flaws with the whole notion of radio. Radio as a concept or medium is going the way of the album – its being deconstructed and broken in to constituent parts – we ar able to better consume those parts we want and discard those we dont.

  4. Dave!

    *IF* content gets to the point you presume, then sure, HD radio will be great. But considering today it’s really just a rehash of the same god-awful commercial programming being pumped out by the likes of Clear Channel, I’ll take my esoteric podcasts instead.

  5. Bruce Barber

    I spent 18 years working in commercial radio, and got out five years ago in large part because I was disgusted with the homogenization of the airways brought about the ownership rule changes tacked on to the communications act of 1996.In those five years, I pitched a show idea to a bunch of commercial stations, and nobody was willing to take a chance on it.Having found a home for the show in November (on Connecticicut Public Radio), I was faced with deciding how (and where) to actually produce it. Using one of their studios was going to cost me an arm and a leg, so I spent some money and built a studio in my basement.Enter HD Radio.What’s exciting to me is the fact that HD Radio enables broadcasters to add “sub channels” to their current offerings.My hope is that with production (and distribution) costs having been dramatically reduced by technology, independent producers such as myself will have the opportunity to create the kind of programming that used to exist in the “progressive radio” era, and that broadcasters will open these sub channels up to less “commercial” material.I’m not holding my breath where the big players are concerned, but I think that some of the more creative programmers will do some pretty cool stuff with the new audio “real estate” created by HD Radio.

    1. fredwilson

      I sure hope you are right bruceFred

    2. PocketRadio

      Terrestrial radio can’t even win back listeners with proogramming on their main analog channels. The HD channels are jsus clever reworks of the main analog channels and offer no compelling content. The HD channels would just fragment the listener audience fiurther:”HD Hypocrisy””Here’s a few more reasons why only iBiquity and a few clueless radio group heads could make a big thing out of HD radio tagging… The very damn radio stations that broadcast in HD offer no programming worth listening to. HD Radio is a virtual sewer of formats owners don’t want on their terrestrial frequencies and other assorted garbage that no one sane would listen to — let alone spend money for new radios — tagging or not.”http://insidemusicmedia.blo…

      1. Bruce Barber

        PocketRadio,You’ll get no argument from me that “big radio” has done a terrible job of rolling out the technology. Fred is right; people don’t buy radios these days, “They buy cars, iPods, and mobile devices”. Sirius and XM understand this, and they have done a great job of getting their hardware into new vehicles.That said, I think “big radio” understands that they have no choice but to support HD Radio, They “get” the clear and present danger of losing audience to companies like XM, Sirius, Apple, not to mention the major wireless players.The point I was making in my earlier post is that big radio probably isn’t going to be the one to create the next wave of compelling content–we are!Technology has made it so that Podcasters and former on air talent such as myself can produce programming that would have been cost prohibitive to create only a few years ago.With a few thousand bucks and a little time on “the learning curve”, it is now possible to record audio that sounds as good as anything on the big stations, and to distribute it for free over the Internet. (Used to be you had to press CD’s and mail them out or rent satellite time.)I live in an area that is greatly underserved when it comes to stations that play deeper cuts from established artists and turn people on to great new music.And yet I have stood in a hallway across from a Public Radio program director that can’t wait to put an “Adult Alternative” station on a sub channel when he starts broadcasting in HD.My sense is that when the passionate music lover with a little technical acumen offers to provide him with a reasonably priced show for his sub channel, he’ll buy it.And if there’s an HD radio pre installed in my 2010 Prius, I’ll be listening.

        1. fredwilson

          The reason that xm and sirius are in cars and hd is only now getting in cars is xm and sirius used the prospect of subscription revenues to buy their way into cars and hd was unable to do that because its a free serviceFred

          1. Bruce Barber

            Interesting.This reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend that owned several FM stations.He remembers having to give away FM converters so that people could listen in their cars…

  6. PocketRadio

    There is an incredible amount of mis-information about HD Radio, mainly just promotional material for this stillborn technology. Both the iPod and iPhone have chosen iRadio:http://www.hear2.com/2007/1http://www.hear2.com/2007/1…It will be interesting, when/if Ford installs HD Radio next year, the number of angry consumers that will be returning their “defective” radios:“Is HD Radio Toast?”“There are serious issues of coverage. Early adopters who bought HD radios report serious drop-outs, poor coverage, and interference. The engineers of Ibiquity may argue otherwise and defend the system, but the industry has a serious PR problem with the very people we need to get the word out on HD… In other words, everything you can find on the regular FM dial… The word has already gotten out about HD Radio. People who have already bought an HD Radio are telling others of their experience (mostly bad) and no amount of marketing will reverse this.”http://www.fmqb.com/article…Of course, Ford is an investor in iBiquity – no progress otherwise. This house-of-cards will eventually implode. HD Radio is DOA:http://hdradiofarce.blogspo

  7. bobyoung

    HD or Hybrid Digital is a lead balloon which is going nowhere fast, despite being advertised ad nauseum on radio to the tune of 250,000,000 dollars this year, it was THE TOP advertiser on radio. Despite this it has succeeded in selling only 400,000 receivers total.. It blocks adjacent channels on both AM and FM, cuts reception by at least three quarters on FM with an outside antenna on your roof like mid 50’s suburbia. It is a non-working technology that costs an arm and a leg. I feel bad for anyone who is depending on IBOC (HD) for anything as it will be completely forgotten in a few years and take it’s place along side 8 track players as obsolete boxes which never worked correctly. If you are reading this you are one of perhaps the .001% of Americans who have heard of it, even less own a receiver and of those that do 90% are dissatisfied with them. They will be even worse if they ever really get into cars, there will be dropouts galore unless you are with a few miles of the transmitting antennas. The car dealers will be stuck replacing them with radios that “work”. Don’t fall for it, you’ll be sorry.

    1. Pierre

      It’s true that HD has been looking like a turkey for the past couple of years. The battle’s not over yet though. The lame brains behind the technology are promoting dedicated digital receivers. As they get more installs on other multi use hardware such as factory car stereos the game may turn out a bit differently. It is a free service that actually sounds better than satellite being offered to a car based culture. It’s too early to call this game. The real action on this is still at least a few years away so let’s revisit this conversation then.But the idea of digital radio doesn’t stop at HD. I see IP based streams being commonplace. By the time 4G is in place that’s going to be a reality. I’ve been listening to streaming internet radio on my Treo for about 3 years now thanks to my $15 unlimited Sprint 3G data plan (and Shure headphones). In 3 more years that experience should easily be transferred to the car (possibly this year thanks to Microsoft). When that happens will we even care about radio, HD or not?I’ll place my bet to win this radio battle on the format that best mimics Last.fm. It probably WILL be Last.fm anyway. CBS had a plan when they bought it for $280 million. Something tells me that this was it.

      1. PocketRadio

        “I’ll place my bet to win this radio battle on the format that best mimics Last.fm. It probably WILL be Last.fm anyway. CBS had a plan when they bought it for $280 million. Something tells me that this was it.”Last.fm, Pandora, and Slacker al all INTERACTIVE, which HD Radio is NOT – look at the level of interest in HD Radio versus these other technologies:http://siteanalytics.compet

      2. fredwilson

        I am with you on all of thisFred

  8. ellen

    Being from the older generation, I never thought I would want another thing that I would need to buy like different radio channels. Satellite radio came with my new car, since most of the particular models of the car I purchased, were built with it . It was a $1300 option, but the dealer threw it in, because he wanted to move cars that day. That was my lucky day. When the one year subscription is over, I will continue to subscribe. I don’t care for most of the channels except the news and cnbc, but I am addicted to them, and now cannot live without them.

  9. Tex

    The analysis of whether HD radio has a future is completely independent of the quality of the content today. The bottom line is that HD creates more real estate on the dial. Given a relatively fixed audience, that devalues each channel, and lowers the barrier to entry. A lower barrier to entry will lead to more diversity of content, and some of that new content will be better quality.That said, if the sound quality and interference issues are real and are not resolved, then the technology could indeed be in trouble.

    1. fredwilson

      I believe that higher power is the solution to sound quality and I don’t think the interference issues are nearly as much of an issue as some are making them out to beFred

    2. julehe

      So true.They are finally taking the right step by asking the FCC to allow them to broadcast at more power. Obviously easier said than done.You might enjoy this blog entry about the problems of HD reception:http://radiosherpa.blogspot

  10. Rick

    Late addition here on this post, but I don’t see the benefit of upgrading hardware for HD radio when there are the options for hundreds of channels of commercial free radio and entertainment through Sirius and XM. I initially thought the idea of paying for radio was insane but after listening to it a few years ago while driving in a Zipcar, I instantly became hooked and bought Sirius. I now cannot listen to a normal car stereo when I am in a car and usually resort to NPR due to all the commercials and lame DJs on radio.

    1. fredwilson

      That’s true but the facts are that less than 10pcnt all all radio listeners have shown a willingness to pay for radioSatellite is a niche service because its a paid serviceFred

      1. Rick

        The audio channel programming and receiver takeup may be in question but don’t forget about the enhanced data channel with HD – there are numerous opportunities for datacasting including LBS via HD

  11. Thomas

    Who pays the subsidy to get the radio into the car? The XM/Sirius model closed the loop between the owner of the spectrum that collected the revenue and the subsidy paid to the auto OEMs to get the radios installed. How is that handled here given the distributed nature of the spectrum ownership? Seems like a big challenge to overcome.

  12. Scott Johnson

    Pandora just isn’t very good at its job. I think HD radio has a good shot because humans are a better filter WHEN THEY HAVE A NARROWLY DEFINED PROGRAMMING OBJECTIVE which can happen on HD radio because there are so many more channels.

  13. fredwilson

    Pandora on the iphone requires the phone data networkAn inexpensive hd module in the phone would ley it tune into hundreds of new stations that are coming onto the airI predict that the web will be a big part of how many of those stations end up getting programmedFred

  14. PocketRadio

    Take a look at consumer interest in Pandora and Last.fm versus HD Radio – HD Radio has been flat-lined since inception:http://siteanalytics.compet

  15. fredwilson

    ExactlyA reggaetone or a blues or an a cappela station will have fewer listeners but those that listen will like itFred

  16. PocketRadio

    I use Slacker at work every day and get to create my own “personalized” radio stations, instead of some HD Radio pprogrammer deciding what I should listen to. Looks like plenty of listeners prefer Pandora and Last.fm over HD Radio:http://siteanalytics.compet

  17. PocketRadio

    Pandora, Slacker, and Last.fm are all INTERACTIVE, which HD Radio is NOT – HD Radio has the same problems as satrad, being noninteractive and no graceful way to surf the overabundance of channels.

  18. fredwilson

    You are comparing two web services that play music to a marketing brochureFred

  19. fredwilson

    That is true