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Agencies chime in on HD Digital Radio Alliance

RBR/TVBR asked a few agency folks about the recently announced HD Digital Radio Alliance (12/7 RBR #238), a coordinated industry effort to compete with the format variety of satellite radio. The alliance is the industry's means to coordinate the HD roll-out in each market, develop programming for multicast (HD-2) channels, create HD and HD-2 awareness ads (200 million bucks worth next year alone), and work to get HD manufacturers moving on multicast receivers and the automakers as well for OEM deals. Participating groups so far include Bonneville, Citadel, Clear Channel, Cumulus, Emmis, Entercom, Greater Media and Infinity.

Jean Pool, EVP/Director of North American Operations Universal McCann, Chairman of Media Policy at the AAAAs: "I think it's brilliant. Cooperation in order to capture larger audiences. Very smart."

Matthew Warnecke, VP Mgr Network & Local Radio, MediaCom: "Basically, my attitude right now is, 'So?' It's sort of nonplussing me. This may be a little excessive, but it's shutting the barn after the horse is gone. To me, it smacks of playing catch-up. Now it may not be catch-up, and this is indeed a great addition to the space. But it seems like people are going, 'But wait, I've got this, look at me, look at me!,' rather than something else.

I think it's got validity and it may gain some traction, but from an 'inside the beltway' view, this is what I think. It's a great idea, a great option. All of its qualifications are worthwhile and worthy. Sadly, from my point of view, it's a little tainted-not because of its quality, but from my perception its timing and context."

Rich Russo, JL Media's SVP/Director of Broadcast Services: "I think that the Alliance is great, but first of all, I'm not comfortable with the word HD, because I think people already have it embedded that HD means video, a better picture. I think whatever the channel is that they're running, they should run the same commercials on the HD channels. I don't like them doing commercial free. I also wonder if the Alliance will really be able to protect everybody's HD channel from going against the best station in the market. Like if all of a sudden in NYC, [Joel] Hollander [Infinity CEO] decided his HD-2 signals would go up against WLTW, but commercial-free, just to diffuse their money. But if it's going to be controlled, then more power to them. But the problem is the technology for mass-market is what, five years away? Nobody is going to spend $500 for a tabletop unit. Remember the way satellite launched-immediately all 100 channels were up, immediately you were able to buy the equipment, even if it didn't come standard in your car. That's what gets me nervous-are people going to embrace this new technology? It might be a little late. I do like the fact they're all banding together to try to do something, but the irony of it is, they would have been better of if they did an alliance last year to worry about the clutter. They could have all gotten together and said let's all do :30's or reduce clutter.

RBR observation:
Indeed, it may take a while to get HD-2 in the hearts, minds and then hands, of listeners. Another issue, they've marketed a whole generation of HD receivers that didn't have the HD-2 capability. It's going to take a whole new cycle of manufacturing, retailing and purchases. It's almost like starting all over again. Thankfully, some HD receivers can be updated to HD-2 by a software download.

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