Tuesday, June 17, 2008

NAB HD Radio Multicast Award

Entry deadline is July 1, 2008. Get more info and enter your station online via NAB here.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Commentary - Competing for the future

"The future is here. It's just not evenly distributed yet."

William Gibson

Attention: First tribe of wireless.

Radio has an execution problem.

Reducing radio's present day business performance to a one-liner, there's perhaps no better way to account for what's happening; it certainly seems the most reasonable approach in explaining what's not happening.

There is no more conspicuous an illustration of this theme than the progress of HD Radio.

It seems fair to suggest HD Radio is a working technology, albeit nascent in application, clearly beyond the definition of "science project." Bob Struble and his iBiquity team have delivered on their part of the bargain, they've provided us the technology. While certainly not perfect it does enable a path to the digital frontier preserving analog. The job at hand is to move forward, making the best of what we have (understanding that in hindsight, all first generation tech sucks). The "what" and the "why" answered we are faced with the all important first drafts of "how." The time has come for operators to execute, to make something happen in the field and therein lie the challenges and make no mistake, they're of great strategic significance.

We need only look into the not so distant past to understand how radio tends to manage change. Radio's record seems to suggest a favoring of institutionalism, a preference for incrementalism.

Some perspective. For those born after 1968, FM radio has always been a player, they were born to late to witness the early, messy migration of music radio from AM to FM. By the spring of 1979, the momentum achieved, total FM shares (metro) reached 50%. It is therefore understandable that the majority of those at work in the trade today find it difficult to grasp the notion of creating new bandwidth and with it the attendant challenges of program development, consumer education, selling radio receivers, fighting for share of ad spend to stay alive, et al. It's the failure rich venture of market creation. Truth be known, it's time to again make it up as we go along. Time to develop the new rule set and get serious about competing for the future.

The development of FM radio is a story worth remembering here, instructive since it lays bare radio's penchant to discount if not ignore its own innovators and serves to remind us of radio's front office aversion to early investment in new technology.

Beyond the storied work of a rebel few, program development on FM did not happen in earnest until a regulatory rule change made it a legal priority (i.e., the FCC's non-duplication ruling). Even then, live origination of original programming was not among the most popular solutions used to achieve early compliance with the new rules. Operators preferred lowest cost remedies including automation and time-shifting of AM programming. For every Tom Donahue, James Gabbert, Thom O'Hair, Bob Henabery, Lee Arnold, Bill Drake, and Lee Abrams, we had a few hundred others content to keep the carrier up and phone it in.

It would appear we are in the process of repeating history, at least somewhat. Granted there are distinct and important differences owing to the dramatic marketplace (and mediascape) change since those early FM days.

We are again witness to early innovation, this time around by HD Radio multicasting pioneers. Their work is, again, being largely ignored or discounted. Islands of excellence in a sea of mediocrity. The work of Mark Pennington [RIFF2], Clear Channel, Boulder [The Studio C Channel, KBCO] and Bonneville, St Louis [iChannel.fm] are some that merit our attention, serious study and praise. "The play's the thing" so said Shakespeare and operators need to embrace and drive nothing less than a content and application renaissance, a creative revolution of game-changing innovation. We need to again capture the attentions, hearts, minds and loyalties of a new generation of consumers and customers. That's a tall order for any enterprise much less one struggling to compete in a zero growth environment. It is our good fortune that radio employs the youth, enjoys the practical benefit and advantages of those living closer to the future than industry leadership.

However, this time around the advancement of new radio technology will be much more complex, far more difficult. First, it is not likely to get another assist from the feds, rather it's going to happen, or not, purely as a result of what happens in the marketplace. Second, whereas FM radio was seriously advantaged commanding a share of mind with ownership advanced by compliance, any real progress of HD Radio will be dependent upon an exclusively organic compassion. This demands leadership.

"Communities of Practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly."
Etienne Wenger

This blog seeks to upgrade the discussion about HD Radio, to engage readers in an intellectually honest conversation about execution, to share the thoughts of relevant and credible voices, to promote cognitive diversity. Our objective is to play some role in a new "community of practice." You're invited to participate. Game on. Thanks for stopping by.

Rules of engagement: Comments are moderated. Zero tolerance of anything that smacks of personal attack including malicious, egregious, mean-spirited comment. Play nice. There's never an excuse for bad manners.