Tag Archives: HDTV

HD Radio – The Answer to the Question No One Was Asking

I was reading about how HD Radio was celebrating its 15th birthday recently and that had me scratching my head as HD Radio is older than that. In checking the records, I saw that the Federal Communications Commission selected HD Radio as America’s digital standard in 2002. By comparison, Steve Jobs introduced Apple’s iPod in October 2001, XM Satellite Radio began service in 2001 and Sirius Satellite Radio in 2002.

Radios Go High-Definition

This was the headline that appeared in the Baltimore Sun on January 7, 2004. Unfortunately, unlike HDTV (High Definition Television) HD Radio never stood for “High Definition.” And possibly that was the first mistake. HD Radio was simply a name they chose for the digital radio technology, but even today, many people still think it means “High Definition” or “Hybrid Digital.”

Sadly, by 2004, America’s digital radio was late to the party and if the industry is now marking the date of 2006 as its moment of birth, it was really late!

Remembering 2006

In 2006, Facebook opened up its social network to everyone in the world. The original requirement that you be a college student enrolled at a specific university was eliminated and the only requirement now was that you were over the age of 13 and had a valid email address.

In just 15-years, Facebook has grown to over 2.85 billion active monthly users.

Let’s look at what else was born in 2006 that competes for our attention:

  • Twitter was launched in 2006 and today enjoys 199 million monetizable daily active users.
  • Wii game system was introduced with its handheld motion controller that got families off the couch and in motion doing all kinds of sports in front of the TV.
  • PlayStation 3 came online to provide strong competition to XBOX 360. (Video gamers spent about eight hours and 27 minutes each week playing games, which is an increase of 14% over 2020. The video gaming industry predicts revenues of $100.56 billion by 2024)
  • Google bought YouTube in 2006 and now has over 2 billion users, the channel grosses over $19.7 billion in revenue and users are uploading videos at the rate of 500 videos per minute with over a billion hours/day spent watching videos on the platform.
  • The one billionth song was purchased from Apple’s iTunes, the dominate source for music lovers in 2006. (Two years later Spotify would arrive and not only disrupt how music was sold but how it was listened to in general.)

When we look at 2006, it becomes easier to understand why HD Radio wasn’t such a big deal to the average media consumer.

Solving a Problem That Didn’t Exist

What HD Radio did for FM radio stations was solve a problem that listeners to FM didn’t feel existed. No one who listened to FM radio was complaining about the quality of the sound, they were complaining about other things, like too many commercials. And for AM radio stations, it meant people buying radios for a service that didn’t offer anything they really wanted to hear or couldn’t get elsewhere. AM radio was now the service of senior citizens who already owned AM radios, who grew up with AM radio’s characteristics and whose hearing was not the best now anyway. So, HD Radio for AM wasn’t anything they were asking for and worse, AM radio stations that put on the new digital signal found it lacked the benefits of skywave and often interfered with other company AM radio stations as the industry quickly consolidated radio ownership.

Industries Most Disrupted By Digital

In March 2016, an article published by Rhys Grossman in the Harvard Business Review listed “Media” as the most disrupted by the growing digital economy. Turns out, if you’re a business-to-consumer business, you’re first being most disrupted by digital. The barriers to be a media company used to be huge, but in a digital world they are not, meaning that the business model that media companies depend on has not adapted well to the digital economy.

Elephant in the Room

But the elephant in the room remains the broken media business model. Newspapers, magazines, radio, and television – any media that is ad supported – will be challenged to find a way to capture revenue to continue operating.

Walt Disney famously said “We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make movies.”

Broadcasters of my generation had that same attitude about creating great radio.

Do the people owning and operating today’s radio stations still embrace that concept?

* In 2021, it’s estimated there are 3.78 billion social media users worldwide.

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Why is so much of television so bad?

That’s the question that Newton Minow asked on May 9, 1961 when he addressed the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington, DC.

In his first public address after he took over as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Mr. Minow didn’t pull any punches. He made it clear that in his role at the FCC he was going to make darn sure that broadcasters operated in “the public interest.”

What is meant by operating in “the public interest?” That’s been open to interpretation since those words were written down. Here’s how Mr. Minow defined them:

“Some say the public interest is merely what interests the public. I disagree. And so does your distinguished (NAB) president, Governor Collins, who said ‘Broadcasting to serve the public interest, must have a soul and a conscience, a burning desire to excel, as well as to sell; the urge to build the character, citizenship, and intellectual stature of people, as well as to expand the gross national product….By no means do I imply that broadcasters disregard the public interest…But a much better job can be done, and should be done.’ I could not agree more with Governor Collins.”

Mr. Minow also told the radio broadcasters in the room that the FCC wasn’t going to go to sleep at the switch on them; they were still listening, but that most of the controversies and cross-currents in broadcast programming were swirling around TV and that’s what he planned to address in this speech.

“When television is good, nothing – not theater, not the magazines or newspapers – nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse,” said Minow.

He then threw out this challenge to television broadcasters:

“I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet, or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.”

Mr. Minow is 89 and living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. On the 50th anniversary of his famous speech, he was interviewed by James Warren of the Chicago Tribune. Minow was 35 years old when he took over as chairman of the FCC under President Kennedy. He told Warren that he couldn’t have anticipated the impact his speech would have. Minow’s severe censure of TV’s “procession of game shows, violence, audience participation shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western badmen, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence and cartoons” remains highly “radioactive” to this day.

If you’re a fan of the television show “Gilligan’s Island” you might not have realized that the boat that sank was coyly named after the FCC chairman; however spelling it S. S. Minnow. Does that give you some idea of how distasteful having their medium called “a vast wasteland” was to the TV men of that day?

Mr. Minow’s own daughters joke that their dad’s tombstone might be inscribed with the words “On to a vaster wasteland.”

In 1998, President Clinton appointed a commission to review “the public interest” on the eve of the arrival of Digital Television. That commission issued a 160-age report on December 18, 1998.

In 2015, “the public interest” issue has been addressed with respect to the Internet.  Again, the FCC under its current chairman Thomas Wheeler has come forward with a plan that has been as well received by the “Internet men” of today as Mr. Minow’s assessment of TV back in 1961. Here’s what the FCC decided:

Adopted on February 26, 2015, the FCC’s Open Internet rules are designed to protect free expression and innovation on the Internet and promote investment in the nation’s broadband networks. The Open Internet rules are grounded in the strongest possible legal foundation by relying on multiple sources of authority, including: Title II of the Communications Act and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. As part of this decision, the Commission also refrains (or “forbears”) from enforcing provisions of Title II that are not relevant to modern broadband service. Together Title II and Section 706 support clear rules of the road, providing the certainty needed for innovators and investors, and the competitive choices and freedom demanded by consumers.

The new rules apply to both fixed and mobile broadband service. This approach recognizes advances in technology and the growing significance of mobile broadband Internet access in recent years. These rules will protect consumers no matter how they access the Internet, whether on a desktop computer or a mobile device.

The public interest standard has long provided guidance for promoting greater diversity in content, political debate, access, service to local communities, education, diversity and equal employment. The communications revolution will continue to challenge policymakers to ensure operating in “the public interest” remains.

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