Nobody cares what we own

“Beware of pundits, advisors or bloggers advocating false choices,” advises iBiquity chief Bob Struble. I know he means well, and I sure admire his zeal and his pluck.

Some folks argue that it’s all about the Internet and not at all about anythng else, says Struble.

It’s fair to say, as Struble argues, that we would be foolish to put all our eggs in the Internet basket. Personally, I think what we do on our good-old air has a lot more consequence to our future than anything online, since the brand begins in the ears of our audiences and goes online only from there.

At issue, however, is whether HD Radio deserves a basket at the front of radio’s menu of choices, if indeed it warrants a basket at all. It’s the potential distraction that concerns me.

Struble continues:

Radio broadcasters have two fundamental businesses: they are content developers and they are spectrum owners. In the digital world, both are precious and actions must be taken to maximize their value.

While this is technically true, it misses the entire point of our digital age. Namely, you, my radio friends, are not in charge. The audience – the consumers – are in charge. And they will do what’s in their interests, not ours. They will listen where they want, not where we want them to. They’ll listen to what they want, not what we push on them. They will do so on devices of their choosing, not ours. They will hear music and information on their timeline, not ours. They will hear it in the fidelity of their choice, not ours.

This is not about HD or Internet or WiMax or WiFi or whatever. This is about the migration of control from us to them.

From the very beginning this has been a conceptual crack in HD which continues to stretch and deepen over time.

Mr. Struble’s right when he says “in the digital world, maximizing the value of [radio’s] content is essential.” But maximizing value is about making choices and bets about the future based on measurable trends and consumer insights, few of which are favoring HD.

He makes the point that the notion of online broadcasting replacing our over-the-air business is “a pipe dream.” But when an “online broadcast” (his unfortunate term, not mine) comes to your car right off the assembly line and with plenty of music choices mixed in with a slew of other digital services – many of which will be worth paying for – this will not necessarily replace radio, but it will sure impact our business.

And adding bits and bytes to your pipes will not ease the pain.

Certainly, it seems disingenuous to dismiss distribution alternatives to HD as Struble does when even he admits “the money is beginning to flow” from the Internet (which is certainly not the case for HD) and, perhaps more important, the existing digital (i.e., online) forms of radio are actually being used – and by lots of people.

And then comes the kicker:

But radio broadcasters are also pipe owners. The spectrum assignment each station has is some of the most valuable real estate imaginable – look at what spectrum auctions fetch for the government these days. And in the digital world, maximizing the value of our pipes is equally critical. And digital pipes are worth more than analog pipes, without question, because you can do more with them.

Digital pipes are NOT worth more “because you can do more with them.” An actor isn’t worth more if he’s got talent, he’s worth more if he’s popular.

Likewise, bandwidth (not necessarily “digital pipes”) is worth more because its owners have grand plans, big investments, and bold designs on innovations which uniquely solve consumer problems via profit-making strategies that are in tune with their times or ahead of them.

It is not about us. It is about the audience. Nobody cares what we own.

Besides, what are “digital pipes” worth when there are no listeners at the other end?

Indeed we can “walk and chew gum at the same time,” but what if we’re buying the gum from iBiquity and walking in circles?

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