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The Most Important Takeaway for Broadcasters from CES

I’m struck by reading the post-mortems about the Consumer Electronics Show in the radio trades – the gist seems to sum up to this:  Faster, HD Radio, faster!  Radio must fight ever-harder to maintain the “share of dashboard” in the cars!

These arguments miss the point altogether.

The issue is not “HD radio or not.”  Nor is it “share of dashboard.”  The issue is share of consumer. And share of consumer requires being in the traffic path each and every consumer wants to travel in, not building specialized detours and off-ramps that suit the industry at large but are indifferent to the interests and passions of consumers themselves.

It’s not about you, Mr. Broadcaster.  It’s about me – and how I want to experience content in your presence.

The industry formerly known as “radio” has every opportunity to dive in to every automotive and portable digital experience imaginable, but to think we can force consumers down a proprietary path (unless our name is “Apple”) is arrogant, naive, and blind to the history and trajectory of technology.

Does that mean that the HD notion is bankrupt and a waste of time and effort? No. It means that this is but one answer – and not nearly the best one – to the question:  How does radio remain relevant in the years to come?

The fact is this:  The benefits that HD radio crows about are too subtle or too irrelevant to capture the attention of consumers.  That’s why in the time that HD radio has been around, tech stars like iPads and iPhones and Facebook and Groupon have exploded onto the scene and are worth billions, while HD radio remains worth virtually nothing.

iPads, iPhones, Facebook, Groupon – these things capture the attention of consumers.  Thanks to a combination of solving the right problem in the innovative right way.

What that means is this:  There is no such thing as HD radio in the future – there is only “radio” – whether it’s HD or not. The “HD” brand has no equity and will create no value per se.  Its merits, such as they are, will meld with those of radio, becoming transparent.  Some “stations” will simply be able to do more “stuff” than others just as some mobile phones do more “stuff” than others.  That is the future for the narrowest interpretation of “radio” that presumes it’s all about the channel – be it HD or analog.

Sadly, that’s the interpretation most of radio is fighting for.  One that’s built from the broadcaster out rather than from the consumer out.

The larger question is what the radio industry chooses to do with the vast access it currently has to the attention of audiences everywhere.  We can either provide value to serve that attention across platforms (as Clear Channel is doing on the same dashboard with terrestrial radio with their IHeartRadio app and as many broadcasters are doing with local vertical sites and other activities on-site and online designed to connect advertisers with consumers) or we can pretend that radio is what it always has been – a thing to listen to, force-fed from a tower.

A thing with limited interactivity in an age that demands interactivity.

A thing with limited customization in an era which requires customization.

A thing with minimum social connection in a time defined by social connection

A thing that all but ignores most of our senses in a time where most media make sense from cross-sense.

A thing that’s all about sustaining our past when the future is exploding around us every day anew.

Good luck with that.

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