You’ve probably heard about the HD Alliance’s recent success in getting additional car manufacturers to offer HD Radio in their new models.
The latest, the 2012 Kia Soul, joins the redesigned 2012 Toyota Camry and Lexus GS350 as new additions to a growing list.
The total number of badges is 19 including BMW, Bentley, Mercedes, Rolls-Royce, and Tesla.
With such a distinguished list of manufacturers, wouldn’t it be a good idea to have something for buyers to listen to?
According to the Alliance, there are about 1,300 HD2-4 stations in the US.
Back out the AM stations simulcasting on sister station HD channels and we end up with maybe another thousand FM options for the 213 million listeners in Arbitron’s 282 measured markets.
The limited number of new stations still might be enough to motivate some buyers to pop for an HD upgrade if the new options appealed to the typical new car buyer.
Unfortunately, buyers will find mostly specialty and niche stations.
HD Radio has created 17 new options for New Yorker FM listeners, for example. These include a Catholic channel from Seton Hall University, a Caribbean channel from SBS, and a “South Asian” channel offered by Emmis.
There’s certainly a place for Catholic radio, Indian radio, and all the other niche and ethnic stations that serve their communities. That’s what radio has always been about.
But is this the industry’s idea on how to make HD Radio a success? Offer mostly simulcasts and a few niche stations that attract small audiences?
All the work convincing more car manufacturers to offer HD may do more harm than good for the industry because it makes the paucity of HD options that much more apparent.
What are new Kia, Toyota, and Lexus owners going to think when they start looking for an HD station and find mostly the same stations they now find on AM and FM?
What are they going to tell their friends about HD Radio?
Even if every car manufacturer makes HD Radio standard, the service will still succeed or fail based on the quality and variety of the programming buyers find on it.
Unless broadcasters create compelling programming exclusively available on HD channels, the service is dead in the water.