Some big news from the HD Radio Alliance was their recent announcement that participating broadcasters are upping their advertising commitment to $250 million, up 20% from 2006 levels. This is impressive, and is indeed a sign that terrestrial radio is getting more serious about making a digital impact with HD.
But remember the first thing you probably learned when you started programming or managing a radio station: never market a product before it's ready. Many of us have been burned by breaking this rule. I remember back when we started Jacobs Media, we were working with a heritage station that was in some trouble. To "hype" the upcoming book, the company came up with a Pontiac TransAm a day for 10 days. In those days - and TODAY - this was a mega prize, and a huge commitment.
You've probably guessed the sad end of the story. Despite the fact the company poured all this money into the station, the ratings went down. Beyond the cars, the station just wasn't that good. We needed to fix the product first before asking listeners to spend time listening to it.
And that brings us to HD Radio. Sean Ross recently wrote an honest column about this topic, as did Paul Marszalek a number of months ago. The Alliance simply needs to do more than get cheaper radio into stores and more advertising into the ether.
When consumers get these radios home, what are they going to hear? Are broadcasters sinking enough thought, research, creativity, and resources into the programming of HD2 channels? What are the characteristics of new "hidden" stations that will be so compelling as to sell more radios or make purchasers happy with their decision? Like any new innovation, HD Radio's best chance for growth is word of mouth. There's positive and negative buzz, and in our increasingly techno-centric world, it doesn't take too many bad reviews to sink a new technical innovation.
It's great that broadcasters are making a financial commitment to HD Radio, but a "content commitment" would serve this new medium even better. And while we're at it, how about a commitment from the Alliance that a teen-targeted HD2 station will be created in every market, utilizing young broadcasters from local colleges and even high schools? Now that would create some buzz.