As audio options on the vehicle dashboard continue to proliferate, broadcasters can take comfort in the fact that AM/FM remains drivers’ number one companion. But that certainly doesn’t mean radio can remain status quo. That’s where Xperi comes in: “We believe we are providing the path, through HD Radio, for radio stations to compete in the cluttered dash of the future and maintain and grow their audiences,” says Jeff Jury, Xperi’s GM of automotive.
While traditional radio remains dominant, “consumers clearly have more choice of entertainment in the dash, including bringing their own phone in for music. It is important that radio doesn’t get complacent and assume that the audience will not drift away,” Jury stresses.
It has been a long journey for HD Radio to get to the point where now one in five vehicles on the road are HD Radio-equipped. But with HD receivers more costly than analog head units, some automakers require consumers to pay for the technology as an upgrade.
Jury provided Inside Radio with a boatload of up-to-the-minute stats for this story, as well as an explanation of what’s to come for HD Radio—and how it will continue to aid an overall evolution for AM/FM to not only sound better, but “look” more like its competitors in the streaming and satellite space.
Today’s HD radios provide song information, artist images “and other features enabled by a digital over-the-air platform that are expected by consumers today,” Jury explains. Additional features that do not exist via traditional analog broadcasting include traffic and emergency alerts, and Artist Experience. The latter comprises cover art images such as artist photos, slide shows or other images that are related to the song or audio being played; as well as the lucrative potential for commercial images such as sponsor logos and advertisement images related to marketing campaigns.
“This is the type of information they already get from other sources, and they expect it from radio,” Jury says. “Combined, these features provide a modern, digital experience for radio’s audience. Without it, they may well move on to more compelling platforms.”
Roger Lanctot agrees. The director, Automotive Connected Mobility, Global Automotive Practice for Strategy Analytics, tells Inside Radio, “HD Radio introduces searchability via the integration of metadata and other data elements. It also introduces narrowcasting and a general expansion of available channels and content. Broadcasters need to play in this space to compete – going digital is, thankfully, more than just streaming. While implementing HD Radio may be expensive, it is cheaper than streaming.”
HD Radio By The Numbers
At present, 40 automotive brands are shipping vehicles in North America equipped with HD Radio technology—and more than 50 million HD Radio receivers are on the road, 18% of all cars on the road. The number of vehicle models featuring HD Radio either standard or optional in a feature package: 263; total vehicle models offering HD Radio as standard: 163 (62% of all HD-equipped vehicles). More than half (52%) of all new cars sold in 2018 came with factory-installed HD Radio receivers. And for fun: An HD Radio-equipped car is sold every three seconds in the U.S.
Meanwhile, there are some 4,300 stations broadcasting digital channels in North America. The breakdown looks like this: total HD Radio stations on-air, 2,224; HD2 channels on-air, 1,495; HD3 channels, 503; and HD4 channels, 78. In addition, 234 stations are simulcasting co-owned AM stations on an HD2, HD3 or HD4 channel.
And here’s how those stats actually matter, Xperi offers: 79% of U.S. radio listeners tune to stations broadcasting with HD Radio technology every week; the weekly cume of HD2-HD3-HD4 channels alone is well over nine million; and there are more than 161 million hours of in-car listening to HD Radio stations weekly in the U.S., based on the Nielsen Nationwide NRD database, Spring 2018.
In other words, consumers now have so many more options for original content on the radio dial. Consider, for one, iHeartRadio’s Pride Radio, an original format that now plays in 14 markets, thanks to HD Radio side channels, including Minneapolis, New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, San Diego, Austin and Orlando. HD Radio side channels have also brought back smooth jazz to the FM dial, as well as jazz and blues formats and limitless experimental or niche formats that otherwise would only be found via streaming apps or subscription-based satellite radio.
According to National Association of Broadcasters’ Chief Technology Officer Sam Matheny, HD Radio is ensuring that consumers listening to AM/FM are “enjoying rich multimedia experiences that include song title, artist information, and album art displayed on the screens that are commonplace in modern vehicles, as well as thousands of new channels of programming.” The technology, he says, has created a new value proposition for the age-old technology: “Audio quality has improved, diversity of channels has increased, use of screens for visuals is up, and there are additional data services that all make radio extremely valuable in the vehicle.”
Looking ahead, Xperi continues to develop its wares. It is working with the NAB PILOT program to prototype new broadcast radio services and user experiences in the vehicle using the company’s DTS Connected Radio ecosystem. The alliance links Xperi’s high definition audio subsidiary DTS with the NAB’s innovation initiative. The program will leverage the same development tools and platform that Xperi provides to automotive OEMs and their suppliers for development of DTS Connected Radio receivers.
At the CES Show in January, the company was front and center, demonstrating Software Defined Radio (SDR) implementations for HD Radio from Telechips and Kenwood, which delivers a lower cost to implement HD Radio technology for receiver manufacturers. Xperi also showcased the first HD Radio data service implementation from Kia and new HD Radio receivers from Audi, Fiat Chrysler, Hyundai and Toyota; alongside aftermarket products from the likes of Alpine, Clarion, Kenwood, Pioneer, Rosen, Sangean, Sparc, Sony and VQ.
“It is imperative that radio keep up with the times, offering a product that meets the needs of today’s consumer – easy to access, offering text and visual information along with audio, and wider choice,” Jury stresses. “HD Radio addresses these needs, and moves the last analog mass medium in the world into the digital age.”
Source: InsideRadio.com March 5, 2019