by Larry Rosin, President, Edison Media Research
Any quick look at the surfeit of blogs commenting on radio reveals endless carping about HD Radio. There seems to be no end of critics who are saying it will never work for any number of reasons.
While I certainly believe that HD Radio will have to work as easily and as well as AM and FM to gain acceptance, I am distressed by the lack of positive ideas for creating content that will compel consumers to want to put an HD Radio in their car, home, or office. As multicast stations start to roll out at a rapid clip, some stations have done a more than creditable job of telling listeners about their HD2 stations and providing a reason to listen. There are three problems, however, with most of these stations:
- Most of the stations are mostly entirely un-produced – differing only by a handful of recorded drops from the wall-to-wall music available from “Music Choice” on many cable systems (although, unlike Music Choice, they do have recorded IDs for the channel running periodically between the songs).
- They lack the ability to compel listening for anyone but the most ardent fans of the sub-genres of music they represent. Perhaps a Blues Music obsessive will be attracted to a Blues station on HD, but wouldn’t that person just as likely plunk down the $13 per month for Satellite? And even if we put the various sub-genres’ audiences together, is there enough mass there to build an HD fan base? Yes, tiny slices of music available commercial-free on HD might change the value proposition of Satellite for some consumers, but is that enough to build an HD business?
- They are often trying to do something that is hard enough to do with AM and FM – build entirely new brands. Everyone who works in radio knows how hard it is to get consumers to remember your primary station’s name and dial position. How can we get yet more brands to cut through?
The lack of produced product, of course, relates to the limited budget that most radio operators are willing to throw at a medium that has no users. Fair enough.
So what Radio needs is a plan to get compelling, produced content on HD that will build the medium with little, if any cost. Here’s one scenario:
COMPELLING, SUSTAINABLE HD RADIO THROUGH BRANDING PARTNERSHIPS
The Radio industry, working through the HD Digital Radio Alliance or other ventures, needs to reformulate the plan for HD from being format-oriented to being brand-oriented.
We should be working with already-established brands that people know and like, and bringing them to the radio.
Here is an example. Several flavors of AAA–notably, the “Jam Band” format–are being considered as HD channels. In some ways, this seems logical – Triple A has always been a format that sits right on the cut-line of format options for FM in many cities. But Triple A has also had a very tough time cracking through into the general consciousness in many markets.
So instead of putting a Triple A station on HD, why don’t we put on Ben & Jerry’s Radio? Can’t you already hear it? Grateful Dead, Phish, O.A.R, etc. Imagine the possibilities. Radio works with Ben & Jerry’s to create Ben & Jerry’s Radio. The station is available at all Ben & Jerry’s retail locations, as an Internet stream, and, of course, on HD Radio stations all over the country.
Ben & Jerry’s promotes the HD Channels in their stores. If they are ambitious, of course, they can even try to turn these efforts into some kind of new-revenue stream on the order of Starbucks’ “Hear Music” efforts.
The point is that Ben & Jerry’s Radio is something that people would understand immediately. It would create multiple sources of promotion and link HD Radio to a well-liked, positive brand.
One can even solve one of the biggest challenges of HD Radio with this approach: how do we pay for it – and keep it commercial free? This problem solves itself when the whole station is a commercial for Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. They provide commercial-free music to the consumer, the cash to pay for the programming, and receive a fantastic new marketing vehicle.
There is no end to the brands with which Radio should be discussing this branded radio concept.
Here are some that come to mind:
Any of the above quickly lend themselves to radio concepts. These stations can be promoted in the magazines, and the stations, of course, promote the magazines.
How cool would a Trump Channel be? Who even knows what it would be, but people would check it out. Tell my seven-year-old that there is a Nickelodeon Channel on HD and she will start noodging me to get an HD Radio. MySpace Radio is clearly the ultimate place for unsigned bands and artists.
Strongly Branded Retailers:
Either Barnes & Noble or Borders would make for an ideal radio channel, between their music and their books. GAP, L.L.Bean, Abercrombie or any other fashion brands also make immediate sense. Curves and Bally’s are already music venues at their locations and could quickly make the transference to radio.
Why have a Classic Country channel when you can have the Dolly Parton channel? Why have a blues or Classic Rock channel when you can have the Eric Clapton channel? If Joel Osteen has an HD2 Channel, millions of his followers will clamor for HD2. Similarly, someone like Rachael Ray would instantly create demand among her enormous fan base. There are, of course, hundreds of other celebrities whose names are brands and with whom HD could partner on content.
All of the above brands are imbued with attitude and strong feelings. All of them are youthful and vibrant. All of them should be attached to HD2 Radio stations – if we want young people to continue to use our medium.
You can have a hard rock HD2 station, or you can have the “Hard Rock Café” station. Or, the blues HD2 Station vs. the “House of Blues” HD2 station. Which is more potent?
And, what about:
Imagine every Tuesday night, after he reviews the performance, Ryan Seacrest says: “For full-time news and music from your favorite American Idol singers, tune to the American Idol radio station on HD2 across the country.”
Frankly, the powers that be in Radio should run to Simon Fuller and Simon Cowell and beg them to create their radio station. American Idol radio would definitely pull people to HD2.
The road to acceptance for HD Radio is long, and the challenges are significant. But the key to success will be creating content that gets people walking into retailers and car dealers asking for HD Radio.
Everyone who works in radio knows how hard it is to build a brand that is meaningful and remembered on AM or FM. We cannot hope to do this with music-only channels on HD. We need to partner with established brands that already move people.
For now, HD Radio is restricted by agreement not to monetize the channels. But the day when HD Radio must stand on its own is barely over the horizon. We must be prepared with programming that will compel people to go out of their way to demand HD Radio. The Satellite Radio companies have already made some inroads into branded entertainment by signing personalities like Oprah and Martha to content deals. HD has an opportunity to think even beyond celebrities or personalities and co-opt existing brands to build real value for both listeners and our customers. An example like the Ben & Jerry’s branded channel will instantly have associated brand values and images that a faceless HD channel may never be able to attain, and it might even build a little more love for both ice cream AND radio. If HD merely replicates Satellite’s commercial-free and personality-free music channels, it will have missed a prime opportunity to leap over the consumer adoption chasm and make a direct play for Middle America.
Comments or suggestions? Please post them in the space below. I look forward to hearing them!