HD on QVC -- Lipstick on a (Roast) Pig

You've got to hand it to iBiquity, the firm that brought you HD radio over ten years too late and "shrewd" enough to copyright the term HD while at the same time saying it doesn't really mean "high definition".

As the saying goes, you can't put lipstick on a pig, but somehow, iBiquity has managed to get QVC to sell HD radios to its vast home shopping network audience.

Hope QVC has better luck than Radio Shack, Best Buy and Wal-Mart selling these empty radios. Hey, whatever happened to that hype? You can't easily find an HD radio in those stores let alone a young salesperson to close the sale.

Maybe QVC viewers can buy George Foreman's grill along with their HD radios so that they can cook this pig because there are going to be a lot of unhappy customers out there once they plug it in.

In case you haven't heard "HD Radio broadcasting is sweeping the country" according to iBiquity's web site. Did you know that HD is "available to over 80 percent of the population. More than 1,500 AM/FM stations are currently offering subscription free digital content, including more than 600 HD2 multicast stations offering unique formats and content".

Wow, such a deal. Let me guess. You need to buy a new expensive radio, right?

Here's what iBiquity says, "All a consumer needs is a new HD Radio receiver; the content is free. The radios are priced for everyone from under $100 from major mass-market retailers across the U.S. Virtually everyone can experience the crystal-clear digital sound on AM and FM as well as the broadcast-exclusive new FM channels".

Those under $100 models must really sound good. iBiquity seems to have left out the expensive $400 models. Just an oversight, I guess.

This roast pig is getting me sick to my stomach.

While some radio broadcasters are holding out hope that HD will energize the declining radio industry, others are apparently thinking about their options -- including unplugging their HD hardware and moving on to a solution that actually holds promise -- say, the Internet.

Let's imagine how QVC's customers are going to feel when they unpack their HD radios and plug them in for the first time:

1. Where's the beef? (Sorry, this is a pig -- where's the pork?). Where's all that exciting programming I was told would make the purchase price all worthwhile? Do they file a class action suit, return the radios for a refund or use their new less than $100 HD radios as antiques?

2. Where's the fidelity? K-Fed had more fidelity when he was married to Britney than HD radio has now. Yes, it's better, but no -- not that much better. A Bose it's not. Satellite radio it's not. It's just not.

3. When do these consumers figure out that you get what you pay for -- HD radio content is free. Radio companies are waiting for them to buy millions of new radios before they spend their precious money on new programming. Maybe this HD-QVC marketing marriage will backfire and help sell satellite radios. At least satellite sounds better, comes in cars and has hundreds of millions of dollars of programming built into it.

4. Oh, and where's the "unique formats and content". I'm telling you, maybe I've been hanging around the record industry too long but lawsuits would be flying for misrepresenting the product. Yes, I have been blinded by the Big Four labels. (It appears the RIAA is going to take a class action suit that could paralyze its efforts to sue the pants off music pirates -- if successful. I've got to stop thinking like a lawyer and start thinking like the lowly program director that I have been proud to be).

HD subchannels are really nothing that radio PDs can't program. They have lots of ideas. Unfortunately, few companies are listening to their ideas for the main terrestrial channels.

That's why radio programming sucks. It's that simple.

Selling HD radios to consumers at this point is like selling a potion from Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show as a cure for disease.

HD is a disease.

At best, it's an engineering work around for analog radio.

At worst, HD gives false hope that listeners will actually float radio owners by buying the expensive equipment to receive a digital signal with precious little content attached.

This is nuts.

Steve Jobs wouldn't expect his customers to buy an iPod without offering a vast music library to make the device a worthy investment.

By the way, a competitor of Apple, Spiral Frog, just launched its run at iTunes that must be directly out of the pages of the HD playbook: Spiral Frog's music is free, but you can't share it. You have to wait 90 seconds for the first download. Have to sign-up and re-sign up monthly. It only works on Windows. Can't be heard on an iPod and, oh, did I mention that only one of the big four labels is contributing music to that pig -- I mean frog.

Another pig you can't put lipstick on is consolidation, but I don't want to squeal too much about that here.

HD on QVC.

Can you imagine how pissed buyers are going to be.

I'm going to turn QVC on and have a few laughs. (If I'm a lawyer, I'm recording it).

But it's really not a laughing matter.

It's painful to see a once proud industry acting like it's selling snake oil. That's my opinion. Others have different points of view.

If I'm running a terrestrial radio company right now, I'm hiring the best and brightest programmers (even if I have to get them out of retirement or steal them from unappreciative consolidators) and I'm telling them they have carte blanche to program to the available Gen X and baby boomer audience. Not Gen Y!

I'm then investing heavily in Internet streaming and technologies and hiring the youngest, smartest and most skateboard proficient young people to help me build programming for where the next generation lives.


I've just described CBS.

I don't know where CBS Radio President Dan Mason stands on HD today -- he was a big booster before he took his present job. May still be. But he's sure performing like a Renaissance man now and HD has nothing to do with the current CBS turnaround.

This is my way of saying to my radio brethren -- it's time to move on -- beyond HD radio.

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