One of the most thought-provoking presentations at this past spring’s NAB Show came from Dave Wilson, director of technology and standards for the Consumer Electronics Association, who expanded on points he made in the pages of Radio World in our April 9 issue.
Wilson — whose employer represents the makers of radio receivers, among other devices — believes that satellite radio is here to stay; further, it soon will add free channels that carry ads, increasing its threat to traditional radio’s business model. Free local radio could even lose its traditional place in the dashboard, he says.
Radio should be using this time to make its own service more valuable to consumers through a combined presence online and a dramatic “refarming” of the FM band.
Wilson works for the consumer electronics industry but worked for years in technical positions at the FCC and then the NAB. An SBE-certified broadcast engineer, he knows his way around this industry and how to prompt discussion.
Radio, he believes, should remake itself as a wireless downloading service. Digital transmission allows stations to ship digital audio files to consumer products, he feels, and consumers prefer to consume their media in this manner. Continuous streams of programming provided in real time will become far less popular.
If Wilson’s ideas seem far-fetched, we agree this is the kind of discussion radio’s leaders should be having if our industry is to evolve and thrive. Far too often, radio’s business concerns are limited to this financial quarter, not the steps we might take to build a successful business for the next decade.
Finding his perspectives refreshing, we followed up and asked him to identify the most important topic he sensed for radio in the engineering sessions of the spring show.
“Clearly the development of a mobile/handheld standard for digital television,” he said.
“In a few years TV stations will be able to reach consumers while they’re in their vehicles. This competitive challenge for radio may be even more significant than the one presented by satellite radio and portable media devices, because local TV stations compete directly with local radio stations for local ad dollars.
“Radio shouldn’t be complacent and assume that, because it’s TV, people can’t ‘watch’ it in the car. Many TV programs, particularly morning and evening (aka ‘drive time’) news and information programs, are almost as useful to the consumer without video as they are with video.”
We also asked him what questions radio trade journalists should be asking right now in doing our jobs. He replied:
- “Will NAB be fighting the competitive threat to radio from mobile/handheld TV as vociferously as it has been fighting the competitive threat from satellite radio?”
- “Is AM/FM radio going to improve the efficiency with which it uses its spectrum so that, collectively, it can provide more content to consumers, making the choices available on free local radio more competitive with those provided by satellite radio?”
- “What will AM/FM broadcasters do in the event that satellite radio broadcasters begin offering advertiser-supported channels to consumers for free?”
- “If satellite radio broadcasters begin offering advertiser-supported channels to consumers for free, what arguments will AM/FM radio broadcasters make to car makers in favor of retaining AM/FM receivers as standard equipment in new vehicles?”
- “Should the radio industry begin a campaign to correct the discrepancy between the length of time for which patents are granted vs. the length of time for which copyrights are granted? (If copyright protection followed the same rules as patent protection all songs published before 1991 would no longer have copyright protection.)”
We don’t know the answers to all of Wilson’s questions nor agree with all of his positions, stated or otherwise, on today’s hot-button regulatory topics for radio owners. But the industry’s opinion leaders — the NAB, radio group heads, public radio’s leadership and folks like us in trade publishing — do need to be asking more questions about where the industry is going, and not immediately dismissing creative ideas, like some of Wilson’s, as untenable.
— Radio World