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Pictures on Digital Radio?

Struble also sees a turning point in AM/FM's economic situation

Here’s a note of interest out of the iBiquity camp. Bob Struble writes that at the recent NAB Radio Show, his company talked about “Image Support.”

“This is the ability to broadcast pictures from an HD Radio station and display them on a radio screen,” the iBiquity CEO wrote in his blog. “The obvious initial application will be broadcasting album art, which our research shows consumers will love, and car and cell phone manufacturers are enthusiastic about. Station branding and advertiser-generated images will also be in the mix.”

Struble offers upbeat impressions about radio’s economic situation, saying that broadcasters’ mood and focus appear to have shifted, from denial through panic earlier this year, to resolve now.

“There is recognition that existing debt structures are not sustainable at near-term revenue levels and have to come in line with new realities,” Struble thinks. “This effort is well underway, with bankers and owners engaged in the important negotiations. There has been lots of progress already, but all at the show understood it will be a long process.” He thinks broadcasters are more focused on “operational excellence” and says they know that to recover, they must remember their fundamentals. And he enthused that “there seems to be clear consensus that digital — both online and over the air — is a critical piece of the recovery. There were of course some great panel discussions on streaming and Web presence as well as HD Radio technology. But I was more struck by how digital seems now to be a part of the industry’s DNA.” He liked hearing people talking about broadcasters combining online and over-the-air digital efforts, like CBS putting user-generated content from on HD2s.

Circling around to the theme that has given many broadcasters both hope and heartburn for years , Struble summarized he calls some “green shoots” in the generation of actual money from HD Radio. These include spots and sponsorships for HD2 and HD3 multicast channels; spectrum lease deals for those channels (he pointed to WorldBand Media, which RW profiled some time back); finder’s fees from iTunes Tagging; and sports multicast channels in Dallas and Pittsburgh, on which we’ve also reported in RW. Beyond that, he reiterated, revenue from real-time traffic info is coming as Clear Channel and Navteq build awareness of their networks.

I think Struble is right at capturing these themes at the convention, including an understanding among operators now of how old and new media are playing together. However, having heard a lot of this other talk before, I’ll wait before I believe that big commercial radio really is going to return to its fundamentals of “producing compelling programming, effectively promoting their offerings, super-serving their clients, cultivating the next generation of talent and leaders, and of course, selling like crazy,” as Struble puts it. Unfortunately, those are exactly the areas where many in corporate radio have lost their way. Also, while some big operators may be feeling more resolve these days, I also still saw some evidence of discouragement too. When it comes to recovery, it’s obvious to me that “your market may vary.”

Read Struble’s comments here.