Successive rounds of hurricanes battering the U.S. mainland and Puerto Rico are the latest fodder in a radio industry campaign designed to pressure smartphone manufacturers to include radio reception capability in their devices.
Many Android-compatible smarphones are capable of receiving FM signals. The radio industry, led by Emmis Communications, has designed an app called NextRadio that functions as an onboard tuner.
Prior elements of this campaign involved running public service announcements letting people know this functionality existed, and low-key advocacy for a possible mandate for FM in smartphones both at the FCC and Congress. Following Hurricane Irma’s destruction, particularly in Florida, broadcasters amped it up.
They took their cue from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who explicitly called out Apple on September 28th to enable FM reception in their phones “to promote public safety.” The next day, the National Association of Broadcasters issued a statement that claimed Apple’s iPhone hardware does indeed contain a chip capable of FM reception, but the company has chosen to disable it; “we encourage Apple to activate this feature on their future handsets so Americans can have access to lifesaving information during emergency situations, something that many local radio stations provide.” Continue reading “FM vs. iPhone: A Battle of Shaded Truths”
Although iHeartMedia’s dance with bankruptcy is widely seen as a key indicator of the health of the radio industry more broadly, that company is not alone in reconfiguring its approach to finance capital. Two other conglomerates are also making moves — one trying to leave the stock-trade behind while another wants to jump back into those waters.
First up is Emmis Communications: the Indianapolis-based company has been hammered in the stock market over the last few years, threatened with delisting by NASDAQ after its stock dropped below $1 per share in 2015. After conducting a reverse-stock split earlier this year (reducing the number of shares in circulation, thereby inflating the price of remaining shares) which brought the company back into compliance, company founder and CEO Jeff Smulyan has announced a $46 million bid to take the company private. Continue reading “More Radio Industry Market-Maneuvering Afoot”
Many industry-watchers have been fixated on the travails of Cumulus Media, which ousted its founding family earlier this year and replaced them with new management backed by the private-capital firms that now control the company. It hasn’t yet resulted in a massive turnaround for Cumulus stock, which is up about ten cents or so from its lowest low earlier this fall. Still, that values the country’s second largest radio conglomerate at a paltry $82 million and change — you can now pick up a few shares of Cumulus for a dollar and still have change left over for a gumball.
But Cumulus is not the only company now trading under a buck. There’s also Emmis Communications — the primary driver behind the NextRadio application and a major innovator in the HD Radio space — whose shares are now trading at just 62 cents, triggering a delisting warning from NASDAQ. Just three months ago, Emmis stock was worth $1.42 per share; a decade ago, the stock was worth 100 times more than it is today. Continue reading “Radio Stocks on the Dollar Menu”
It’s been a good year for NextRadio. The Emmis-developed smartphone application that enables FM listening on compatible devices is making great headway with wireless carriers. After paying Sprint to become the first-adopter, well-coordinated lobbying and social media campaigns this summer convinced T-Mobile and AT&T to request that the device manufacturers they work with enable FM reception. (Verizon remains a holdout, but that campaign continues).
With the consumer-side adoptive trend gaining momentum, efforts are now afoot to bring more broadcasters into the NextRadio fold. The back-end system that broadcast stations interface with is called TagStation; it maintains the NextRadio directory, provides all images and supplementary content to the audio broadcast, and manages the in-app advertising experience. Stations can sign up with TagStation for free, which means they’ll be listed in the NextRadio app and can display their logo to users. Continue reading “NextRadio Cuts Costs to Spur Adoption”
The radio industry’s efforts to carve out space for itself on mobile phones took some big strides foward this summer. In late July, AT&T announced that it would seek to enable FM reception capability in the Android devices it offers. This month, after a NextRadio-led Twitterstorm, T-Mobile declared it would do the same.
This is an important milestone for the NextRadio effort: three of the four major wireless providers in the United States have embraced the notion that terrestrial radio should be part of the media mix on mobile platforms. It will be interesting to see how long Verizon, the #1 carrier in the country, decides to hold out on offering FM radio as a feature in its phones. That it took until 2015 for this to happen is testament to the gatekeeping-power of the wireless oligopoly in the United States. Continue reading “NextRadio Reaches Carrier Milestone”
There’s been a slew of news about HD Radio uptake, but as usual, not a lot of meat on the bones. Rather, it’s the continuation of a yearly practice of demonstrating signs of life. These are designed not so much for the radio industry or listening public as much as they are for investors waiting to see a return for subsidizing the system’s development and promotion. 15 years on from the founding of iBiquity Digital Corporation, they’re still waiting.
The most notable announcement is the (re)launch of an advertising camapaign to agitate listener interest in radio-via-smartphones. It’s based primarily around NextRadio, the Emmis-developed FM receiver application available on select Android devices. Until last month, the “Free Radio on My Phone” campaign generally advocated the benefits of having an FM chip enabled on mobile devices, but the new iteration directly promotes NextRadio itself, according to the campaign materials available online. Continue reading “Still Waiting for the HD Payday”
In its latest quarterly filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Emmis Communications, the Indianapolis-based broadcast conglomerate who developed the NextRadio/TagStation suite and is a major player in HD Radio, had some interesting things to say about both technologies.
Back in 2013, Emmis inked a deal with Sprint in which broadcasters would pay $15 million a year to Sprint through 2016, in quarterly installments, in exchange for Sprint adding FM receiver chips to some 30 million devices on its network. Emmis has been working with other broadcasters to help shoulder the burden of this deal, but it would seem that industry enthusiasm for the project is coming up a bit short. Specifically (p. 30): Continue reading “Broadcasters to SEC: Digital A Variable Priority”
This begins HD Radio’s 13th year as the de facto U.S. digtital radio standard. With a broadcast penetration rate still hovering at around 15 percent and listener uptake at a third of that, there’s still a long road ahead before the technology reaches any semblance of marketplace criticality. That said, HD proponents have many narrative threads in play, all of which will bear watching in the coming 12 months.
The Coattails Effect. Broadcasters have demurred investing in HD transmission technology until listeners have receivers. By and large, they still don’t, but HD proponents are hanging their hopes on two primary vectors: the car and the phone. Continue reading “HD Radio in 2015: Threads Make a Strand?”
A consortium of broadcasters, including the The European Broadcast Union, the BBC, and several commercial broadcasters in the U.S., U.K, and Australia have launched the “Universal Smartphone Radio Project,” a campaign to lobby for building radio reception into smartphones. Sales of stand-alone radio receivers (both analog and digital) have been in steady decline for the last decade, and as media consumption-time shifts to mobile devices, radio broadcasters have found themselves by and large not in the mix.
The fix for this is what is now being called “hybrid radio,” defined as a radio signal plus a mobile data connection to provide enhanced content beyond audio and some interactivity. In the EU, this effort is being led by RadioDNS; in the States, it’s NextRadio. The campaign’s been in the talking stages since at least February and covered extensively in a presentation to the EBU in July. Continue reading “FM-in-Smartphones Effort Goes Global”
This was the first year that I’ve actually attended the National Association of Broadcasters’ annual radio convention. Though I have been to two as a protester: the first in San Francisco in 2000 to let the industry know people were unhappy with their evisceration of LPFM, and again in Seattle in 2002 to culture-jam the airwaves and emphasize the continued vibrancy of electronic civil disobedience.
This time around, I figured things might be different, because I’ve grown a lot in the intervening years, left the radio industry for academia, and just wrote a book about one of the industry’s most pressing problems. Instead, I came away with the uncomfortable realization that the industry remains the purview of a bunch of old white guys wholly detached from reality and happy to keep things that way. Continue reading “An Unwelcome Guest at the NAB Radio Show”