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LAS VEGAS - The first day on the NAB Show floor brought a big announcement from the developer of HD Radio: after many years of talking about putting digital radio in smartphones, Ibiquity believes it's finally found the right combination of hardware and software to make radio a routine part of the devices that occupy hundreds of millions of pockets around the country.
The Ibiquity booth on the show floor was packed for the noontime announcement Monday, and it turns out to go pretty far beyond the "radio in a phone" concept that's been a regular topic of discussion at the last few NAB shows.
Instead, what Ibiquity and its partner Emmis Interactive unveiled was a more elaborate set of services that come with what may be the compelling sales pitch to wireless carriers that's been missing so far.
In addition to the features that haven't made much of an impact yet (album artwork, iTunes tagging), Ibiquity says it can offer radio stations something they've never before enjoyed: a way to target interactive advertising to listeners and thus actually produce a revenue stream from HD Radio, which (while Ibiquity won't say it) has so far has been mostly a cost to broadcasters with little or no return.
But that depends, of course, on getting wireless providers and phone makers to incorporate these new chips into their devices. (When asked "what took you so long to get this out there?" by Radio World's Leslie Stimson, the answer came around to the need for chipset technology to catch up.)
Ibiquity and Emmis say unlike earlier HD receivers, the new chipsets don't run down batteries or generate excess heat, and they say adding HD Radio reception would help solve a growing problem for wireless carriers: the huge demand for bandwidth created by services such as Pandora and Slacker and streaming radio.
Too little, too late? The marketplace will decide, of course - just as it appears to have already spoken for the HD Radio system on AM. All that fancy new technology at the Ibiquity booth was FM-only, of course - and if there's any new HD AM gear out there on the show floor, we certainly haven't found it yet.
*Speaking of the spectrum crunch, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski is standing by his insistence that it's real and can only be solved with help from TV broadcasters. The chairman spoke to a packed crowd of industry leaders Monday afternoon, telling them the Commission will soon take up an order, followed by a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking this fall, that would allow multiple TV licensees to share a single 6 MHz channel, selling their excess channel capacity at auction, while retaining their rights to cable must-carry.
Genachowski struck a slightly less contentious tone than in past NAB appearances, saying some TV broadcasters could also benefit by moving (voluntarily) from UHF to VHF and pocketing the proceeds from an auction. (Would the attendees of an NAB convention a generation ago ever have imagined that the head of the FCC would have to make a hard sell about the advantages of moving to a VHF channel from UHF?)
The details of that auction process are still being determined; Genachowski says he's bringing Gary Epstein, former head of the FCC's DTV transition, back to the Commission to run the auctions.
Genachowski's reception from the broadcasters was still a fairly cool one - much cooler, no doubt, than the welcome Betty White will receive when she makes an NAB appearance tomorrow morning in what's usually the FCC chairman's breakfast timeslot. We'll be there covering that, too (it's Betty White, after all!)...and we'll have all the details in tomorrow's update, along with some observations from the show floor.