In September, Ibiquity announced technology was coming that would allow HD Radio listeners to take an active step in radio listening by providing the ability to directly purchase the music being played on the radio. This kind of buy-it-now concept has been touted for some time in a variety of ways, but it has not really seen much applied use. Is it possible that tying the technology to HD Radio will be the magic combination?
The technology, called tagging, works with a radio that includes the tagging capability. That makes sense, right? The idea is that a listener hears a song he likes, presses a button (or some similar simple action) and the song is tagged for immediate or later purchase. The recent Ibiquity news adds a widely used music sales outlet and media player to the mix with Itunes and an Ipod.
How does this work? The first two devices to implement the technology aren't available yet, but have been announced to be available at the end of this year. Polk will release the I-Sonic 2 and JBL will introduce the IHD. Both units are HD Radio receivers with Ipod docks. When a song is playing on the radio and the listener's Ipod is in the cradle, the listener presses a button on the dock unit. The tag is stored on the Ipod, and then the Ipod is synced to Itunes later, the tagged songs will be available for purchase and download.
Previous attempts at establishing buy-it-now efforts included plans of Bluetooth-enabled radios that would transfer the selections to a cell phone or some other device, and then the listener would access a website to complete the purchase. The latest method taps into many of the existing elements of a media player owner's routine. Notice that I said a media player owner, not a radio listener. I think the reverse approach from a radio broadcaster point of view may actually work.
While this has all been centered on HD Radio, the technology can be applied to an RBDS signal as well.
As with any new consumer technology application, I don't expect the adults to jump on this right away. I expect younger adults and teens will embrace it more quickly — as long as the technology fits their lifestyles. If it is applied as a natural extension of their regular use, it will succeed. If it requires a forced step, the success will be moderate at best.
Seeing that studies show people learn about new music from listening to the radio, I like this idea overall. However, it still requires some effort for the listener. He must have a tagging-capable dock/radio, he must be listening to the radio on this dock, and he must have his Ipod in the cradle. That's a lot of steps.
What would make this better? Put an HD Radio receiver in the Ipod (and every other media player) in the first place. That eliminates the need for the dock altogether. That also completes the tie between the media player and the radio station. It brings radio back into the portable media experience.
Now, the bad news. As part of the announcement, Peter Ferrara of the HD Digital Radio Alliance said the Alliance will promote Itunes tagging with a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign focusing on the Polk and JBL products. That's quite a commitment — if it were a real advertising campaign. I have no doubt the effort will once again use the unsold inventory of radio stations, making the actual monetary investment equal zero.
Like all the other advances with digital radio, the marketing has to extend beyond the confines of terrestrial radio itself for promotion.
Tagging is another technical innovation to add to the list of HD Radio benefits. This time it has a better chance of becoming a reality.
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