NAB: FM + iPod = ROFL

I understand why they asked. But I'm not sure they understand what they're asking.

For those who came in late, at the recent National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) conference, NAB President and CEO David K. Rehr shared a letter he sent to the COO of Apple, Timothy Cook.

'NAB would like to encourage Apple, as a recognized leader in both the mobile phone and portable music player arenas, to include FM radio as a feature in future iPhone and iPod products.'
From the NAB's standpoint, this makes perfect sense. iPods currently enjoy about an 80% market share, and iPhones are currently the third most popular in the market -- which makes them as ubiquitous as transistor radios in the early 1960's. Of course broadcasters would like to be included on these portable devices. As Rehr explains:

'Providing FM broadcast reception capability in mobile phones and portable music players creates multiple benefits for consumers as well as for the broadcasting, music and personal device manufacturing industries.'
'I am certain [that FM radio stations] will eagerly support positive indications from Apple on the inclusion of built-in FM radio in future Apple products.'
I'm sure they would. The NAB wants this feature added. But what about the consumer? The Zune has an FM receiver built in. So do most Sony MP3 players, and Creative MP3 players, Sandisk MP3 players, et al. (and notice how the FM tuner feature is all but buried in their presentations). And their combined market share is --? Well, combined, it would have to be about 20%.

The same folks that just know HD Radio will save the industry by winning back all of those satellite radio subscribers (sound quality trumps content, don'tcha know) believes that if they can but put an FM receiver in front of all those white earbudded masses, that their audience will return.

Except it won't. If FM radio was a feature in high demand, then the competitor's market shares would be higher. The MP3 player rose to prominence in part because it was a handy replacement for the radio. Why listen to a few songs you like, mixed in with songs you don't and long commercial spot sets when you can enjoy thousands of songs without commercial interruption hand-picked by you for you?

Now it's not to say that having a receiver wouldn't be handy. Some things you can't store on an iPod -- like a football game, or a late-breaking news story. But then again, that's what RSS feeds are for, aren't they?

The iPod has moved beyond just music. It's a video player, a podcast aggregator, portable game console and photo album. And with wireless access, the iPod touch and the iPhone also double as texting consoles , web browsers, and Internet radio receivers.

So where's the advantage of adding an FM receiver? It bulks up the electronics (at a time when iPods are becoming smaller and thinner), it adds to the cost, and it's another way to drains the battery. Stations point out that these devices could use iTunes tagging, but so what? With the iPhone you can do the same thing with fewer clicks (and Apple doesn't have to share as much of the revenue).

I know why they had to ask, but I suspect only the NAB doesn't know what the answer has to be.

- Ralph

Day 10 of the WJMA Podwatch.


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