The annual Consumer Electronics Show kicks off this Thursday in Las Vegas. While all the biggest buzz around the show is in anticipation of new tablet competitors for Apple’s iPad, we can still expect to hear announcements of new radio gadgets across the spectrum, from analog broadcast and HD Radio to satellite and internet radio. Some companies have already started with their press releases, while we’re left guessing what will be up in other segments of the industry.
None other than Clear Channel Communications has announced its intent to “have a vital presence” at CES, touting its iheartradio mobile app. The app, which is available for iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone 7, allows the user to tune in the web streams of 750 Clear Channel-owned terrestrial stations. In addition to a deal for iheartradio to become available in some Toyota vehicles, Clear Channel promises that “numerous vendors” will display “iheartradio-capable” products… whatever that means. I’m not sure I really get the attractiveness of tuning a distant Clear Channel station via the internet in your car when there are likely plenty of stations with nearly the same playlist on the local FM dial. But I guess I’m not the target market.
We should expect plenty of home internet radios to be announced from companies like iHome, which made a name with iPod docking radios, and Grace Digital Audio, which was an early player in standalone radios able to tune in internet audio streams. Also expect more car stereos and add-on kits that make it easier to listen to internet radio on the road via an attached smartphone. Pioneer tried to make a splash at last year’s CES with a car receiver designed to play Pandora streams via an iPhone, integrated so that the driver can control the Pandora channel via the receiver instead of the smartphone. I didn’t hear much more about it once CES was over, though the receiver garnered respectable reviews.
On the satellite radio and HD Radio fronts things have been quiet for the pre-show period. I expect we’ll hear about some more factory-installed Sirius and XM capable car radios, especially since a rebounding auto industry this year is something Sirius/XM is depending heavily upon. I’m anticipating something similar from HD Radio, and I won’t be surprised to hear iBiquity–HD Radio’s parent company–trot our their not-so-new deal with Ford again. In fact, it doesn’t seem like iBiquity is even ready for CES this year, since their press release site is still touting a special section to highlight HD Radio at the 2010 CES from twelve months ago. Regardless of HD Radio’s tardiness, it seems as though mobile in-vehicle electronics will be a significant focus of the show, with keynotes from Ford’s CEO and Audi’s chairman of the board.
For us policy geeks there’s a “one-on-one” with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski on Friday afternoon. I’m not sure much of that session will be radio-specific, but he is likely to talk quite a bit about wireless spectrum, which certainly affects internet radio, especially mobile. I wonder if anyone in the industry will take him to task over the Commission’s failure to implement any real network neutrality for mobile broadband. I reckon the electronics industry stands to lose quite a bit if consumers’ wallets are penalized for streaming radio and video on the go.
Unfortunately, the Radio Survivor 2011 budget doesn’t come close to allowing us to send a correspondent to Vegas to cover the show first-hand. Nevertheless, the deluge of press releases this week should provide plenty of grist for the mill. We’ll do our best to chew it up and try to digest what it means for the state of radio in the forthcoming year.
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