Suddenly, Your Blackberry is a Radio

| January 27, 2012

By Holland Cooke
MCVAY/COOK & ASSOCIATES
News/Talk Specialist

LAS VEGAS –– They hadn’t even cut the ribbon to open CES2012 when the biggest radio story broke.  Research In Motion admitted to something Apple won’t: There’s a sleeper chip in phones already in use –– RIM’s Blackberry Curve 9360 and 9380.  Just download an app, and you activate the FM receiver you didn’t know you were walking around with.

Why this is big:

• Suddenly, there are millions of new radios.  Researchers presenting at CES told us that half of all Americans now tote a smartphone.

• Radio is back in the pocket, for the first time since the 1960s.

• You can hear local stations’ over-the-air signals, which don’t consume your wireless data ration the way streaming does.

• Blackberry’s move should nudge Apple to respond.

Why this is a win-win-win-win-win:

• Radio programming is an app that phone makers don’t have to fund.

• All those other apps keep bringing people back to the device which now receives radio.  Researchers at CES also told us that only one in five people use their phone only to make phone calls.  And get this: Qualcomm chairman/CEO Paul Jacobs told us that “most people look at their smartphones 150 times a day.”

• PPM is listening.

• If you’re listening to a transmitter, rather than a station’s stream, you’re unclogging the network.

• Phone makers are late to put a mandated Emergency Alert System in-place.  Radio has one, and that recent test pointed to some weak links we can address.

This was a particularly smart move for Blackberry, the phone that was cool before iPhone came along.  Suddenly, Blackberry does something iPhone doesn’t.  I’m reminded of when Major League Baseball and the NBA and NFL started charging to hear games online; and the NHL –– the underdog sport –– let fans listen free.  Blackberry is the NHL of smartphones.

Why this hasn’t happened sooner?  It got political when the National Association of Broadcasters suggested mandating radio receivers in phones as a bargaining chip in the ongoing arm wrestling over music royalty fees that now seem inevitable.

Hopefully, the competitive mojo that energizes the consumer electronics industry will kick in, and iPhone will wake up their long-rumored sleeper chip.  Other smartphones already receive FM radio, and some 100 new smartphones were introduced at CES2012.

Consumer electronics is big business, it’s our business, and business is getting better.  This industry was a consistent bright spot during the recession.  Smartphone sales surged 400% since the economy tanked in 2008.  And CE is among sectors leading the recovery.  Remember the lines outside the Apple Store for both iPad debuts and new iPhones?  2012 sales forecasts are for nearly a trillion dollars –– that’s twelve zeros –– worldwide, $200 billion-plus here in the USA.

And the proof isn’t just that phone in your pocket.  Right now is the best time ever-ever-ever to buy a television…even though more TVs are sold in January than any other month (because of the Super Bowl).  Why, despite that demand, new tubes are such a bargain?  Over supply.  Retailers picked the low-hanging fruit when early adopters bought high, and made more money during the 2009 digital transition.  Now they want to move out in-stock flatscreens to make way for the dazzling super-size and 3D HDTVs we saw in Vegas.

Another conspicuous bargain?  Blu-ray players are now real inexpensive and disc sales are up –– $2 billion in 2011 –– while DVD sales dropped 20%.  CES saw the debut of “Bond 50,” a box set of all 22 007 titles, nine for the first time on Blu-ray.  Radio take note: Legacy content lives on by migrating to hardware en vogue.  Speaking at CES, The Weather Channel’s Scott Jensen urged that, “whatever you’ve gotten comfortable doing, be prepared to change” and be “wherever the user might be.”

Tech roadkill can be brutal for products that don’t adapt.  Witness Kodak, now on the verge of bankruptcy.  Film, an AM-radio-era technology, now seems quaint, and most pictures aren’t even taken with a camera any more.

In the session “Harness the Power of Digital Disruptive Innovation,” James McQuivey from Forrester Research observed that, based on what’s clicked, “many of the biggest ideas won’t be products, they’ll be product experiences.”

It was hard not to think of radio as he noted that, “when companies adopt technology, they do old things in new ways.”  But when companies “internalize technologies” –– i.e., making the station’s website more than just a brochure about the station –– “they create entirely new product experiences,” which, clearly, users are embracing.

More pertinent fast facts on “The State of the Internet,” presented by comScore Senior VP Brian Jurutka:

• The number of unique visitors to the internet is growing at double digits annually.

• 216 million Americans are online, averaging 39 hours/month.

• $255 billion was spent online in 2011, up 12% from 2010.

Even the term “website” is old think.  Jurutka told us there’s a purchase made every second on eBay alone…on a smartphone.  Oh, and if you’re still skeptical about that social media research I recently summarized at Talkers.com and HollandCooke.com, comScore estimates that 1/6th of the time Americans spend online is spent on Facebook, up 57% from a year ago.

In the CES session “Planet of the Apps,” we learned that 1.2 billion mobile apps were downloaded in the last week of 2011 alone.  And this session documented a consumption pattern that’s being called “snacking,” quick interaction, i.e., posting to Facebook and Twitter by phone, and see-something-buy-something mobile purchase transactions.

With all the new-tech competition for listeners’ attention, radio –– the original, and most portable electronic gadget –– should think mobile.

Got diabetes?  There’s an app for that!  That “glucose meter” that samples a blood droplet?  If you’re diabetic, you probably keep a little notebook of test results and show your doctor weeks or even months later.  Now that little meter goes wireless and results go into a private database, which you can permission your doctor to see.  “Remote diagnostics.”

Digital technology is changing almost everything we do, as FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski observed after exploring a 37-football-field-size exhibit hall.  Declaring that “our ‘apps economy’ is the envy of the world,” he predicted that the broadband build-out could create 100,000 new jobs in the next two years.

And Genachowski quipped, “I love coming to CES.  Where else can you find a USB stick that’s also a bottle opener?”

News/Talk consultant Holland Cooke covers conventions for Talkers.  See/hear/read more from CES2012 at www.HollandCooke.com; and follow HC on Twitter @HollandCooke.


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Category: Analysis