From time to time we hear word that HD Radio is near a tipping point, a point where awareness and interest in HD Radio reaches critical mass and the medium takes off.
If Google is any indication, HD Radio has already reached a tipping point, a tip not toward success, but instead toward oblivion.
Google Insights is a tool to track interest in a topic or product using search activity as the metric. Type in Charlie Sheen, and you’ll find that interest in Sheen started taking off on February 25th, and exploded on March 2nd. Aside from a secondary peak on March 8th, interest has steadily declined since.
The chart above shows interest in Pandora radio. Pandora is an interesting study because despite continued growth over the last few years, interest actually peaked in early 2009. Since then, interest has fallen off 50%.
With registered users topping 80 million, maybe everyone knows about Pandora by now and there’s no need to search for it.
If we saw growing numbers of listeners using Google to learn more about HD Radio, it might mean HD Radio is gaining momentum, and it is just a matter of time before people start buying HD radios.
Unfortunately, interest in HD is declining, not growing. Interest peaked in December 2007, and has been steadily declining since. Each December there is a seasonal peak, as there is for most tech gifts, but interest in each subsequent Christmas season has dropped.
Interest in HD has fallen by two-thirds since its 2007 peak.
Graphing Pandora and HD Radio against one another shows the dramatic difference between the two service’s arc of interest. The tipping point for HD Radio actually occurred in 2007. It was the year that interest in Pandora exceeded interest in HD, and since then HD interest has steadily eroded.
While search interest is just one metric, declining interest is one more negative sign of HD Radio's struggle to gain traction.
As an aside, HD channels are showing some signs of life in Arbitron, apparently fueled by 250 watt FM translator simulcasts. Maybe AM broadcasters should lobby for commercial low power FM allocations rather than more HD power!