What would it take to get you to shell out $300 to $500 dollars for a next-generation digital radio? Free 24-hour access to disco hits in crisp high-definition sound? Jamming oldies with a Hispanic skew? Or perhaps all the Frank Sinatra classics you can sing along to during the morning commute?

Tightly focused formats and better quality sound are what Clear Channel Communications Inc. and other traditional radio broadcasters are counting on to slow the migration of audiences to satellite, cable and Internet radio, as well as MP3 players. Toward that end, the San Antonio-based broadcaster began multicasting a second channel in digital high definition (HD) via its five Los Angeles FM stations last week as part of an industrywide initiative to promote the new platform.

HD radio technology adds a digital signal to an existing AM/FM analog signal, with the digital signal able to be split for additional broadcasts and wireless data services. The technology enables FM-quality sound on AM channels and CD-quality on FM channels for those listening on a digital receiver.

"The appeal is commercial-free, no subscription," said John Ivey, vice president of programming for Clear Channel's Los Angeles and Riverside county operations, which operates three of Arbitron's five top-rated radio stations in the L.A. market. "No (disc) jocks either, at least starting out. Some people just want to listen to the music."

Local Clear Channel stations offering the new channels include KBIG-FM (104.3), KHHT-FM (92.3), KIIS-FM (102.7), KOST-FM (103.5) and KYSR-FM (98.7). For now, each existing station will gain just one HD sibling. KIIS, for example, will offer a more Hispanic targeted version of its Top 40 format on its digital channel, including Spanish and Latino crossover artists.

Clear Channel may eventually sell advertising, add announcers, and offer AM multicast channels as digital's popularity grows. "There's still a limited number of receivers out there," Ivey said. "The idea is to just get the word out, get enough channels out there to entice people to purchase the receivers."

An estimated 85,000 home and automobile digital radio receivers were sold in 2005 according to Stephanie Guza, an analyst with the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based technology market research firm In-Stat. That number is expected to climb to a half-million this year, and to 4 million by 2009.

Guza said the history of HD radio's penetration is comparable to the chicken-and-egg face-off between television broadcasters and set manufacturers each leery about making a significant capital investment before the other.

Before last week's launch, only two of L.A.'s Top 10 radio stations were broadcasting in HD. Clear Channel, the nation's largest station owner, plans to have 95 percent of its stations in the Top 100 markets go digital by 2007. "Their backing of HD radio is what was needed to start driving these radio receiver shipments," Guza said.

Nielsen Queries
VNU Inc.'s Los Angeles-based Nielsen Entertainment group and MovieTickets.com have teamed up to offer Nielsen's entertainment industry and consumer goods clients access to the views of MovieTicket's desirable demographic.

Formed in 2000, MovieTickets.com is a joint venture of AMC Entertainment Inc., Viacom Inc., America Online and others that allows tech-savvy moviegoers the ability to purchase tickets online, access reviews and get other information.

Now, more than 750,000 online movie ticket purchasers have opted to participate in what is being called a Movie Advisory Board, which gives Nielsen's market researchers the ability to ask questions both at the point of sale and after the customer has seen the film.

"People are evaluating how they spend every last leisure dollar and every last minute of leisure time, so what they have to say is of great interest of creators and distributors of creative content," said Adrienne Becker, general manager of Nielsen Entertainment's Strategic Development Group.

"There are a lot of factors that are pulling people from one form of entertainment to another, from one platform to another and that makes it increasingly important that we understand why they are making the choices they do," she said.

Nearly 70 percent of panel participants report having gone to a movie in a theater at least 10 times in the past year, compared to an average of six or seven times for the last three years in other populations Nielsen has surveyed.

"We've found it's been pretty easy to recruit people," said Becker. "People really like talking about the movies. And this is a demo that really likes going to the movies."

This and That
Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc., which operates cable, online and wireless TV programming guides in addition to its print publications, has formed a new cross-platform product development and technology group to create new technologies and upgrade existing ones. Steve Shannon was appointed executive vice president and general manager of the Los Angeles-based group. He founded Akimbo Systems, an Internet-delivered video-on-demand television service Gemstar also is looking for a new chief financial officer, having fired CFO Brian Urban as of Jan. 18 for undisclosed reasons nearly six months before his employment would have expired. Chief Executive Rich Battista is serving as acting finance chief.

Walt Disney Co.'s new Chief Executive Robert Iger may be focusing on the digital frontier for its video content, but the company's publishing division's latest project is strictly old school. Its new upscale, education-oriented parenting magazine Wondertime, set to launch next month, enters a niche already crowded with around a half-dozen similar publications.

KNBC-TV's (Channel 4) 5 p.m. newscast has won the Radio Television News Association's Golden Mike Award for Best 60-minute News Broadcast for the second year in the row. Telemundo affiliate KVEA-TV (Channel 52) morning news broadcast, "Buenos Dias" won for Best Daytime News Broadcast (of any length), at the 56th annual award ceremony on Jan. 21.

*Staff reporter Deborah Crowe can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 232, or at dcrowe@labusiness journal.com .

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