Since retreating from the AM airwaves in 2014 (apart from Los Angeles), Radio Disney has enjoyed a second life as an HD Radio side channel in a number of major markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Denver. But the mouse has now had his ears clipped as Entercom outlets have taken the kids network off all of its HD multicast channels that aired it, after Entercom chose to not renew its contract with Radio Disney.
Airing on HD side channels was part of a years-old arrangement the Walt Disney Co. had with HD Radio developer iBiquity Digital. Current HD Radio licensor Xperi Corp. senior director of Communications and Consumer Marketing Jordan Miller tells Inside Radio that the time has now come for many of those radio companies to monetize their own HD channels.
He explains that the company’s HD Radio team worked with Radio Disney to launch the network on side channels in 2014. Since, HD Radio-equipped car market penetration has grown from 19 to 50 million vehicles—and in some markets, vehicle penetration is greater than 30%. “Since the launch of the Radio Disney HD Radio Network, there has been explosive growth in the deployment of HD Radio technology,” he says.
As a result, according to Miller, “This has led to broadcasters in many markets wanting to program and monetize their own strategic, market-specific programming. Industry consolidation, integrated digital strategies and the growth in multicast audiences — 550% since 2014 — provides the ideal framework for local stations to now exploit local market opportunities.”
He says that while he expects Radio Disney programming to remain on-air “in select markets,” Disney will now implement direct deals with interested stations to make its programming available. In fact, the only terrestrial station in the nation identified as a Radio Disney destination on the Xperi website is a side channel for Salem Media Group’s money-talk KDMT Denver (1690).
In April 2015, Radio Disney’s portfolio of mostly AMs went silent as Disney looked for buyers for 23 of its 24 stations. “Across all forms of media, digital technology continues to dramatically change consumer habits,” Radio Disney GM Phil Guerini said then in a memo to staff announcing the decision to put the emphasis on digital distribution and music-centric programming. Nielsen data showed that twice as many teens, tweens and their parents were already consuming Radio Disney on the web rather than on AM/FM radio.