DTS, Inc (NQ:DTSI) is to acquire iBiquity for $172M USD. This was the headline about the middle of last week. With that announcement, we get to see some of iBiquity’s financials; revenue of $40-50 million this year with a margin of 30-36%.
My question is, who or what is DTS? DTS was initially known as Digital Theater Systems, Inc. They specialize in digital surround sound technology, by developing or acquiring companies that created various CODECs and surround sound technology.
An image of 35 mm film showing four audio formats, from left to right: SDDS (blue area to the left of the sprocket holes), Dolby Digital (grey area between the sprocket holes with the Dolby “Double-D”), analog optical sound (the two white lines to the right of the sprocket holes), and the DTS time code (the dashed line to the far right). The DTS time code syncs picture to a CD-ROM that contains the surround sound sound track.
DTS continues to develop surround sound technology and makes money by licensing that technology to consumer and professional audio clients. According to their 2015 Q2 financials, they are on track to make $140-145 million this year with a 25-30% margin.
My next question is, what does this mean for HD Radio? It is much harder to answer this question, but here are some general observations:
- DTS is a publicly traded company. Financials and other information are a matter of public record. It seems likely that the operation will be more transparent.
- DTS operates with higher revenue and lower margins.
- DTS has a high interest in mobile markets; devices and dashboards.
- DTS has a history of continued development and marketing of technology it owns.
There are a couple of different scenarios possible; the first is business as usual. I think this is the least likely situation. IBiquity as a company and HD Radio as a technology basically flat lined ten years ago. A successful company like DTS would not likely purchase something that does not have growth potential.
Second possibility, DTS will keep the same licensing structure, but upgrade the HD Radio technology. From a audiophile’s perspective; HD-1 sounds good, HD-2, 3, and 4 channels not so much. This is especially true as more channels are added and the same size pie (aggregate digital bandwidth) gets divvied up into smaller and smaller pieces. One area where HD Radio could shine is to get rid of the HD2-4 channels and create an IP multicast system. IPv6 has greatly improved multicast performance which might enable a free data stream download, minimal data back haul via mobile data for an interactive, low data usage digital experience. That would free up a lot of translators.
Third possibility, DTS will reduce the licensing fees for broadcasters and consumers and accept a lower margin on existing technology. DTS will use HD Radio as a route to get their technology into dashboards, which is where they see their future profits. Remember, the self driving car is only a few years away and mobile entertainment will be all the next rage.
As far as AM HD Radio goes, I don’t see anything happening with that. Medium wave broadcast channels do not offer enough bandwidth to facilitate reliable digital transmission.
In any case, for better or for worse, change is coming to terrestrial radio.