Pity all those auto execs, marketers, and engineers working for the car companies and their Tier One suppliers. Last week, it was the gargantuan grind, affectionately known as CES. This week, they're all in frigid Detroit for the kickoff of the North American International Auto Show (formerly known as the Detroit Auto Show). It's a tough way to start the new year.
It's a bit ironic that with all the technology on display in Vegas last week, many of those futuristic promises made back in the '60s when Neil Armstrong was walking on the moon never came to pass. Flying cars, robot maids, and colonizing other planets are still concepts in scifi movies.
Especially the flying car part. Somehow, that never happened. We still have traffic jams, fatal accidents, and air pollution caused by auto emissions.
For radio, society's inability to figure out efficient mobility has been a life preserver. Millions of people still have painfully long commutes, and radio traffic reports continue to have utility, even with Waze and Google Maps gaining a foothold with each passing year.
Fred Jacobs shows radio personalities how to take their game to the next level in this webinar recording.
But this year at CES, we may have witnessed the beginning of one of those true paradigm shifts that will change the way we journey from Point A to Point B. And interestingly, it's the auto industry that continues to find itself at its self-made crossroads, thanks to electric and autonomous cars, as well as the “smart cities” movement. And radio – like it or not – is coming along for the ride.
The fascinating part is that the auto industry isn't being disrupted by outside forces – instead, car company corporate honchos are in the process of disrupting themselves. They openly admit that in the new smart and shared mobility models, consumers will buy and lease fewer cars. In fact, some industry analysts believe we won't own self-driving vehicles, but instead will use them in much the way we summon a ride on Uber and Lyft right now – with an app on our phones. (And Alexa is looming in the background as the voice that will power this shift.)
The “smart cities” model – yes, it will happen in big urban areas like Seattle but not in smaller markets like St. Cloud – looks to offer a virtual potpourri of autonomous/electrified mobility options – from bikes to vans to delivery trucks.
And thanks to technology developed by companies like Qualcomm and Nvidia (who we both visited on our Jacobs CEO/CES Tours,) the entire mobility ecosystem will talk to each other, making for a safer, seamless ride…with more green lights and fewer accidents.
The focus on this technology at CES 2018 was a bit overwhelming. As the photo montage of autonomous and electric vehicles pictured below shows an amazingly broad array of companies wheeling out their concepts, many of which look like the kind of ride George Jetson would enjoy.
Veteran car observers know that concept vehicles at auto shows used to be about speed and flash – in short, looking pretty badass.
In contrast, the cars of tomorrow displayed in the North Hall at the Las Vegas Convention Center this year were also breathtakingly beautiful. But the main emphasis was on their electric efficiency and self-driving skills. That's what elicited “oohs and aahs” from the throngs at CES.
The most Jetsonian vehicle wasn't even a car but a first-ever appearance at CES by Bell Labs, makers of helicopters. They unveiled their Air Taxi (OK, they need branding help) – an autonomous, electrified flyer where passengers will be able to kick back and do whatever they like throughout their traffic-less commute. Bell calls it a “comforting, relaxing space.” It's another sign that mobility is being redefined…and quickly.
A big story that accompanies self-driving cars is the idea these vehicles won't even need pedals or a steering wheel. In a Business Insider story by Matthew DeBord, a new autonomous GM Cruise – already its fourth generation of these vehicles.
How safe is this latest incarnation of the Cruise? The division's CEO, Kyle Vogt, notes these vehicles are already good to go. And similar to the Uber/Lyft model, a mobile app will be used to request a ride.
According to Vogt, “What's really special about this, when we look back 20 years from now, is that it will be a major milestone – to create production-ready vehicles with no manual controls.”
And while automakers, Tier Ones, and tech companies are busily at work on the cameras, computers, and other breakthrough components that facilitate a safe driving experience, there is less detail about what's in the dash – assuming there's anything in the dash.
In fact, car makers, advertisers, and by extension, radio broadcasters have been focused on the dashboard for going on a decade now. Hey – we named our conference DASH. But as we observed and absorbed the changing currents at CES last week, it was clear the future will be less about what is standard equipment in the car's cockpit, and more about how consumers call up the content they want and the options they have at the sound of their voice – video choices, audio channels – anything.
A Kia concept transport vehicle we spotted on the floor of CES is an example of how autonomous technology will free up a passenger's eyes. The in-vehicle screen experience is expansive. But when we took a closer look at the cockpit, we spotted the dangling cables you see in the inset.
We did not have the opportunity to talk to a Kia rep, but it was clear from the concept's design that video was the main attraction, while the empty space where a tablet might go appeared to take the place of where a radio once belonged. Trust me when I tell you there won't be an AC Delco in this vehicle's center stack with two knobs and six presets.
Clearly, “brought in” media seems to be precisely where the autonomous experience is heading. If you're an everyday commuter, you'd likely end up in a different self-driving vehicle each day – thus, the need to carry your entertainment with you.
Interestingly, the Cruise concept takes an even different approach to the in-car environment. In this vehicle, GM's safety report noted “customers will control the experience – their customized climate control and radio station settings will be sent to the vehicle ahead of when they access their ride.”
The italics in that last line are mine, and it's certainly nice to see the “R-word” in an autonomous vehicle white paper. But it's also clear that broadcasters are going to have to think differently in order to remain relevant in self-driving cars coming sooner than anyone thought.
Here are five prerequisites based on our CES experience and our ongoing conversations with mavens in the auto industry:
- Make your station mobile friendly – It seems obvious that for many autonomous vehicles, consumers will bring their devices along. A focused mobile strategy will be table stakes. And yes, you'd better figure out an ongoing method for ensuring your audience is downloading your app on tablets and smartphones.
- Think voice – Chances are good consumers will vocalize their desires on a platform like Amazon's, Google's or others. A smart speaker strategy is another important piece of the in-car puzzle.
- “Visual radio” is coming – You couldn't escape the reality that video screens are going to keep showing up in autonomous cars – and for the TV business, there's finally an opportunity to capture a driver's attention with programming. For radio operators, the need for your station to have a visual persona will continue to grow. How can your station's personalities, content, and information be enjoyed with ears – and eyes?
- Look outside the car – Automotive maven John Ellis has been espousing this for some time. People won't bring your content into their cars if they're not already consuming radio outside their cars – in their homes, at work, everywhere. While age 40+ consumers in this country have grown up with radio, today's kids are different media consumers. The 25-54 myopia has to stop if radio has a next-gen future.
- It will be about content – As it always has been. Yes, the “distribution” is radically changing, but broadcasters will still have to address those same gnawing, existential questions: what is it about your programming, your personalities, your vibe, your local connection that will make “drivers' seek out your content over all the other options available to them while they travel? Answer that question and you're well on the way to solving the larger problem of radio in the car.
The great philosopher and observer of mankind, Yogi Berra, got it right when he said:
“The future ain't what it used to be.”
If you were along for the ride last week at CES 2018, you're nodding your head.
We're hosting a free webinar – “10 Takeaways From CES 2018 (That Will Impact Radio)” – with Inside Radio on Thursday, January 25th at 2pm ET. You can register for it here.
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