How’s that for an action headline? It’s enough to wake a radio guy up and get his attention. And that’s the effect it had on me when I ran across this story from the BBC written by Bryan Lufkin.
Like so many news items that start out on a hysterical note, this one actually calmed down quickly, providing a history of radio’s relationship with the automobile, as well as a smart analysis of the ever-crowded car dashboard. Lufkin talks about the rise of streaming, satellite radio’s growth, and the inevitability of autonomous cars.
And interestingly, while he suggests early on that “FM's days might be numbered,” he concludes on an upbeat note for radio, quoting Chris Fangmann, director and CTO of Global Manufacturing Industry at the IT company CSC:
“I expect that ‘radio’ will remain being the primary form of in-car infotainment. But the radio itself will continue to change. It will leverage new services and will of course continue to be the early adopter for new technological disruptions (that) we don’t know of today.”
No argument here. Radio is still the easiest, most convenient choice that is still rooted in the habit structure of millions of drivers. The slow leak, of course, is among Millennials. And on that note came this equally alarming article that appeared over the weekend in the Philadelphia Inquirer blaring, “Millennials Abandoning AM/FM for Streaming” by Jonathan Takiff.
Takiff discusses a myriad of ominous issues impacting the radio industry, noting that car dashboards now provides a great deal of choice for button punchers, especially young people:
“A touchscreen display and hidden computer behind the dashboard of today's modern rides make the skedaddling easy.”
While the Inquirer article lays out an ominous array of potential dashboard disruptors for radio, neither Takiff nor Lufkin even mention two of the most serious players – Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – those center stack ecosystems that promise to become the default systems in more and more new vehicles. The fact that the two largest tech companies in the world are vying for valuable dashboard real estate should be a strong indicator of the car's long-term importance.
All this media noise and dire predictions of gloom and doom for broadcast radio keep coming back to the ever-crowded center stacks of the cars we drive or will be driving in the not-too-distant future. Given the dominance of the car as the core radio listening location, anything automotive ought to get our attention. Our own Techsurveys show the lion’s share of radio listening now takes place while consumers are on four wheels, especially among Millennials.
And for the radio industry, it should be a continued reminder that strategic planning, research and development, an action oriention, and a unified front are now necessary ingredients in addressing the automotive challenge head on.
The NAB is moving in this direction, bolstered by a national research study conducted by Magid that underscores the value of AM/FM radio to consumers when they’re in their cars. But trade associations like the NAB or the RAB can’t go it alone. The need for the broadcast radio industry to speak in one voice has never been more important. Connecting with the automotive industry is a challenging task to begin with – doing it radio company by radio company is inefficient and confusing, ensuring that positive messages will surely be lost in all the noise.
There's also a need for broadcasters to begin viewing the dashboard as a programming challenge that has arisen because of in-car competition that includes pure-plays, satellite radio, podcasts – in short, everyone. All of this could be amplified in autonomous cars as “drivers” will be able to focus on the dash rather than the road, leaving time and space for new content options, including video.
On Tuesday, June 28, jācapps will be presenting “The Connected Car & Radio,” a free webinar that breaks down some of the key issues. I invite you to join us. We’ll be addressing all these issues and conditions, as well as the Apple and Google factor.
Since Jacobs Media first immersed itself at the intersection where radio and automotive meet back in 2009, our involvement in the space has been dedicated to bringing the two industries together. Our DASH Conferences have been all about fostering a sense of learning, cooperation, and understanding for both of these storied American institutions – radio and cars.
Next week, I’ll be making connected car presentations at both the New Jersey Broadcasters Association and the Virginia Association of Broadcasters conferences. It’s all about educating and engaging broadcasters about these challenges, and what they can do to affect change.
In the meantime, be wary of those sensational headlines. They’ll keep you up at night.