The ways in which consumers access entertainment and information while they drive is the foundation of our DASH Conference. Our recent get-together in Detroit a couple weeks back featured 18 different keynotes, panels, and presentations devoted to the intersection of radio and cars.
But of course, the smartphone is a star player in this conversation. As John Ellis pointed out in yesterday’s blog post, loyalty to an iPhone or a Galaxy Note often trumps a consumer’s connection to car brands.
As Apple and Google move forward to provide a seamless, familiar dashboard experience, apps have become a powerful content source. And there’s no more striking example of this then in the areas of mapping, traffic, and navigation.
While OEMs (car manufacturers) continue to glean profits from marketing their in-dash GPS features, consumers are rapidly learning that mobile apps like Google Maps and WAZE provide these same services, and with even more real-time traffic conditions.
This has impact on what the car makers will ultimately offer, but it also gets right into radio’s grille. For decades, AM and FM stations have capitalized on traffic jams, jackknifed semis, orange barrels, and other daily commuting gnarliness to provide information that has always attracted mega sponsorship dollars.
But that’s about to change, just as radio’s school closing model – reading long alphabetical lists of area schools – is no longer effective in a world where this info is available online and via text messaging. Larry Rosin made this compelling case at the 2014 DASH Conference, pointing out that radio’s days as the primary source of traffic information may be numbered.
Now there’s evidence that this trend may be starting in one of the nation’s worst (or best) markets for traffic info, Washington, D.C. Last week, public radio giant WAMU announced it was ending its morning drive traffic reporting platform. The explanation?
“In a world now filled with smart phone map services, GPS devices in cars, and traffic apps, there is better, more up to date information available to our listeners than what we could provide.”
It is also true that D.C. radio features one of the best radio traffic reporting operations in the U.S. – WTOP. While many local residents may not remember the name of their Congressman, they all know that WTOP presents “Traffic and weather on the 8’s.”
And the station goes above and beyond what other large market operations feature. Their traffic system was featured back in 2014 by Roger Lanctot, automotive analyst at Strategy Analytics. In a blog post, Roger averred that WTOP’s traffic – mixing data and live on-the-scene reporting – was superior to the Waze app.
A few months later, WTOP announced a deal with WAZE making for an interesting marriage of a strong, local broadcast brand and an up-and-coming traffic techie app. Their director of traffic operations, Jim Battagliese, noted that the Waze partnership “allows us to get information on all area roadways, including those with few public resources. Waze is another tool in our arsenal to help D.C. commuters, who have one of the worst commutes in the country.”
The management team at WAMU may have recognized that while technology is changing the way consumers garner traffic information, competing with a traffic institution like WTOP with occasional report during breaks in NPR’s “Morning Edition” is an adequate solution for most commuters.
And that brings us to the creeping reality facing so many broadcast radio stations across America. With the exception of stations like WTOP, WCBS, KYW, and WWJ, traffic is not only becoming endangered content, it is also a tune-out threat, especially for stations known for playing music. A couple of traffic reports on a Classic Rock or Hot AC station in the morning may retain sponsorship dollars, but will increasingly fail to provide added value to most commuters in the listening audience. There's no reason to wait for the 8s or randomly scheduled traffic reports when even better, customized road and commuting info is available on a smartphone that is Bluetoothed into the dash.
Like so many other programming and content elements that radio offers, the disruptive forces of technology, often in the form of websites and mobile apps, require new thought, strategies, and tactics. They compel us to question existing models, recalculate their value proposition, and retest the validity of content that's been with us for decades.
Damn that traffic jam!
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,200 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.