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The New Form of Radio Imitates, Well, Radio
Radio is what we do. It’s been around, well, forever in our minds. Or at least all our lives. Over that time, radio has seen an ongoing rise of competition: TV and then video were going to “kill the radio star.” Then it was personal consumer technologies like the Walkman, CDs and media players, and later on satellite radio. Now the phone has become an everything device that you can also occasionally use as a phone. But radio as we know it has continued. There are some radio broadcasters who want to believe radio will continue as it has for nearly 100 years. They believe technology advances aren’t necessary. What we have works just fine. Another group is looking to the future and watches every move by SiriusXM, Pandora, Google, Apple and all the other content providers and technology developers. Part of this development includes HD Radio. And while some think HD Radio has no future at all, it’s wise to at least look at what HD Radio offers to stay relevant with the current competition.
With all the various technologies around us, it’s hard to predict what the next step in portable consumer entertainment and information will be. There are so many elements to consider that can make or break a system, format or technology with consumers. Our big advantage in radio is that it’s been around a long, long time, and the receivers pretty much all work the same. Hand someone a new radio and he can hear something he likes in seconds. Offer him a stream or hand him a smartphone and he might have to install an app, or download a codec (although that’s not the struggle it used to be with early streaming). On top of that, there are the bandwidth or data requirements or restrictions.
Radio has just been easy for the listener.
But the new competition is getting smarter. And I’m not just talking about Apple, Google, Pandora or another single entity. The various players are coming together.
At the recent Consumer Electronics Week in New York, the Connected Car Conference touched on the simplicity that radio broadcasters have known for years: In-car listening is a valuable space. Drivers and passengers are essentially a captive audience. And car manufacturers have been struggling to provide the mobile entertainment consumers want with in-car systems.
Linking a smartphone to the dash has been one way to do it. Another has been the proprietary in-dash system itself. But there are many options, and that’s the problem from their point of view.
The best solution right now seems to be embedded apps right in the car. These bring more content directly to the car rather than steering (no pun intended) the driver’s attention away from the smartphone. It’s still some time off, but from the CE Week panel it’s been seen that data plan carriers AT&T, Sprint and Verizon are interested. (Side note: Data plan carriers? We used to call them phone service providers.)
The specifics of pricing and general system design have to be worked out. But some of the quotes I read all say the same thing: The apps need to look like AM and FM radio to a driver.
Imitation is the highest form of flattery. And like I said earlier, everyone knows how to use a radio.
Give them time. They will build it. And radio will have to continue to keep current to stay relevant. But aside from a few companies, such as Emmis and Clear Channel, radio in general seems disengaged from critical conversations with consumer electronics manufacturers, auto manufacturers and regulators at events such as the Connected Car Conference. Radio needs to be engaged rather than coasting in idle.
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