Times Are A Changing

31 10 2013

dashboardMaybe I should have used the title – Habits Are A Changing instead.  You see, I work in the radio industry and I spent the last 2 weeks in two different cities for two very different reasons and only one of which I will talk about in this blog.

My first stop was for a 2-day conference in Detroit, Michigan called the DASH Conference.  Why on earth would any one in their right mind attend a conference in the Motor City?   A city that earlier in the Summer filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. History?  Because it’s the motor city.  Home of the automobile.  The capital of innovation for the dashboard.  In attendance at this conference were car manufacturers, a few car dealers, radio broadcasters, media agencies, internet radio, technology and electronic companies.

The entire conference was planned, orchestrated and executed by the radio industry.  Now I have been to many a conference in my 14 year radio tenure and have seen plenty of ostriches with their heads in the sand.  I can say that there were no ostriches at this gathering. How refreshing to see that the majority of people in the room FINALLY, and collectively acknowledge that things are changing rapidly for radio and our average listener’s consumption habits.

Let’s begin with the catalyst for the exponential change we are seeing – mobile devices. Mobile devices have changed everything about our lives. They are able to provide us with content, when, where, and how we want it and they have changed and raised the expectation level of every other electronic gadget in existence – including the automobile. The expectation for connectivity in the car from a consumer standpoint is exponential. We want to be able to consume content nestled inside our mechanical cockpit on 4 wheels and we want it to be at the touch of a fingertip or upon the sound of our voice.

So what happens to radio? Well, for starters, it won’t be called radio in the future. Calling it radio will date you. The in-dash hardware once called a radio will be called something more encompassing such as a content management system (CMS), or car-puter, or a name yet to be dreamed up. The sound that once emanated from our car speakers and once called radio, will just be audio. Audio that competes with many more audio platforms within the dash.  Radio or should I say broadcast audio, will be an icon, or an app – an election within this new “infotainment” area where many more content choices live.

Currently, broadcast radio dominates all listening (92.4%)* with Pandora Radio (4.4%)** and Internet Radio (excludes Pandora, includes AM/FM station streams at 3.2%)** rounding out the remainder of the pie. Hands down, radio reaches more people and serves up more ad impressions than its closest competitor (Broadcast Radio – 3.7 trillion ad impressions vs. Pandora Radio’s 66.2 billion). But as cars get smarter and the connected car becomes the norm and not the exception, I again ask – what happens to this beautiful invention called broadcast radio?

While the DASH conference is a few years late in taking place in my opinion, at least it did happen. Kudos to the brain trust that pulled this conference off. And like any conference before this one…it isn’t just about what you learned while you were there. Your main focus should be on what you do with what you learned and how can it be used as a springboard to take broadcast audio where it needs to get in order to be a formidable future player.

I’m suggesting radio broadcasters move in with car manufacturers. We’ve all heard about extended families and how single family homes in many cases are multi-family dwellings now. I’m specifically talking about crawling in bed between the car and electronics manufacturers and creating a love child. If we don’t get close to them now and become part of the planning and conversations about the automobile dashboard, our future will become more challenging. I said challenging – not extinction. We absolutely have no time to sit on our laurels – we must collaborate and innovate.

Radio must take its best attributes and make certain they are a part of the DNA (gene pool) making up the future automobile dashboard. What I kept hearing over and over at the conference was that LIVE and LOCAL will be what brings listeners back when they tire of Pandora, Satellite or iTunes. But, that LIVE and LOCAL needs to include on-air talent that are recognizable, have ties with the community, who drive listeners to action, who have engaging content to share on-air and on-line, and who provide bullet-proof companionship. What will be less memorable and magnetizing to a listener will be syndicated shows and radio stations that focus on just the music. After all, you can get all varieties of music in the connected car – thousands of songs, artists and genres. Content will also be forced to extend beyond just audio and be a touch away for the listener.

Broadcast audio has a bright and exciting future in the connected car if we can become publishers and shed our one-dimensional “station” skins. Our localness and great content will keep us relevant. We have to also remember that the end user will determine if our content is worthy. We won’t get to make all the choices – the consumer is in charge, and we have to be great at everything.

*RADAR 115 (Dec 2012, for period Oct 11 – Sep 12
** RADAR 115 (for period Oct 11 – Sep 12); Triton Digital Audio Top 20, Oct 11 – Sep 12;

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