Despite an expanding menu of entertainment options in today’s connected cars, AM/FM radio remains the most used audio platform on the road, tuned to by 73% of the in-car population, according to Infinite Dial 2023. Maintaining that dominant position will require broadcasters to continue delivering programming that resonates with audiences while taking advantage of new technologies that give radio a visual presence in the dashboard that’s on par with any other digital audio offering in the marketplace.
The competition for ears – and eyes – in the dashboard is only getting fiercer. Google is making YouTube available in cars while TikTok is making its way into vehicles, starting with the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class that’s coming to market in fall 2023. Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche are getting their own in-car app store.
“Vehicles are transforming into what the American urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg called ‘the third place’ — a home away from home, a separate place from home and workplace, one with a playful mood,” writes Gereon Joachim, VP of Automotive Sales and Strategy for EMEA at tech provider Xperi, in an op-ed for RedTech. “New mobility concepts enable broader entertainment consumption and new use cases.”
For broadcasters, the battle to maintain dashboard supremacy is being fought on two fronts: programming and technology. “The power of good radio, the power of good stories, the power of contextual information cannot be overstated,” says Joe D’Angelo, Senior VP of Broadcast Radio and Digital Audio at Xperi. “It's incredibly powerful and where I think the industry should focus.”
But that’s only half the battle. To look as good as they sound, radio stations need to enrich their content with high-resolution images, station logos, and compelling descriptive program information to make radio a more immersive experience in the car. About 80% of vehicles on the road today can display text on the dashboard, and 20% can project both text and an image, according to Quu, the tech company that enables radio stations to display messages and images on vehicle dashboards.
According to Xperi, there are about 95 million HD Radio-equipped cars on the road in the U.S. Nearly three in ten core broadcast radio listeners who participated in Jacobs Media’s latest Techsurvey said they own an in-car internet-connected media system. Sports radio fans are the most likely to own a connected vehicle, followed by alternative rock, news/talk and country.
As technologies like Xperi’s DTS AutoStage hybrid radio and Quu give radio stations new options for displaying visuals on dashboard screens, more than three in four Techsurvey respondents say they own vehicles that display artist and title information. As for what core radio listeners want stations to show on car dashboard displays, current song/artist is far and away the top choice, followed by emergency weather info.
“If you want to take immediate action to make your station stand out and compete as a modern digital alternative to Spotify or Deezer, take full advantage of the digital capabilities you have today,” D’Angelo advises.
With the advent of hybrid radio, those capabilities are becoming more sophisticated. DTS AutoStage, which combines broadcast radio and internet metadata to enhance the in-cabin experience, has been deployed by five car manufacturers with eight more expected to adopt it in the next 12 months. Free to the broadcast industry, it is live in 144 countries. “It delivers an amazing user experience that makes broadcast radio look and feel like any other pureplay digital platform, whilst benefiting from all the economies of broadcast radio,” D’Angelo says.
Thanks to the combination of internet and broadcast delivery, the platform makes listening metrics that show how, where, when, and what the audience is listening to in the car available in real time for the station, also free of charge. “That knowledge is just going to help you make better programming, make better infrastructure planning decisions, and definitely help you compete against these pure play monoliths in the digital space,” says D’Angelo.
“If you're in radio, you know that the number one listening location for radio has always been the car, and hopefully it will always be,” Fred Jacobs, President of Jacobs Media, said at the 2023 NAB Show. “But no question that in recent years, the car has changed.”