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Industry Gears Up For Hybrid Radio In The Digital Dash.

While the FCC’s Future of Television initiative made headlines at last week’s NAB Show, for radio the biggest buzz was around technology that elevates radio’s presence and discoverability in the dashboard of connected cars. “I’ve been told multiple times that we're the most important thing in radio right now,” Juan Galdamez, Xperi’s Senior Director, Broadcast Strategy & Business Development told Inside Radio during a presentation at its exhibit space. “Many broadcasters who see this are like, ‘We're completely floored about being able to have data coming from the car, and to have such a great presence inside of the car.”

Broadcaster Portal

At its West Hall exhibit, Xperi unveiled its years-in-the-making DTS AutoStage for the first time at a major U.S. trade show, using several vehicles and a giant video screen to show what hybrid radio can do. A major attraction is the broadcaster portal, an online hub that allows stations to manage their station logos, station name, slogans, program descriptions, “now playing” info and other metadata to be displayed on car dashboards. Format change? New slogan? Log in and change what gets displayed in real time – no hardware required.

The showstopper at the exhibit was a large video screen displaying listening metrics available in real time for the station, made possible by the combination of internet and broadcast delivery, making radio a two-way communication. “We're able to gain a little bit more insight into the actual listening habits in the car,” Galdamez explained. “And we're making that available to broadcasters for free.”

Click on “View Analytics” and the screen displays the number of listening sessions and their average length. Shown hour by hour in a line chart, the data is searchable by date. There’s also a heat map that displays the station’s listening hot spots during the week. Top Charts shows the station's most listened to songs – which aren’t necessarily the same as its most played songs.

Interesting? Yes. Actionable? Not yet, since it represents a very small subset of listeners. But as more automakers get on board, the data will become more insightful. And down the road, the technology could potentially provide other datapoints, like how many people heard a client’s spot.

Crisp, Colorful Station Imagery

In a Hyundai and a Mercedes Benz on the show floor, attendees were shown how station imagery looks in AutoStage-enabled vehicles either via analog radio or HD Radio. Logos, album art and program descriptions are crisp and colorful, making AM/FM radio’s interface as visually striking as that of any streamer. The AutoStage dashboard display also includes a menu of available stations, including logos, that sits on the side of the screen and can be scrolled though by station frequency.

“The radio has become much more visual and much more appealing,” Galdamez said. “It also helps radio stations reinforce what they do and allows listeners to potentially discover more stations.”

Mercedes Benz recently added song lyrics to its DTS AutoStage features (viewable when the car is in Park). More features and enhancements are in the works.

“The whole goal is to use that internet connection to keep raising the bar of what broadcast radio can deliver to the car,” Galdamez explains.

Xperi’s NAB Show presence also had company execs participating in multiple panel sessions devoted to the connected car, a prevalent theme throughout the confab. During a Fireside Chat, NAB CEO Curtis LeGeyt implored radio broadcasters to come together to win the battle in the connected car.

Far from an overnight sensation, Xperi and its predecessors, beginning with iBiquity, have focused on radio inside the car since the early 2000s, starting with HD Radio. Now many in the industry see its marriage of broadcast and internet delivery the ticket for maintaining broadcast radio’s dominance in a fast-evolving dashboard where deep-pocketed competitors look to wrestle that position away.

Growing Support From Automakers

Xperi declined to say how many cars on the road today are DTS Auto Stage-enabled. The technology has been available on five Mercedes Benz models for several years. It is available on 30-35 models from Hyundai, Kia, and Genesis that, thanks to over-the-air software updates, go back to 2019-year models. An unnamed electric vehicle manufacturer has installed it in every one of its models except its original roadster. Three more automakers are expected to be announced this year with others to follow in the next 18 months. “The interest from the auto manufacturers is there,” says Galdamez. “Everyone’s super supportive and excited about what we're doing.”

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