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Radio’s ‘Call To Action:’ Improve User Experience In Connected Car.

With most new cars rolling off dealer lots with an internet connection built in, radio’s battle for the dash is intensifying. Deep-pocketed digital audio providers that first made their mark in the mobile space are now focusing intently on the connected car, creating a wake-up call for broadcasters to up their game for how their brands look, feel and interact on the road.

The technology being baked into dashboards is likely to get more sophisticated – and powerful – in the years ahead. The rollout of 5G connectivity is expected to begin in late 2022 and Android-based operating systems are on the rise. “All these technologies are bringing more processing power, more storage capacity, and also, of course, larger screens in the car,” Roger Lanctot, Director, Automotive Connected Mobility, Global Automotive Practice at the research firm Strategy Analytics, said Wednesday. “We don't have that little AM radio anymore. What we have is an interface that's not unlike a personal computer, or even a smartphone or a tablet.”

While Lanctot thinks radio is “core to the driving experience” and isn’t going away anytime soon, he also believes connectivity offers a “transformative proposition” for broadcasters. Having a two-way connection with listeners opens up new ways to search for content on the radio, to no longer be confined to a linear listening experience and to have audio content recommended to drivers in the car.

Lanctot’s assessment was part of “A Call to Action: Radio’s Existential Battle For The Dash,” a webcast from Xperi and Radio World presented Wednesday. Xperi, the technology company behind HD Radio and DTS AutoStage, believes that the radio industry is at an inflection point in how its product is delivered to consumers in the vehicle. With a dozen digital pureplays – boasting a collective 900 million global registered users – angling for a piece of radio’s long dominant position in the car, “we need to look jointly at how we can deliver the same level of value, the same ease of integration, the same consistency of services and reliability,” said Joe D’Angelo, Senior VP of Global Radio and Digital Audio at Xperi, “while still preserving the benefits of local over the air radio.”

Where IP Meets Broadcast

Technologies embedded in the dash by the automaker are “migrating into a hybrid environment,” D’Angelo said, pointing to DTS AutoStage as an example. The next-gen radio platform lives where IP connectivity and broadcast radio coexist, enabling a richer, highly visual user experience akin to what digital pureplays and satellite radio offer. “We're all about helping radio stations achieve discovery,” D’Angelo said. “And once listeners find what they want to listen to, providing rich consistent engagement, and even exploration about other content and other events in the local market.”

With an expanding menu of over the air programming to discover – Baltimore alone has 81 digital audio channels on the radio dial – D’Angelo says DTS AutoStage can deliver consistent information about the station and its programming in a visual format to the dashboard screen.

So far, Daimler is the only automaker to publicly announce its adoption of DTS AutoStage. But D’Angelo said they are “currently involved” with 12 car companies, along with auto audio equipment manufacturers Visteon, Alpine, Panasonic and NXP. “You'll see some interesting demos and indications of support coming out of CES,” D’Angelo said.

DTS AutoStage technology is free to broadcasters and has been implemented by Beasley Media Group, Cox Radio, Cumulus Media and Salem Media Group, along with Germany’s Bauer Media and Great Britain’s Global Radio.

“We believe that this platform provides, without a doubt, the best competitive response for the broadcast industry to collectively partner with a technology company and really fight for ear share in the car,” D’Angelo said.

Synced Messages On Dashboards

Also participating in the webcast was Steve Newberry, CEO of Quu, whose patented web-based software enables radio stations to publish “Visual Quus,” synced messages on vehicle dashboards. The messages are paired with station and client on-air content and can provide artist information, local promotions and advertising messages. It is designed to improve the listener experience and increase revenue for radio stations.

“It's not just about song, title and artist and it's not just about advertiser content,” Newberry explained. “It's about enriching and supporting everything the listener is hearing with visual reinforcement.” Quu works with any analog radio that can display RDS messaging and with HD Radio and DTS AutoStage receivers.

The discussion, moderated by Radio World Editor in Chief Paul McLane, concluded that the time has come for radio to implement technologies to improve the user experience. “The industry should look hard at what steps it can and should take to try to respond to the threat in the dash because it is real,” D’Angelo suggested. “And there is a significant opportunity, but time is of the essence.”

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