Sunday, June 19, 2016
Radical Radio Revisions
Do you listen to the radio? Satellite or terrestrial? AM, FM or SW? Do you subscribe to a download service (e.g., iTunes) or streaming service (e.g., Spotify)? Do you use your smart phone to carry your music? If you have a car, do you listen to in-car music, radio (including news, talk radio, sports, etc.) or other entertainment services? Where else do you consume such entertainment? Home? While working out? On mass transit?
Here are some numbers: “According to a report by the US-based Pew Research Center last year, the number of Americans who listen to online radio (like Pandora, iHeartRadio, or Google Play Music) has doubled since 2010. Nearly three quarters of those total listeners tune in via their smartphones. Within that group, the number of people who listen to online radio in their cars has spiked substantially: 35% of US adult smartphone owners listen to online radio in the car, up from 21% in 2013, and way up from 6% in 2010.
“[And we love our FM in-car entertainment.] In fact, Pew reported in 2014 that 91% of people in the US ages 12 or older had listened to AM/FM radio in the week before they were surveyed.” BBC.com, June 13th. FM? A technology that dates back to the 1930s? Yup, that one!
“The romance between cars and radio is sort of a surprising one, considering that in the ‘30s, some states in the US tried to outlaw car radios—there was fear of radios distracting drivers or the music lulling them to sleep. Instead, the installation of radios in cars proved to be a long-lasting, lucrative synergy of entertainment and transportation.” BBC.com. So things are rosy in the radio biz, right? Not only jobs in local independent broadcasters, national over-the-air networks, but also players like sat-caster Sirius, online providers and the like. Maybe artists are railing at the per-play revenue share they are getting – pretty small and hotly contested – but radio is alive, kicking and growing.
What is obvious from casual experience, anecdotal evidence or hard statistics of actual usage, radio is heavily dependent on consumption patterns while driving. Our laws won’t let a driver watch a favorite TV show or play a movie while driving, but talk/music is peachy keen, whatever the source. Even an audio book is acceptable. You can learn a language, listen to news, play a podcast or, even… wait for it, wait for it… listen to a CD.
But if these “sound only” edutainment consumables are dependent on drivers switching them on, what exactly happens when cars no longer require a driver? Does the chi chi back seat video “entertainment center” – to keep the kiddies calm and entertained on long trips – extend into a front seat comparable for adults as well?
Remember this “old world navigation system”
Taxi drivers are already sweating being replaced by… er… nothing/no one (e.g., GPS-enabled driverless automation), but should disc jockeys, radio broadcast/sat-cast owners and managers, radio ad salespeople, ad agencies equally fear a future where ex-drivers now want/need to be distracted? But want more than mere “sound”? Is it different if they own the vehicle or opt for “pay as you use it” transportation? Do telecasters and producers of video content rejoice?
“Thanks to cars, humans have nurtured a relationship with radio that’s lasted more than 80 years. The reason? Few things in life require more attention than driving. When you’re listening to radio, with its hands-off format for music and news that's pre-curated by DJs, you can keep engaged on the task at hand, while still keeping your eyes on the road. And although satellite and digital radio threaten to kill terrestrial-based FM—and while self-driving cars threaten the existence of all radio—the medium has proven to be incredibly resilient, although its survival story hasn’t been a short or easy one.
“See, the inside of a car an experimental petri dish fit for the latest entertainment technology trends of the day. Throughout the years, all the flashiest tech of the time has appeared on dashboards the world over—8-tracks, cassette tapes, compact discs—and yet all those have faded away. But radio's stuck around. Even when TV replaced radio as a family pastime in the home, the inherent need for entertainment that's fit for multitasking is what's allowed cars to keep radio alive…
“But FM’s days might be numbered. Not everyone is on board with keeping our beloved dinosaur technology alive and well. UK Culture Minister Ed Vaizey says the country is reaching the ‘tipping point’ for FM: Within two years, the Government aims to double the amount of local digital transmitters, including the number of digital radio-equipped cars, by 2017.
“Even if FM goes extinct, though, radio will still thrive on the internet. And as the cloud increasingly connects the internet with everything in our lives, from our phones to our cars, it’ll still be easy for people to listen to the radio, regardless of what happens to FM. Radio will keep evolving as it always has.
“Radio’s latest evolution is satellite radio, like Sirius XM. The company, which uses the familiar DJ format, says that 75% of new cars in the US come factory-installed with Sirius XM right now. Its aim is to double its fleet of enabled vehicles by 2025, which would hit around 185 million cars…
“[The] notion of the connected car is a potentially disruptive one for radios. More car and tech companies are partnering to connect cars to the cloud and bring the Internet of Things into the driver’s seat. You could soon connect your smartphone or tablet to your car, and with a simple voice command, order your device to start streaming content from the internet without lifting a finger, from audiobooks to your tracks from your iTunes library.
“But industry analysts think that it’s going to take a lot to kill radio once and for all. After all, plenty of people are still listening to radio, in general—whether it’s in their car or not.” BBC.com. In the end, we will want more – books, audio visual content, online education, information and entertainment – from our in-car experience. The devil is in the transition… those losing jobs finding opportunity in the next. And there will be a transition.
I’m Peter Dekom, and the only constant is change; in-car audio-visual content and technology will lead the way.