The Dashboard Beckons Them
     

In-car Internet radio seems to be on the verge of becoming a mass-market medium. According to the Wall Street Journal, “A recent survey by Deloitte LLP found 59 percent of car buyers aged 19 to 31 viewed in-car connectivity as the most important aspect of a car’s interior, and 72 percent wanted to use smartphone apps in their cars.”

Currently, car-makers such as Audi, BMW, Ford, GM, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota are equipping their vehicles to provide this kind of connectivity. Add the fact that today’s smartphones link to the Wireless Web, and the in-car connection path for Internet radio is now in place.

‘Dark alternative’ Nightbreed Radio plays Goth, Deathrock, Witchhouse and Horropunk music.

For Internet-only radio stations, the opportunity now exists to go mainstream. The question is, do they have what it takes to capitalize?

IMPORTANCE

In today’s overcrowded media marketplace, the car is one of the few places where radio enjoys a solid footprint. The reason is simple: Cars are an audio-only environment. Watching TV or browsing websites not only is not recommended for drivers, it is illegal.

Historically, the car has been the domain of broadcast radio. Although subscription satellite radio services have gained some traction, FM and AM radio still dominates. But the advent of in-car Internet connectivity is changing this — and Internet-only broadcasters are hoping to profit from this change.

“HKGFM is very excited that we may soon be nearing a stage where Internet radio is as easily accessible for listeners on the move as traditional radio has been,” says Shaun Bowers.

He is a spokesperson for Hong Kong’s HKGFM.net, an Internet-only multi-channel music service that claims to reach 2.5 million listeners every month. In the meantime, “HKGFM is currently available through Nokia Ovi Player, as well as on the iPhone through our own custom app. HKGFM is also currently exploring opportunities which will allow us to reach our listeners on as great a range of devices as possible.”

Los Angeles’ New Normal Music is another Internet-only station that is eager to get into cars. The reason: “Radio, whether it be distributed through terrestrial or satellite means, is consumed in the car more than anywhere else in terms of one-on-one active listening,” said station co-owner Art Webb. “Not being available in cars, for us, has been the biggest detractor in being widely accepted by the general public as something they need.”

Just being in cars is not enough to help Internet-only stations, Webb said. What will really make the difference is listeners being able to tune to New Normal Music as easily as they now tune to their favorite FM station.

“Radio has been so easily used for so long that even the slightest amount of effort required to tune in is a turnoff,” he says. “Once we’re as easy to access as the rest, the playing field will be levelled.”

READY TO CAPITALIZE?

Just getting into the car isn’t enough for Internet-only radio. To tap into this vast sea of listeners, stations will have to break through the clutter of thousands of other radio stations on the Web and off-air.

In some instances, an Internet-only station may be able to capitalize on the uniqueness of its format, and the fact that nothing like it is available on AM/MW, FM or digital radio (in Europe).

New Normal Music is among theInternet-only stations eager to get into cars.

That’s certainly the hope of Afterhours.FM (AH.FM), which plays “trance and progressive mixes produced exclusively for AH.FM by the hottest DJs from around the world,” says owner Dan K. Designed both as an online music source and a social media community, “Afterhours.FM’s mission is to provide our valued listeners from all over the world with The Best in Electronic Dance Music at high-quality 192 kbps (audio) all for free, a service that makes us unique in this industry.”

Some might debate whether AH.FM is the only free service of its kind online; www.sensegenerate.fm is listed online as playing the same format at the same bit rate and is also free, but was offline when we checked. However, U.K.-based “dark alternative” Nightbreed Radio is uncommon, given its playlist of Goth, Deathrock, Witchhouse and Horropunk music.

“We mainly use social media to publicise the station; our Twitter and Facebook page,” says Nightbreed DJ Cruel Britannia. Yet “Despite the worldwide communication capabilities of the Internet, there is always going to be someone who’s never heard of you,” she said, “so the challenge is reaching those people either through the physical promotion of flyering at gigs, or word of mouth.”

Cruel Britannia’s comments apply to Internet-only radio’s overall marketing dilemma. If listeners do not know your station exists, they won’t tune in; whether on their PC, smartphone and in the car.

Hence, although New Normal Music’s Art Webb says, “Internet radio in vehicles is the last puzzle piece we need” for the medium to take off, he’s not correct. Once Internet-only radio is available in the car, stations that want to be noticed will have to promote themselves aggressively to cut through the clutter. Just being in the car won’t be enough: Listeners will need to know that you are there, and good reasons why they should tune to you.


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Comment List:

It kills me to pay $14 a month for SiriusXM; what make anyone think I have $50 a month more for phone data costs to pay to link my phone to the car dash to listen to some of these good internet stations? I'd love to, but not for $50 a month; in fact, I'm cancelling SiriusXM as it is thanks to their diminishing audio quality and smaller and repeatitive playlists (that didn't exist when XM was programming some of the best music ever with live DJ's too).
By XM SubWithNothing on 3/26/2012

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