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How Do We Maintain DAB+ Radio’s Prominence in the Car?

Harrison: Rich user experience, simplicity and partnerships are keys to success

Where does DAB+ radio stand in terms of its prominence in new cars, and what has to be done to maintain radio’s position going forward?

Both of those topics were tackled by Laurence Harrison, director of automotive partnerships with Radioplayer Worldwide, during his talk entitled, “The fight for radio’s prominence in-car: Where are we now and can we win?” at the WorldDAB Automotive 2024 conference.

The conference was held on June 13 in Prague, Czech Republic, before a live audience and online. WorldDAB is the international association promoting the DAB digital radio transmission standard globally.

To find out how prominent DAB+ radio is in today’s new cars, “we did a quick bit of research,” said Harrison. “I couldn’t claim that this is completely representative, but what we did is we went into the UK to look at 10 new cars. These were from the top 10 OEM brands’ new models and we looked at two things. We looked at the broadcast DAB+ radio button’s prominence and we also looked at voice, and the extent to which you’ve made an accurate request and then it played on DAB+.”

Upon inspection, six of the 10 new cars checked had prominent DAB+ radio buttons on their touchscreen displays. The four cars without such buttons compelled drivers to click on their screens as many as four times to access DAB+ radio. “If you are searching for a station, four clicks in seems like a lot,” Harrison said. “That’s not real prominence, I would argue.”

Laurence Harrison presenting at the 2024 WorldDAB Automotive event.

The results for accessing DAB+ by voice were less promising. “What we did was we asked for the same station that was available on DAB+ with good coverage in the area where we were,” said Harrison. “Well, in five cars out of the ten we did get a successful search and it did play on DAB+.” 

The most surprising negative result occurred in one car with Google Assistant onboard: “When we asked for the station which was available on DAB+, it suggested that you had to download an app to listen to the station,” he said. 

Having surveyed DAB+’s place in 10 new UK cars, Laurence Harrison looked to the medium’s future in-car prospects. “We know that the dashboard screens are getting bigger and higher resolution,” he said. “When you’ve got these big high-resolution screens, you want great content to fill it up. So that means lots of services.” This points to “the importance of radio looking good, as well as sounding great,” said Harisson.

As for legally requiring all new cars to have DAB+ radio as an installed listening option? Harrison is firmly behind this position. “But in terms of what we can do to keep DAB+ broadcast radio prominent, I firmly believe we’ve got to earn the right — and we can earn the right in a number of ways,” he said. 

Way #1: “I think we need to excite users through the user experience that has to be,” said Harrison. “Hybrid radio with DAB+ has to be really personalized, and rich with metadata.”

Way #2: In-car DAB+ has to be really easy to use and access. “Simplicity is key,” he said. “Simplicity will win in this environment of the future, we believe.”

Way #3: DAB+ needs to build better partnerships outside of the radio industry to remain prominent in the car. “This is with [automotive] OEMs but also, for example, voice assistant providers,” said Harrison. “It’s all about collaborating and working on the next generation of radio experience.”

Way #4: Motivating listeners to configure their in-car systems to put DAB+ first. “If you think about configurability, I do wonder if there’s an opportunity for broadcasters to talk to listeners about making broadcast radio your home screen choice.” (Writer’s note: Perhaps a contest where motorists send in photos of their DAB+ in-car home screens to win prizes would help?) “Again, that needs some thinking about, but it may be an interesting avenue to pursue for some.”

If there’s a moral to Laurence Harrison’s story, it is that DAB+ broadcasters can do something to maintain and even bolster their prominence on vehicle touchscreens — and he offered actionable ideas to prove it.

[Related: “DAB Stations Need to Clean Up Their Act in the Car, Says Ford Exec“]

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