Final Take, CES 2016: A Glimpse at Radio’s Potential

Show highlights technology, connected auto partnerships
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Car manufacturers, including Ford, touted the promise of connected car technologies. Many centered around using mobile devices to sync streamed audio more seamlessly into the dashboard.

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Visual elements are an increasingly important part of infotainment systems. Here, HD Radio in a BMW at CES. Despite the flash of excitement from 4K drone technologies and cloud-connected hoverboards, a century-old medium was at the heart of a surprising number of announcements at the 2016 CES convention in Las Vegas last month. Here is a last look back at themes of the show of interest in radio.

Acronym-heavy technologies drove many headlines, from VR to IoT, the latter of which is expected to help lead the consumer technology industry to $287 billion in retail revenues this year, according to the Consumer Technology Association, which produces the show.

But radio broadcasting and audio technologies sat front and center as features of in-car apps and boosting interest in the newest interactive after-market dashboard screens.

LEAN BACK

Why does radio — a legacy technology when compared to many offerings at CES — remain a stalwart?

“The so-called ‘lean-forward’ and ‘lean-back’ behaviors of consumers haven’t changed,” said Mike Bergman, senior director of technology and standards for the Consumer Technology Association, which produces CES.

“Some consumers still want to be directly involved in the selection of each [music] program and each track. Other consumers want to lean back and have great content delivered to them, and many consumers exhibit both behaviors, depending on their mood.

“Radio is a great example of a lean-back service,” he continued. “The hardware is available in all infotainment packages, from the most basic to the most advanced; and we are still seeing innovation in radio technologies and user interfaces.”

Of the nine carmakers and 115 or so automotive tech companies at CES 2016, almost all showcased product that included radio.

Content also continues to drive radio’s appeal. “Radio is like a companion show,” said Bob Pittman, CEO of iHeartMedia, during a session at CES. He noted that radio reaches 93 percent of U.S. adult listeners. “Users who are driving or can’t interact with their phone can still connect with a personality on the radio.”

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New cars such as the Cadillac CT6 and Toyota Land Cruiser included HD Radio in their factory models. Of course, there are now many forms of “radio.” But listener connection, along with radio’s reach and business models, may explain why the technology found a seat within a number of the interconnected devices showcased at CES, from new DTS/HD Radio installations in cars like the Cadillac CT6 and Toyota Land Cruiser; in new aftermarket dashboard technologies from Kenwood, Pioneer and Alpine; and in the introduction of new streaming options from the likes of Amazon Prime Music, Apple Car Play and Android Auto.

“There is now this demand for more content options,” said Geoff Snyder, vice president of automotive business development for Pandora. He said the streaming media company has begun to introduce comedy and secure streaming rights for serial podcasts in an effort to widen content offerings.

Content is expected to evolve further, as radio considers what role it will next play in the newest trend in automobile design: the introduction of self-driving autonomous automobiles.

“We are on the road to autonomy. That’s the next step forward,” said Sherif Marakby, director of global electronic systems engineering at Ford Motor Company, who spoke at a panel about the role that entertainment plays in the car. At CES, Ford announced plans to triple its fleet of self-driving test vehicles by the end of this year; General Motors announced a partnership with Lyft to develop a fleet of self-driving vehicles.

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We can all dream. A 2017 Ford GT “supercar.” (Don’t ask, you won’t be able to afford it, and neither can we.)CONNECTED GROWTH

What role does radio begin to play in this new environment?

The driving experience changes when the driver — without a constant eye on the road — becomes a full-time passenger who can consume new radio, curated music services and entertainment options. At CES, Volvo jumped on this idea and announced a partnership with Ericsson to develop new high-bandwidth streaming capabilities in autonomous automobiles that will bring in new audio and video options, including pre-curated content tailored to the exact duration of a trip across town.

As radio looks ahead, it should consider how the melding of technologies in the car will impact the industry. Several car manufacturers — including BMW, Ford, Toyota, VW, Chrysler, Audi and GM — touted the promise of connected car technologies and made key announcements at CES, many of which centered around the promise of using mobile devices to sync streamed audio directly into a car’s dashboard more seamlessly.

In her 2016 CES keynote address, GM Chairman/CEO Mary Barra said the company’s goal is to have 12 million connected vehicles on the road this year. “The convergence of connectivity, vehicle electrification and evolving customer needs demand new solutions,” she said.

To that end, a number of auto manufacturers announced integration with streaming audio programs, mirroring ongoing growth of the platform. In 2015, consumer use of streaming services was up 93 percent, according to a recent Nielsen Music report.

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Other technology iterations on the CES show floor included new aftermarket dashboard technologies. Alpine (shown) inked connected partnerships with Apple Car Play and Airbiquity, which will support iHeartRadio and Spotify audio apps. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have received much attention in recent months. Car and Driver describes these as “phone-integration” systems or “phone-mirroring software” that beam Apple or Google operating systems from a phone to the vehicle’s central display.

Apple said that to date, “every major automobile manufacturer” either supports or plans to integrate CarPlay into future models. Other streaming audio announcements revolved around Ford’s new partnership with Google’s Android Auto, as well as integration with Amazon Prime Music into BMW, Ford and Mini models.

At the show, mobile application developer jacapps announced that the company’s V4 app platform will support Google’s Android Auto to enable Android smartphone users with an Android Auto-enabled car to stream radio station broadcasts and access podcasts.

“The car is becoming part of the digital lifestyle,” said Thom Brenner, vice president of digital products and services for BMW. “As cars become connected, we OEMs need to think through how we add our devices make it seamless with their needs. Things that start outside of the car and need to continue in the car as needed.”

Other technology iterations on the show floor included new aftermarket dashboard technologies from the likes of Kenwood, Pioneer and Alpine, the latter of which inked connected partnerships with Apple CarPlay and Airbiquity, which will support iHeartRadio and Spotify audio apps. iHeartMedia made its own announcements in the form of integration with Apple TV, which will allow Apple TV users to access the core elements of the iHeartRadio app.

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CES featured plenty of other whiz-bang including drones, wearables and these 4K curved TVs.MORE PERSONALIZATION

One trend that the radio industry should absorb: Customers increasingly look for experiences that personalize content.

iHeartRadio, for one, announced that its users will be able to play live and custom radio stations, view recommendations, save favorite stations and access its newest feature, known as My Favorites Radio, which combines a user’s favorite stations and artists into one station.

Yet despite the wealth of interconnected technologies and options that were abundant across CES, customers also are looking for simplification.

“The more features you put in, the more you potentially fragment,” said John McFarland, director of global insights and brand strategy for GM’s Global Connected Customer Experience division.

“For all the advances we have, we have also seen that there is a lot of power having a simple button in the car to select an experience. Simplicity will continue to be a focus.”

The show also featured an increase in the number of high-resolution audio devices like aftermarket auto receivers, including new options from Dual Electronics, whose in-car unit promises playback of lossless music files streamed from a smartphone over WiFi.

It remains to be seen what radio must to do to hold its place as a key feature in tomorrow’s integrated dashboards, though many believe that radio — in one form or another — will be a key part of that future.

“Music [remains] the core entertainment experience in the car,” Pandora’s Snyder said.

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