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Can Radio Keep Its Home Between the Pillars?

Monster “pillar to pillar” dashboard screens and other large displays are raising the stakes for broadcasters

Interior view of a car dashboard featuring a very wide electronic screen that stretches from in front of the driver all the way across to the right of the passenger
The 2024 Lincoln Nautilus has a center-stack touchscreen and a 48-inch panoramic display that spans the dash and can be personalized. SiriusXM with 360L is embedded. When parked, users can surf the web and stream movies. Drivers can even choose their own cabin scent.

Big sleek screens in the dashboard are set to dominate the in-car media experience, as knobs and buttons continue to disappear.

New car makers are embracing the long stretch of screens like the pillar-to-pillar Mercedes-Benz MBUX Hyperscreen, the Lincoln Nautilus immersive panoramic display and the combo digital cockpit screen in a Kia EV9. But how will broadcast radio fit into this dash ecosystem?

Even putting aside the question of whether broadcast radio will even be included (as in the current debate over AM legislation in Washington), the level of competition for eyes and ears in this space is unprecedented.

Big tech companies like Apple, Meta, Amazon and Google, not to mention traditional rival SiriusXM, have a lot of muscle in what has been radio’s domain, as do the growing number of streaming options.

The screenification of new cars and trucks is not new, but at events like this year’s Consumer Technology Show, the expansion of this trend has been on full display, raising questions about the implications for radio companies.

“Big screens mean radio has to look as good as it sounds,” said David Layer, vice president of advanced engineering for the National Association of Broadcasters.

“Those experiences are going to evolve beyond audio; they already have to a degree. The car is its own platform with rich experiences and has to be considered as such.”

The wider screens provide automakers with more dashboard real estate for display, function and monetization. But consultant Fred Jacobs, president of Jacobs Media, says carmakers also are creating unique experiences with better sound, higher resolution and accent lighting.

He notes that some Mercedes-Benz vehicles with “monster screens” include a function that lets a person create experiences like “Date Night,” featuring a romantic playlist, mood lighting and an intimate ambience.

Interior of a Mercedes-EQ automobile, with white steering sheel and upholstery, with a very wide electronic dashboard
The MBUX Hyperscreen in a Mercedes-Benz EQS.

Jacobs says the size of dashboard screens will continue to grow, creating or providing more personalized and customized experiences for drivers and passengers.

“The same trend is happening with big-screen TVs. From puny to big, bigger, biggest. And of course, AI will play a greater role in predicting and responding to the driver’s habits and tendencies.”

Radio’s dominance in the dash will continue to be challenged, Jacobs says, though for now broadcast radio remains a top audio choice. (Jacobs Media’s latest Techsurvey found that among respondents, more than half of all audio consumption in the car is to AM/FM radio stations — though the survey focuses on preferences of active radio listeners by definition.)

David Layer said that we should expect more attention to be paid to the experience of people in the car who aren’t driving.

“With more screens we’ll have more personalized experiences for passengers based on the screen nearest or in front of them. The 2024 Lincoln Nautilus pillar-to-pillar dash offers a good example of what’s in store,” he said.

“We have to think about experiences beyond just the drivers. Think of it as entertainment zones throughout the vehicle. Driver distraction isn’t as much of a problem if you’re not the driver.”

View of the very wide electronic dashboard of a 2024 Lincoln Nautilus with a radio display tuned to FM station WGTS.
This photo shows the dashboard of a 2024 Lincoln Nautilus with DTS AutoStage. Image courtesy Xperi

Steve Koenig, vice president of research at the Consumer Technology Association, says the expanded screens in new cars present opportunities for radio.

“Screenification allows radio to redefine itself from an audio-only experience to one that is visual as well. This dynamic creates new opportunities for station branding and enables visual elements like album art to music, which aligns radio with the look and feel of streaming audio services,” he said.

In addition, more screenification can bring an entirely new visual dimension to radio advertising, which could mean more ad revenue for broadcasters, he says.

In the United States, hybrid radio technology platforms like Xperi’s DTS AutoStage and SiriusXM’s 360L are helping radio entities weave their medium into this evolving environment.

DTS AutoStage, launched in 2020, provides integrated artist images, cover art, song lyrics, events, artist bios, podcasts and catch-up catalogs. It recently added personalization and recommendations to keep the audience engaged with radio content.

“From a car manufacturers standpoint, as we move to increased levels of automation, you have the opportunity to do more with entertainment and information in the vehicle,” said Jeff Jury, senior vice president and general manager for connected cars at Xperi.

“Research shows consumers want to do more in their car, a third space if you will, in addition to home and office. To do that you need more screen space for interaction.”

Young people want the car to be more than a mirror of the smartphone, Jury said, so the trend is for the car industry to create a better and more immersive experience. “Those large screens create a large pallet for automakers to provide those experiences, and that certainly includes digital terrestrial and streaming radio.”

Interior of a Kia EV9 GT vehicle featuring a large electronic screen that sits in front of the driver and partway across the passenger space
2024 EV9 GT-Line

Radio needs to be present and discoverable, Jury says, which means getting its metadata right.

“You have to make (radio) easier to get to and easier to find. That’s the challenge for broadcasters. It is competing with a lot of other entertainment options now. We obviously think radio will remain a critical part of that in-car entertainment landscape.”

Jury noted that Xperi now also offers DTS AutoStage’s video service powered by TiVo to OEMs and that the company is expanding its work in the gaming arena. “AutoStage for us means audio, video and gaming.”

The sources interviewed for this story say screenification is just one aspect of how car media are changing. Technologies such as 5G connectivity, greater on-board compute power and AI have yet to make their impact felt fully. Expect voice to become the standard interface for car systems. AI assistants, connected services, customizable interiors and possibly self-driving features will continue to reshape the experience.

GM, Ford and the Alliance for Automotive Innovation did not reply to Radio World’s requests for comment. But observers expect carmakers to use the widening screen space to sell suites of features. So while tech companies like Apple and Google will try to take advantage of larger screens, GM has announced it has stopped supporting Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in future EV models, and Toyota is expected to expand its use of built-in streaming apps. Enormous sums of money are at stake via add-ons and services. Accenture estimates that such offerings will represent about 40% of global automotive revenue by the year 2040.

For an interesting look at trends in 2024 car interiors, visit www.wardsauto.com/program/10-best-interiors-ux.

 

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