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In-Car Radio Trends Revealed at WorldDAB Summit 2022

Diana Franganillo shares insight with attendees

How is radio actually doing in the car today, given growing competition from streaming services? Why motivates people to choose radio over streaming while driving, and vice versa? And what role will voice control play in managing in-car entertainment systems? 

These points and others were covered by Diana Franganillo, Director of In-Vehicle UX Research at Strategy Analytics, during her pre-recorded presentation talk at the WorldDAB Summit 2022. (She was ill with COVID at the time.) It was organized by WorldDAB, the DAB global industry forum, on Nov. 17 at London’s King Place and online. Here are some of Franganillo’s insights, which have been edited for clarity.

Diana Franganillo on screen.

The Slow Rise of Streaming in the Car

You’re not imagining it: Streaming has been gaining ground in cars and trucks over the last ten years. 

“Back in 2012, over 70% of drivers listened to radio in the car on a daily basis, while only 5% listened to online content,” said Franganillo.

By 2019, this 65% gap had narrowed, with just over half of drivers listening to radio. “Two years later, at the worst of the pandemic, this difference was reduced to five percentage points with roughly a third of the people listening to the radio on a daily basis when they jump into the car,” she said, and a smaller yet significant group listening to streaming.

Despite the narrowing of the gap between radio and streaming in-car listening, online content is still not dominant, she noted. “Radio isn’t disappearing. It’s a vital option in the car. So we just need to keep on strengthening its value proposition and thus its position in the dash.”

Age Matters

As one might suspect, “those under 25 are less interested in radio (in the car) than the other generations,” said Franganillo. Meanwhile, older listeners are less interested in streaming.

The reason this age divide matters is because “most car buyers are Gen Xers and Baby Boomers followed by Millennials,” she said. Since the Baby Boomer generation is dying off, the growing skew towards younger generations in car sales means that radio broadcasters need to pay attention to this trend, and find ways to deal with it.

Three Hypotheses

As part of its research into in-car listening trends, Strategy Analytics has been testing the validity of three hypotheses.

One of these is that drivers listen to radio rather than streaming during the morning commute to get the latest news and information. “That turned out to be the case, but the difference was less significant than we expected,” said Franganillo.

Turning to a non-time-based context, “the second hypothesis we tested was that radio was more of a leisurely thing, while streaming was more suited to the working mentality,” she told the Summit audience. “That turned out to be the case.” 

The third hypothesis Strategy Analytics tested is whether people listen to radio when driving solo (alone), or with other people in the car. “It turned out that radio was more of a solo listening experience, which makes sense because radio is all about companionship,” said Franganillo. “It makes you feel connected to the community.”

Technical Trends

At this point in her talk, Franganillo touched on the growing availability of DAB receivers in European cars thanks to regulatory support, the need for automobile manufacturers to provide drivers with easy to read/easy to navigate touchpanels, and the emergence of Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and the Android Automotive operating system in this environment. She noted that these last systems can make it difficult for drivers to access radio stations in their vehicles. “It seems that next year, the next implementation of Apple CarPlay is going to include radio capability,” Franganillo said. “We will need to wait and see,.”

“The next trend I will mention is the ubiquity of voice interactions,” she continued. “If well implemented, they could be less distracting to drivers than manual visual interactions. And the last trend, of course, to be prepared for is autonomous vehicles. At some point the competition will no longer be between radio and streaming: At some point the competition will include gaming, video streaming, productivity tools as well, and also relaxation tools”

All this being said, “there is still a clear and very specific need for broadcast radio [in the car],” Franganillo concluded. “While it is true that the time spent listening to streaming sources has increased, these services are complementary to radio.” This is why, in her view, “radio is still royalty” on vehicle dashboards.