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Interconnected Media In-Car Big at CES

Millenials, Gen Y drive automaker and CE decisions about what to include in the dash

I was pleased to see some crowds return for the Consumer Electronics Show.

CEA had been estimating 110,000 attendance prior to the show, compared to 113,000 from 2009. However CEA President/CEO Gary Shapiro said total attendance by the end of the second day was 112,515, higher than the 98,495 for the same period in 2009.

It’s not like years prior, when the average cab line wait was a good 45 minutes; but I hope the increased attendance foreshadows good things for the spring NAB Show.

While I thought the halls looked more crowded, it was hard to judge attendance, since all the events and exhibits were in the convention center this year, and not spread out to include the Sands/Venetian. The Banner’s Restaurant in the LVCC was jammed and seats were hard to come by in the exhibit hall eateries.

A lot of the buzz at the show concerned 3D DTV, which looked pretty darn good even without the 3-D glasses.

The Sony area was a village, not just a booth.

Several themes emerged for radio.

Internet radio in the car continues to grow, as Pandora announced deals to be on the Ford Sync and with Alpine and Pioneer to be on their navigation platforms.

As another example of the rise of Internet radio, U.K. company Pure intends to launch five Internet radio in the U.S. later this year.

Ford has updated its Sync communications platform, which now includes HD Radio with iTunes Tagging. Satellite radio is also available as well as album art display.

Ford, as well as other automakers, is big on communications becoming as hands-free as possible to prevent driver distraction. Several companies exhibited blocking technology for cellphones, to prevent drivers from receiving calls or text messages while driving. The jury’s still out on whether this debate will affect radio in the dash, according to my conversations on the show floor.

Automakers and CE company execs said during sessions that the Millennials and Gen Yers are driving the convergence of communications in the car. They buy the most cars and they carry their cell phone, MP3 player, iPod — whatever their personal device — into the vehicle; they want it to work seamlessly with the entertainment system in the dash. The car-buying experience is no longer just about the size and power of the vehicle, say automakers and CE company execs. Younger folks have grown up connected; they expect that ability in the car.

Which all means radio increasingly is just one of many choices in the vehicle and needs to distinguish itself more through creative programming. It was heartening to see 25 or so new HD Radio products in iBiquity’s booth, including a prototype portable from Sangean that includes digital AM as well as FM.

Satellite radio had a smaller presence than in years past. Audiovox displayed Sirius XM gear.

Along with the electronics, CES is a car show; this year was no different, though I didn’t see cars stuffed with televisions in every nook and cranny, as in years past. The Lamborghini in the Kenwood booth was smokin’!

I’ll have more on the show, like the Lincoln featuring DTS Neural Audio Surround, in a future issue of Radio World.