WASHINGTON — The National Association of Broadcasters is pushing ahead with outreach to the auto industry in an attempt to help shape the positioning of radio in connected-car dashboards.
Its efforts include the creation of an “automotive initiative committee” to help forge relationships with OEMs in order to search out technical collaborations, according to a person familiar with recent developments. Even the existence of such a committee had been held private for months. The association hopes to build connections with automakers and key automotive suppliers it views as critical to radio’s continued success.
The effort took a more visible role this spring when NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith lauded the presence of Ford, Audi, Honda, GM and Avis Budget Group executives at the NAB Show in Las Vegas.
“We are working closely with leaders in the auto industry to identify areas of collaboration and ways to enhance the relevance and operation of radio in present and future automobiles,” Smith said at the time.
Giving at least a bit of insight into the process, Smith noted in his remarks that NAB’s Pilot innovation initiative has conducted experiments with all-digital FM radio “that could deliver more digital audio channels and data capacity to support autonomous vehicle and connected car infrastructures, providing broadcasters with new uses of their valuable spectrum.” He didn’t expand on that in his remarks.
WHERE’S THE RADIO BUTTON?
Radio’s presence in the so-called connected car has been the subject of much speculation by observers familiar with development of the new connected car interface, the “digital dash.” Some automakers already have models in production that lack buttons labeled radio, band or even audio, which makes the loss of a tuning knob on the dash seem minor, according to people familiar with these developments.
The challenge for radio, many observers believe, is maintaining a position of dominance in a dashboard environment. Part of that strategy will be delivering a uniform experience in a space now loaded with smart audio options from Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto.
The radio industry and the auto industry have been associated with one another for so many years but have never really talked to each other, said John Ellis, founder and managing director of Ellis and Associates, which is consulting to NAB on digital dashboard strategy.
“The automotive initiative committee was created to bridge that communication gap and start the dialogue between the two industries. It’s a unified voice from the radio industry out to the auto industry,” he said.
Ellis, former global technologist for Ford’s connected business as well as a former executive for Motorola, says the NAB’s automotive initiative committee consists of executives from major groups along with smaller broadcasters. The committee reports to the NAB board and is led internally by Sam Matheny, chief technology officer for NAB, and Steve Newberry, the group’s executive VP for strategic planning/special events and himself a veteran broadcaster.
NAB declined to identify others serving on the committee and how it plans to move forward.
“We started this effort back in April of 2017, so it’s about a year old. We began by identifying the key players and decisionmakers in automotive. Then we started outreach,” Ellis said.
NAB made a big splash at CES in January this year by co-sponsoring a GENIVI networking event. GENIVI is a consortium of auto experts devoted to open software for infotainment systems in the automotive space.
“That was a big deal and a big ‘coming out’ for radio. Too many people on the car side just don’t spend much time thinking about (radio) and just slap it in the car. Well, there is a rich and deep relationship of radio being in the car, and now the new technology will only build that relationship,” Ellis said. [For more coverage, see radioworld.com, keyword “genivi.”]
That event was followed by a dinner reception at CES, Ellis said, where radio and auto executives came together to begin the conversation. “That catapulted us into the NAB Show and the presence of the car companies there. We proved the NAB is a place where auto and radio can come together under this umbrella of technology.”
Ellis said auto executives participated in a multi-day series of presentations in Las Vegas, led by the NAB’s Newberry.
“It was automotive’s largest presence ever. We can tell we are building some momentum. For the first time ever a car company (Audi) took floor space for a booth that showcased the implementation of Radio DNS, a very specific version of hybrid radio. (Radio DNS) is live in vehicles in Europe and soon coming to the United States,” Ellis said. “Radio DNS marries a broadcast channel with an IP channel inside a vehicle, so you have the best of broadcast and the best of Internet merged together.”
Ellis said Radio DNS is an open standards platform that pairs terrestrial radio, both analog and digital, with IP-delivered content and can interface with multiple aggregators. It’s similar to the DTS Connected Radio system developed by Xperi.
Collaboration between radio and auto is just beginning, Ellis said, but already there has been a “great discovery process.”
“[The automotive sector] asked us, ‘Oh, you’re doing that. That’s amazing. Well, here is what we are doing.’ It’s really sparked an excitement that if the two industries really came together, what could we accomplish together,” Ellis said. “We can begin to build experiences that can elevate broadcast much higher than ever before, but it can only be done through collaboration.”
Ellis said it comes down to a simple concept: “Who can build the best content experience for listeners inside the construct of a moving vehicle?”
NAB AND GENIVI
NAB’s dashboard effort includes the relationship with GENIVI Alliance. The two have partnered to help develop a set of collaborative technical projects that will determine the future of radio in the car in the United States.
“NAB has expressed an understanding of the space as the long relationship between radio and the car evolves. There are new possibilities in infotainment software that radio just hasn’t brought into the automotive space yet,” said Steve Crumb, executive director of the alliance.
GENIVI, a non-profit organization that provides standards and an open connectivity platform for in-vehicle infotainment systems, is working with the automakers and larger suppliers like Bosch and Harman audio on emerging technologies that could make radio more relevant in the car.
“Car makers think about their customers and how to improve the customer experience. They are always adjusting their dash offerings to fit the user. Radio has to provide a product just as good as the other components of the dash, one way to do that is to make radio more interactive,” Crumb says. “The importance of that is elevated when you consider autonomous vehicles and the entertainment level that will be expected in the future.”