Some 90 people attended the one-day “Future of Radio Audio Symposium” in Washington.
Some related headlines from the event are listed below left. Here’s a smattering of additional quotes and impressions.
The symposium was co-hosted by the North American Broadcasters Association and the NAB; nodding to the international nature of the event, with attendees from Mexico and Canada, NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith told attendees: “Airwaves don’t necessarily know boundaries. And walls, I suppose. We hope you feel no walls here, and that you feel entirely welcome.”
The future of car dashboards was a big theme. Roger Lanctot, associate director of the Global Automotive Practice at Strategy Analytics, talked about consumer expectations for the dash.
Among other things, Lanctot said, “There’s a battle brewing in traffic,” referring not only to the popularity of the Waze app but to investments some broadcasters have made in bringing their traffic operations in-house. He also talked about the evolving nature of infotainment systems, saying among other things that Google’s parent Alphabet and Apple — with their Android Auto and Apple CarPlay platforms — now essentially hold “approval authority” over the infotainment system designs that go into cars. He also encouraged radio people to pay attention to developments in Dedicated Short Range Communications, or DSRC — what it is and how it will influence dashboard trends.
Lanctot further emphasized the importance to consumers of an easy-to-understand infotainment interface. He showed some humorous clips of consumers interacting (or trying to interact) with content using voice and gesture controls in BMWs, Fords and Hondas.
Anupam Malhotra, the director of connected vehicles for Audio of America, acknowledged consumer gripes about connected car platforms but described the sector as being in puberty, “an industry learning how to grow up.” He mentioned trends like connectivity, electrification, shared mobility and automation in car designs as important influences of future designs; and he expects the number of displays and touch points in the future car will continue to proliferate.
NPR Director of Mobile Operations Demien Perry spoke about NPR’s experience in developing apps as well as launching the NPR One Developer Center. That center allows developers to access the cloud services that support NPR One to encourage development of NPR apps for their own platforms. He thanked Malhotra from Audi for helping NPR with the concept. Also participating in the day was NPR’s Chief Digital Officer Thomas Hjelm; during a podcast discussion he made the comment, “Audio is becoming a central nervous system for the way we conduct our lives.”
The presence of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai gave the room a jolt. Steve Newberry, president/CEO of Commonwealth Broadcasting and former joint board chairman of the NAB, said he was “buoyed” by Pai’s keynote comments. He cited the new chairman’s “deep understanding of the importance of local broadcasting to the fiber of our country” and said anyone listening to Pai can tell that radio “is deeply important to him.”
Gordon Smith, introducing Pai, acknowledged the warm feelings many have for him. Smith remembered meeting Pai when Smith was a senator and Pai was a legislative assistant to Sen. Sam Brownback. Smith recalled, “He was the brightest among all the senators and staffers in the room,” but added that Pai could be best described not as “pro broadcaster” but rather “pro what broadcasting does for this country — that is localism, that is live, that is free and includes everyone.”
Some other comments and quotes:
-iHeartMedia President of Insights, Research & Data Analytics Radha Subramanyam said she came to the industry from the TV side, and encouraged radio people not to lose sight of the fact that consumers view this medium as alive, well and dominant
-During a discussion of the huge amounts of data becoming available to radio professionals: “Just because you have a lot of data doesn’t make it useful,” said Pierre Bouvard, chief insight officer of Cumulus Media.
-Three in 10 people say they find themselves listening more radio stations with which they interact on social media, according to Fred Jacobs of Jacobs Media. He also said we must think about new distribution outlets as well as our programming. Content may still be king, he said, but distribution is queen.
-NAB Director of Advanced Technology Tariq Mondal suggested that measurement tools will only get more and more powerful. He mentioned a sensor for smart TVs that can tell whether a viewer is really looking at the screen, or at a smartphone or someone else in the room — perhaps creepy, he acknowledged, but an example of how “direct measurement” is evolving.
Other topics of the day included the evolving use of podcasts by big radio organizations outside of public radio (iHeartMedia’s SVP of Podcasting Chris Peterson was in attendance); trends in data analysis and attribution; and the eternal need for radio salespeople to be able to “prove impact” when they talk to clients.