Autobytel recently reported the results of a survey (sorry, no methodology or sample size provided) that points to the inevitable - consumers want Internet in their cars. And it's young people leading the way.
The fact that those under 35 are especially desirous of Internet on the go is no surprise. As "The Bedroom Project" showed, and subsequent research has confirmed, it is youth that leads the way down the digital highway. In this case, that journey is about to become even more cluttered with entertainment and information choices.
As Paul reported from CES back in January, the auto companies now see themselves as consumer entertainment companies. They recognize that digital media has simply been placed on a new platform, one that has a chassis and wheels.
So even if the data and the predictions from guys like Ford's Alan Mulally are on the exuberant side, the digital writing is on the wall. In the not-so-distant future, the choices while you drive are going to grow exponentially. Young people will lead the way, but inevitably, large segments of the population will be treated to a myriad of what we called "Control-Variety-Choice" in our first ethnographic journey.
What does this mean for radio?
First, the lines will blur between local radio, Internet radio, and other entertainment and information sources. Those over 40 will know that KGO is a local station if you're driving around in the Bay Area, but younger people will begin to view the radio dial as more "infinite" (with a tip of the cap to Edison). And they won't care whether a station is local, global, terrestrial, or internet. It will inevitably be about who's playing the best song or providing the right mix of infotainment at the right time.
Second, terrestrial radio will need to have its secret sauce. Or that USP that gives it an edge over the many choices - often commercial-free - that will compete for time and attention. Will it be personality, local coverage, community connection, metro discounts, or something altogether different that compels a consumer to punch up an in-market station and enjoy the content?
Third, streams will be judged, evaluated, and accepted or rejected. In the same way that television/cable channels are scrutinized if they're not broadcasting in HD or if the picture is inferior, so will local stations that stream.
So, let's spend a moment on #3.
When was the last time you critically listened to your station's stream? Have you given it a true test drive for quality, durability, and listenability? How are you programming those long commercial breaks - in a way that keeps online listeners tuned in or turned off because of repetitive promos and other material that is simply annoying?
In-car streaming will be a huge deal. And because local brands have been established, terrestrial radio stations will have a leg up - at first. To allow that advantage to erode because of a lack of attention and resources directed at streaming infrastructure is inexcusable. Just as resources and personnel are dedicated to that tower, transmitter shack, and rack room, radio needs to start seriously thinking of its stream as a key platform in its future, whether on laptops, smartphones, iPads, or in dashboards. Your stream - or streams - live at that intersection of analog and digital.