We had several great comments and lots of chatter about our Pandora blog last week. And that got me to thinking about Pandora’s pursuit of all possible distribution outlets for its Internet radio stations.
Of the hundreds of places where consumers can access Pandora via the web and mobile web, it’s the dashboard of the next generation of cars and trucks that creates the biggest challenge for broadcast radio.
As regular readers of this blog know, my new Ford Edge with Sync presents a great deal of distraction and choice for the driver. The days of simply deciding which of five pushbuttons to select have been amplified by a veritable smorgasbord of media choices – satellite radio, any app on my iPhone, a hard drive loaded with my favorite songs, weather, traffic, GPS, horoscopes, and yes, AM/FM radio stations.
The smartphone is the gateway to more choices behind the wheel. And as Pandora's Les Hollander told the Worldwide Radio Summit last month, there is now more usage of his popular service on mobile phones than on computers. Clearly, mobile has been a critical catalyst in Pandora’s rise to the top of the pure-play heap.
But moving forward, Pandora’s relentless campaign to be anywhere/anytime is going to change the face of the dashboard, and create more competitive challenges for legacy broadcast stations.
Starting with the Ford Fiesta (pictured here), the Pandora app is front and center, allowing the driver to use her radio controls or voice commands to give the thumbs-up or down to songs, bookmark songs, and choose from various Pandora channels. Ford’s AppLink starts with the Fiesta, but will work its way across Ford’s portfolio of Sync-equipped vehicles.
You can watch Tim Westergren test drive the Fiesta, along with Ford Sync maven, Julius Marchwicki.
Not to be outdone, there’s BMW (pictured right). The luxury automaker has a Pandora application of its own. The BMW Apps feature will be available on 2011-2012 models. Like Ford, the driver will be able to control Pandora using the basic controls.
Based on our experience at CES in January, along with our presence here in Detroit, everyone you talk to is saying essentially the same thing – the inside of your car’s media/entertainment system is the most exciting part of the automotive industry. And Pandora is much farther down the road of making its channel ubiquitous, highly visible in cars, and fun and easy to use.
As Sam Milkman’s man-on-the-street research study presented at RAIN pointed out, despite all the choices available, most people will only be able to deal with just a handful of options. This has long been the case with cable or satellite TV where despite having hundreds of channels, most of us actually spend time with ten or less. I am also one of those people who cannot deal with places like “The Cheesecake Factory” where the menu looks more like a novel, loaded with page after page of entrees and appetizers.
The automakers are in the fast lane when it comes to in-vehicle services. In that spirit, the radio industry needs to act proactively to set up a task force to address the changing interiors of cars and trucks. As radios at home diminish, and at-work listening is challenged by online streaming, the car remains that last bastion of AM/FM domination. But not for long.
The movement to legislate radios into cellphones has been a major focus of industry attention for some time now, energizing debate between broadcasters and the consumer electronics industry. But the real battleground may be on four wheels. It’s taking place in the cockpit of that valued piece of metal that will be sitting in your driveway or garage in just a year or so - or maybe right now.
Radio needs a new strategy for cars – and it needs one now.