NAB Show - Personalized Future of In-Vehicle Entertainment

The very fact that an NAB Show panel addressing “The Personalized Future of In-Vehicle Entertainment” featured execs from streaming radio services iHeartRadio and TuneIn alongside the seemingly disparate travel app Waze, demonstrates just how robust the concept of platforms integrating with audio options has become.

In fact, Waze has been working hard to integrate audio directly on its app. The popular mobile navigation destination, now owned by Google, in November forged alliances with the likes of TuneIn, iHeart, Spotify, Pandora, Stitcher and NPR to allow users to seamlessly access audio content while driving, without having to fuss with one’s mobile phone to open separate audio apps.

“Navigation and audio go together like peanut butter and jelly,” offered panelist Adam Fried, head of global partnerships at Waze. “We know that people love listening to their favorite content, like podcasts, music, radio, sports and news, while driving. You can now get a broad array of content within Waze without taking your eyes off the road. We’ve gotten really great results with users so far.”

He adds that because Waze is designed to be hyper-local for the user, “the fact that we know where people are going means we can now customize and personalize the experience for them and make it more relevant.” For example, a user that plugs in a long-distance trip could now get a suggestion for audiobooks or someone that regularly heads to the gym might get “pump up music,” Fried says. “Waze is starting to get much more personalized, with capabilities that are valuable to the user, so that it becomes more useful to them when they’re driving.”

He stresses that the company is “taking a collaborative approach” to its partners, since “audio is not our expertise. That’s why we brought in players like TuneIn and iHeart.” And on the flipside, Waze offers access to data for its audio partners that they would obviously find quite valuable.

For his part, session panelist John Vermeer, senior VP of Business Development & Partnerships, iHeartMedia/iHeartRadio—who has worked on more than 25 automotive innovations—has seen a tidal shift in just the past two years. “There are a lot of exciting things happening with the in-car audio experience. We obviously want our content to be everywhere; traditional means of accessing radio with car preset buttons and scanning are still alive and well, and consumers are voting with their fingers and want content with the push of a button.” But, of course, audio is also now being accessed via smartphones and smart speakers. “We pay attention to listener metrics to see which platforms are performing and which are not. We see opportunities to improve the user experience across all platforms.”

Of course, at the top of the list is the potential of Amazon Alexa coming to the car. “Voice is significant, it provides a way to drill into content without various submenus on your phone,” Vermeer says. “If a user can simply say, ‘Play Z100, that is fantastic for iHeart and for all broadcasters.”

The session moderator, Tony Archibong, VP and head of distribution & business development for TuneIn, echoed what any number of industry leaders —including iHeart CEO Bob Pittman—have been saying of late: “We are very much in a new golden age of audio; the audio experience is so rich and diverse now, and folks have so many more options to explore.”

He walked attendees through a typical day in which a consumer wakes up listening to Amazon Echo delivering the news, moves to the kitchen listening to their Sonos for music, then begins the morning commute with FM radio, and onward to the office with headphones connected to their computers… and all repeated in reverse in the evening. “The future calls for personalization in the vehicle, to be able to tether all of those things together. The in-vehicle experience needs to catch up.”

Archibong then asked the panel to envision their ideal audio scenario in the car. Said Vermeer: “It’s about choice. Give the consumer the opportunity to control and navigate the way they want, with voice or tactile or Bluetooth… whatever that right experience is for the listeners. That’s our goal.” And Fried’s take: “I’d like to see technology recede into the background, where you don’t have to pull out a mobile phone; it’s all done with voice, interacting with your personalized assistant.”