Strategy Analytics

The in-car infotainment experience is in the midst of a tidal shift, says a new study from Strategy Analytics. According to the 2019 “In-Car Audio and Radio Report,” listeners are exploring online streaming platforms. So far, the vehicle remains a prime destination for AM/FM radio listening—and Edward Sanchez, Senior Analyst, Automotive for Strategy Analytics, believes that broadcasters, who have long enjoyed dominance in the car, have the opportunity to maintain the upper hand behind the wheel.

“Broadcast radio had the advantage of being ‘automatically on’ as soon as people started their car,” says Sanchez. “But as brought-in device connectivity becomes more and more seamless, and as OEMs are offering embedded connectivity and support for streaming services, the established radio providers will have to continue to innovate and enhance their value proposition in the mind of consumers to remain competitive.”

The report explains that smartphones have now conditioned consumers to “expect multiple entertainment and audio options at their fingertips.” Other noteworthy trends within the car include interface and functionality updates coming to Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and the imminent launch of Android Automotive OS as a full-fledged embedded infotainment operating system. The research firm’s Director of Automotive Infotainment and Telematics Richard Robinson notes that as a result, “The very definition of a ‘basic radio’ is being re-written to include provisions for digital receivers, smartphone projection and Bluetooth streaming. These used to be premium options. Now, they’re expected on even lower-priced trims and models.”

In light of so many competitors working their way into the in-car audio space, Sanchez stresses, “Maintaining that entrepreneurial, scrappy attitude and approach is more important than ever. If you don’t consider SiriusXM, Pandora or Spotify competitors, you’re kidding yourself.”

Rather than an “us vs. them” mentality, Sanchez believes that content producers, stations and broadcasters “owe it to themselves to take an open-minded approach to partnerships and platforms,” whether a small, independent station, or one owned by a corporate conglomerate.

Reflecting on the 2019 In-Car Audio and Radio Report and asked about primary concerns for broadcasters with these newer platforms now becoming more prevalent in the car, he offers AM/FM broadcasters a checklist. Start with: “Balance advertising and programming. One of the biggest factors in the growth of satellite radio, as well as podcasting, is less-intrusive advertising, or in the case of satellite, no advertising. Paying the bills is a fact of life, and advertising is key for maintaining ‘free’ programming.” But it is essential that advertising “doesn’t overwhelm the quantity or quality of the content.”

Second, tout assets aside from traditional over-the-air, he says. “If you have an alternative channel partner, like the iHeartRadio app, Radio.com, TuneIn or Apple Podcasts, make sure listeners are aware of these alternate content channels, as well as any exclusive digital content. If you don’t yet have a partner in this area, reach out, or if it’s feasible, look at creating an in-house solution for alternate channels.” Thus, “Cross-promotion of your alternate channels on-air is key to improving awareness and discoverability. Don’t get obnoxious about it; make it fun, and tease your audience with some online exclusives, or the fact that podcasts are uncensored, if it’s a more provocative, edgy show. Know your audience, and what appeals to them, and leverage the alternate content channels to your advantage.”

And then there is the question of Alexa soon making its foray in the car (as Jacobs Media aptly explains in a recent blog post). Does Sanchez see that as a king-size game changer? The answer: It remains to be seen. “There’s no question Amazon and Alexa have become the 800-pound gorilla in the voice recognition and smart speaker space,” he says. “Any kind of voice-recognition strategy should absolutely include and incorporate Alexa. As Alexa becomes more ubiquitous in the home—and in the car—consumers will increasingly expect the infotainment system to automatically include the feature, whether embedded or supported as a smartphone projection feature.”