If you’ve never been to CES before, it is difficult for me to describe the magnitude of it all. I know you’ve heard it all before – 35 football fields of gadgets has become a cliché. But the daunting size and dense crowds are what make CES amazing and challenging at the same time.
Over the last couple of days, I have felt my emotional barometer go way up and also way down. And sometimes this roller coaster phenomenon occurs when you turn a corner and happen upon a booth, gadget, or person you haven’t seen before.
There are all sorts of pundits and pros doing CES wrap-ups, trying to bring their readers an honest accounting of what’s happening here, but I’ll give you mine from the radio POV.
The good: Radio is in the air. I have seen more logos on exhibits for iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and other broadcast radio/digital brands. Over at the Ford exhibit (you can’t call it a “booth”), Greater Media’s logo and their station apps are on display as well. Livio is talking about a new product called “FM Connect,” and all the car companies reaffirm what we’ve known all along – radio has a very solid place in today’s dashboards – and in the cars of the future.
The bad: All of the above is true, but there is something very important happening with connected cars, and it is amplified this year at CES. There’s a collision of content occurring, underscored by how every automaker and supplier boasts about giving the consumer more and more options and greater personalization. From Aha’s loaded dashboard content (an impressive smorgasbord of broadcast and digital choices) to being able to check out the optimal traffic patterns for your commute with Blue Link’s “Daily Route Guidance” on new Hyundai vehicles, the array of options is mind boggling.
The good: Maybe all this content will be overwhelming to many consumers. Where do you start? And personalization requires having to truly think through the options, choices, prompts, and “trees” that are part of choosing what’s optimal for you. So the simplicity of listening to your broadcast radio station circumvents all the buttons, options, bells, and whistles. Just as it’s been since you first remember being in a car, your favorite radio station is always there.
The bad: Radio now competes – head to head – with so many different in-car options. More than ever before, it will force broadcasters to step up and focus their efforts. It isn’t about just producing good radio anymore – it is understanding what consumers “hire” radio to do for consumers when they’re in vehicles. More research to come in Techsurvey9 on this topic, but this is a big issue that gets thornier every year as these digital dashboard systems proliferate.
The good: The automakers continue to talk up and value HD Radio, its data, traffic, and information capabilities, as well as features like album art that elevate broadcast radio’s look and feel on the dashboard to compete directly with the other “radio” choices in vehicles – Pandora, SiriusXM, and Internet stations via sources like TuneIn. And as you’ve read in the trades, HD Radio is available in many more vehicles at CES 2013, and in a myriad of aftermarket products, too. I saw the standard HD Radio system in the new Chevy Traverse and it’s a really nice piece of work.
The bad: The radio industry’s angst over HD Radio, and the inability to see this technology as the field leveler that automakers do continues to be a real dichotomy. HD Radio has many industry detractors “inside radio,” and yet at CES, it is mostly perceived as the technology that provides a seamless look and feel as consumers move from Pandora to satellite radio to their iPod and to FM radio. This contradiction is something we recognized at CES a few years ago, and it continues to be a head scratcher today.
The good: Sprint’s announcement about FM chips in cell phones could be the beginning of a trend in consumer electronics, thanks in no small part to the dogged pursuit of Jeff Smulyan. This could provide a major boost for broadcast radio if other players and platforms fall into line.
The bad: There’s a lot of work to be done with other cell phone manufacturers, and there may be costs along the way as well. And, of course, all of this will take time.
The good: All the automakers talk about the customer experience – the importance of safety, choice, and simplicity. In fact, Chrysler told us that their digital dashboard mimics an FM radio because that’s a device that everyone understands how to use.
The bad: Customer experience is often a foreign term inside most broadcast radio circles. After the last few years at CES, it is clear to me that this is an area where radio needs to understand that the world of consumer electronics has changed, and it’s all about the consumer.
The good: Ford unleashing its dashboard to app developers, and the integration of partner companies like jacAPPS and Kaliki. This could be a game-changer for radio and the digital dash. To hear Ford talk about broadcast radio at the big press conference Monday, and at events at their exhibit this week is all about R-E-S-P-E-C-T for radio.
The bad: A stupid contest that the IEEE is staging at their booth where CES conventioneers guess which device is most likely to end up in the “Gadget Graveyard.” Arbitron’s Dr. Ed Cohen pointed it out to me. It’s staged by a holograph of Thomas Edison, and its simply depressing. I’ve avoided the South Hall. And hey – where’s the netbook and the eReader on this list?
The good: There is an amazing spirit of optimism at CES – you feel it every year. I’m thankful that Greater Media’s Buzz Knight cajoled me to get here a few years ago. My company’s attendance here, along with the research, interviews, and connections we’ve made at CES are obviously paying off in many ways. I can’t imagine not attending CES.
The bad: There are still so few radio people here. The energy and excitement is what makes CES different from many radio conferences. AND radio has a place at CES that is growing every year. Isn’t it time that radio joined the rest of the world and recognized that consumer electronics is at the epicenter of consumer and business for all of media?
As always, I’m interested to hear your feedback, especially if you were here in Las Vegas taking it all in.