A Better Idea

April 10, 2013
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It is hard to believe that in some circles, there’s a raging debate…about all the wrong things.

Are digital futurists falsely predicting the doom of radio?

Are automakers conspiring to eliminate AM/FM radio from their “center stacks?”

Do we really need to be streaming?

Are young people abandoning radio in favor of new media technologies?

And on it goes.

In radio, these are issues akin to gun control, immigration, and the budget deficit – too complicated to take on in this space.

But for one of them – the future of radio in vehicles – there is no better source than to go to one of the fathers of Ford SYNC – Julius Marchwicki – for his insights about the relationship between the automakers and radio.

Radio World’s  Leslie Stimson did just that last month when she interviewed Marchwicki, Ford’s global product manager for Sync AppLink.

So, what’s his take on radio and apps?

“When I think of radio, I think of an easy way to access localized content for any reason anywhere in the world. That content can be anything. It’s music, it’s news, it’s all sorts of things…Today, the age of the Internet and mobile phones as data connectivity has brought us to a world where I can access any radio station anywhere in the world anytime; and I personally think that’s fantastic. … Now we’re entering a world of applications and a world of data connectivity everywhere.”

And will AM/FM radio always be in Ford cars and trucks?

“Probably. I think there’s something very visceral about turning a car on and having audio come out — not needing and requiring a data connection.

And then there’s HD Radio:

“We have HD Radio. It’s a fantastic product. There are some advantages. You have higher

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quality, additional metadata and they continue to innovate in this space. There’s higher bandwidth and you have more content on some of the sideband channels that you have on particular frequencies. We have it in many of our vehicles. It’s a product that some of our customers are asking us for. It’s definitely something we’re going to continue to have in our vehicles.”

But like his peers at other automakers, the goal is to provide driving consumers with great options.  For satellite radio, Marchwicki notes their “compelling content” and their availability “everywhere in the States.”

Similarly, Pandora, Aha, NPR, and iHeartRadio bring consumers the ability to access “whatever it is they want to listen to.”  And working with jacAPPS, Ford is opening up their digital dash to anyone with a great idea for an app.  It’s an exciting time for content providers everywhere, but it’s also a challenge.

In order to compete in a digital dashboard where Ford – and all the other automakers – is providing a myriad of options in an anywhere/anytime environment, broadcast radio operators are going to have to reassess precisely what they bring to the table.  Or in this case, the “center stack.”

That’s because consumers will be hiring local radio for specific purposes and experiences.  Is it about being live and local?  Is it about hometown information services?  Is it about personalities and shows that are specific to your local market – or your tribe?

These are the questions that radio needs to grapple with – beyond the banal debates about hardware and software.

As I write this post at the NAB Show in Vegas, there’s clearly more optimism among the many broadcasters in attendance.  But as NAB CEO Gordon Smith clearly noted early in his keynote address, the “connected car” is a big topic for radio – today and in the future:

“Not too long ago some within our own industry raised the question of whether radio, specifically, was on the verge of being pushed out of the automobile.  I think consumers and the leaders in Detroit said it best with a resounding no!  But it is a good reminder that broadcasters can’t take their place in the dashboard for granted…we must continue to innovate and provide the content listeners want on many different platforms.  We must keep our eyes focused on the new doors that open before us.  The danger for any business that becomes complacent is its being left behind.”

JacoBLOG readers know where we stand on this topic.  For us, the digital dash isn’t just the next hot topic – it is an essential part of the radio conversation that needs to happen this year if radio is to retain a strong standing in cars – and in the hearts and pocketbooks of the automotive manufacturers and local dealerships wherever you live.

Now you’ve heard it from both Ford and the NAB.

To read Radio World’s entire interview with Marchwicki, click here.

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