Radio and the Evolving Dashboard: Part 1

Part 1: Technology and Radio’s Place in the Dashboard 

Note to the reader: This is the second post in a series of posts about traditional radio and the dashboard. See the previous post under the same title, with “Introduction” as a sub-title.

In about a week’s time, Clip will be ready to launch Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for 100% of the mobile apps that we build and maintain for our broadcaster partners. Why should you care? How important is Apple CarPlay (CP) and Android Auto (AA), and how are listeners accessing their favorite radio stations in vehicles, today – and how will they access those stations in the future?

We conducted an in-depth analysis of the state of entertainment system technology in vehicles to help broadcasters understand the nature of the evolving automobile dashboard. In this post we present the key findings from this research and draw some conclusions (and offer a few speculations) that we hope sheds light on the topic for radio operators and other interested parties. 

First, anyone with an interest in the evolving dashboard should understand the nature of automobiles on the road today, and the general trends related to vehicle turnover and how those trends map to the propagation of new technologies in cars on the road. For example, to understand how CP and AA will hit the streets over time, we need to understand vehicle turnover trends [note: aftermarket audio and entertainment systems distribution contributes to the propagation of these technologies, as well.]

Interestingly, in the U.S., the average age of a passenger car on the road in 1995 was 8.4 years. By 2014, the average car on the road was 11.6 years old. This trend toward longer lasting cars is expected to continue, which means that the turnover rate of vehicles is slowing and that means it will take longer for new cars—with new technologies like CP and AA—to become widely distributed. 

For context, let’s look at automobile audio systems technology over the long view. The following timeline helps tell the story around how consumers have accessed radio and other competing audio media in their cars, through history:

This timeline shows when key alternative audio sources entered the vehicle (approximate year of first availability). Besides the hyper-speed of entertainment technology adaptations in the last 15 years, it’s important to observe how terrestrial radio’s place in the car has changed over time and how it is at a critical juncture today. You’ll notice that for 35 years, consumers had no other option besides AM/FM radio in their cars. Radio had exclusive presence in the car for a long time. That exclusivity gave way to modestly competitive alternatives like cassette tape players and eventually CD players (which were supposed to “kill radio”). But radio was still the dominant audio source in the car, despite these alternatives. MP3 players emerged around the year 2000 as well, complemented with technologies that allowed for direct connection to the car’s audio system. But still, the dominant reign of radio continued.

Then, around 2004, satellite radio and Bluetooth technology started to show up in vehicles. The competition attention in the car became more serious—and more serious yet again in 2006 and thereafter, as smartphones and streaming mobile apps (Pandora, Spotify, etc.) started to make their way into cars. It was around this time that in-dash entertainment systems were built to allow consumers to access any and all sources, and radio became more of a peer to these alternatives, no longer the dominant audio source in the car. 

Jumping ahead about 10 years, the first cars with CP and AA availability started to hit the streets (only seven models supported CarPlay in 2015—more than 210 are available today).  Looking at a typical, advanced entertainment system that supports these technologies, you’ll notice that AM/FM radio is no longer front and center.  In some cases, with these newer systems, broadcast radio is hard to find.  One can observe that, for many 2017 model cars (and not just luxury models), not only has radio lost its dominant position, it might not even be an equal peer to alternative listening options that are often presented with greater prominence on the dashboard. 

Where did the radio go?

Where did the radio go?

So…How long will it take for these technologies—technologies that are starting to present radio as a secondary option to consumers in their cars—to become widespread?

Given the expected turnover rate and assuming connected car technologies like CP and AA maintain consumer interest, we’re forecasting that by 2025 (within 8 years), 50% of the vehicles on the road will have some kind of direct interface to smartphones (Bluetooth, USB connection, or CP and AA like capabilities) and in that year, nearly 90% of the cars sold will have these advanced connected car technologies as standard features. By 2029, the majority of cars on the road will have connected car interfaces like CP and AA.

What should broadcasters do about this? We’ll cover that in a future blog post, but we can say one thing in response to that question, today: Don’t do nothing!  

In our next post on the topic, we’ll go into more detail on the user experience with CP and AA and talk a little about how Clip’s unique version of “interactive radio” could change the experience, significantly.


Posted on January 28, 2017 .