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The proliferation of smartphones is changing consumer behavior, both in-car and on the go, making radio’s quest to get FM in more smartphones — as well as maintain its position in the dashboard — imperative, industry experts believe.

 

Automakers are embracing in-vehicle connectivity because younger buyers are demanding it in new cars. HD Radio is part of the new “digital” dashboard ecosystem, along with analog AM and FM, streaming radio and satellite radio.

 

And while AM retains its place in the dashboard now, station owners, engineers and NAB are pressing the FCC to loosen a host of restrictions on AM facilities to give the challenged AM band a revitalizing boost.

 

In-car use of online radio and other forms of digital audio continues to grow. In 2014, 26 percent of mobile phone users have connected devices to a vehicle, either physically or via Bluetooth, up from 21 percent in 2013, according to Edison Research and Triton Digital in the newest “Infinite Dial” study.

 

Edison Research Vice President of Strategy and Marketing Tom Webster says smartphone penetration is changing consumer behavior “significantly,” noting that: “We are now seeing activities that were dominated by desktop usage in 2013 flip dramatically to become mobile behaviors. For millions of Americans, the smartphone has become ‘the first screen.’”

 

EARSHARE IN THE DASH

 

iBiquity Digital Corp. President/CEO Bob Struble agrees the trend toward broad connectivity and a tremendously competitive audio market are accelerating. That means radio owners must increase their efforts to maintain their place in the new infotainment systems.

 

And the dashboard or infotainment “center stack” is getting more crowded these days with the recent launch of Samsung’s Milk Radio streaming service and last fall’s launch of Apple iTunesRadio to challenge Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio and TunedIn, among others, vying for listeners’ ears in the dash.

 

For broadcasters, the bottom line is: All cars will soon have embedded Internet connectivity and everything it brings. The infotainment system has become a critical buying factor in new car sales.

 

“Analog radio basically presents a blank screen and has fallen behind competitively. Of course, AM/FM has great content, but position on the screen is being decided by automotive product people who are demanding visually enhanced experiences,” said Struble. He also cites trends of fewer home and portable products that contain AM/FM on CE shelves, bringing car listening into sharper focus.

 

“Everything’s an app now,” and that’s how people want to interact with their devices, he said.

 

iBiquity believes that stations transmitting a digital signal as well as implementing the advanced data features of its HD Radio technology have an edge because the appearance of that display in the newer in-dash infotainment systems, as well as in handheld devices, is more up-to-date and similar to the display of streamed audio services or satellite radio.

 

The tech developer is pushing radio owners to raise their FM power where they can and implement the advanced data features such as Artist Experience in which visual elements like album covers are displayed when the audio is airing as well as real-time traffic services delivered with both FM and HD Radio signals.

 

iBiquity says its technology is now offered by every major car manufacturer, either as standard equipment or as an upgrade, and built into one-third of all new cars sold in the United States in 2013. The tech developer predicts that figure will rise to half of all new cars sold here this calendar year.

 

More than 200 vehicle brands will include HD Radio this year, half as standard equipment, according to iBiquity. The company will have a new booth on the exhibit floor.

 

FM CHIPS IN CELLPHONES

 

Meanwhile, Emmis Communications’ NextRadio app is certainly in the hunt to bring radio into the smartphone proliferation trend. It is now a little more than one year since the deal with Sprint was announced, with the carrier pledging to install the FM radio app in some 30 million devices over a three-year period in exchange for broadcasters providing the carrier with $15 million worth of ad inventory for each of the three years.

 

Emmis and Sprint say both they and automakers want more stations to invest in the NextRadio FM application beyond its free logo, so more listeners can experience its interactive features — such as being able to purchase a song that a listener hears a station playing through the app. The app acts as a backchannel for interactions with a station and its advertisers. The parties also want the display and the user experience to be consistent with those of other digital audio offerings like Pandora and other streamed audio services.

 

The broadcaster is talking to other carriers about embedding and activating FM chips in smartphones and has developed a prototype auto companion app that includes HD Radio, with some funding from NAB Labs.

 

HELPING AM

 

And finally, industry experts are debating the best way to help AM owners, from opening an application window at the FCC to accept AM-only FM translator applications, to loosening many of the technical regulations governing AM transmission and antennas.

 

AM revitalization is one of the topics slated for discussion in today’s Broadcast Management Conference panel “Radio Renaissance,” beginning at 10:30 a.m.

 

The “Connected Car Marketplace Update for Radio,” Wednesday, 11:20–11:45 a.m., offers reports from analysts on the changing environment of the digital dash. It is part of the Broadcast Management Conference’s “Digital Strategies Exchange for Radio,” 10:30 a.m.–4 p.m. This series of workshops is presented by NAB Labs, and focuses on several new technologies affecting radio, with recommendations for non-technical managers on how to best leverage them to local radio’s advantage.

 

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