Delivering Internet audio to the car is hard. Everyone on the "Dashboard Discussions" panel, which led off yesterday's RAIN Summit West in Las Vegas, agreed on that.
So far, implementations are all unique and different, and it's expensive to work with carmakers. Entercom Director of Digital Operations Amy Van Hook (top right) explained that's why her company is sticking with aggregations like TuneIn, or Entercom's mobile apps, to connect to cars for now. Chia-Lin Simmons, Aha by Harman VP/Marketing & Content, said it can cost a million dollars to get integrated into the car "head unit." Moderator Roger Lanctot of Strategy Analytics verified that automakers make hard to "scale" integrations.
But it's incredibly important to be in the car. Broadcasters can't walk away from this vital listening "theater," and newer audio sources need that audience to grow. jacAPPS president Paul Jacobs reminded the crowd that the car is both radio's number-one listening location, and carmakers are radio's number-one client.
Simmons said we're living in a world now where customers expect their content to be delivered everywhere (and introduced the concept of "round tripping," where a listener can bookmark a place in their listening in the cloud, and pick it up where they left off once they're in the car).
"The DVR has changed consumers' expectations," agreed Van Hook. She also reminded the crowd that radio's dominance in the car won't be a given.
Of course, safety is a top priority. TuneIn's VP of Business Development Carl Rohling (lower right) explained his company's "car mode" interface, which simplifies and limits the controls to only the most basic (like "favorites"). But Panasonic Executive Director/Product Planning & Innovation added some historical perspective: in the 1930s, authorities were afraid audio entertainment in the car (that could travel at speeds of 40 mph!) might be a dangerous distraction. He predicted many of the safety concerns of Internet-enabled cars will be addressed by very exciting -- and somewhat futuristic -- advances in dashboard displays in just a few years.
So what are the strategies? Simmons' company is trying to bring the interactivity we've learned to expect from the desktop and mobile, in a safe way into the vehicle. The data her company collects can help content providers like webcasters better program, and better target ads. Rohling's TuneIn is also working at ways to help broadcasters monetize streams outside their local market.
But it's still that "local imperative," Jacbos said, "that makes radio important."
Look for more coverage from RAIN Summit West 2013 later today and in the coming days.