Ford is making Apple CarPlay and Android Auto available on all 2017 vehicles equipped with Sync 3 in North America, starting with the all-new Ford Escape. Owners of 2016 vehicles equipped with Sync 3 will get an opportunity to upgrade “later in the year,” the company said without providing details.
What this means is that, beginning with 2017 auto models, the new car will essentially become a smartphone with wheels.
You need to wrap your head around this in order to appreciate what it does and doesn’t mean for folks in the radio business. So let me rephrase: CarPlay and Android Auto are not about simply substituting one type of audio content (radio) for another, they are about literally installing wheels on that most precious and personal of electronic devices, the smartphone.
The car company is adding these capabilities in line with its strategy to provide higher integration between car functions and smartphone apps. It aims for example to use its Sync Connect technology to let users remotely lock and unlock cars, check fuel levels, and locate and start a vehicle using a smartphone.
When you can start a car with your phone, the wheels belong to the phone, not the car.
This means (at least) three things for folks in the radio business:
First, it means that content itself must get more magnetic, more special, more unique, more expensive, more valuable – or else.
Ford claims there are more than 15 million Sync-equipped vehicles on roads around the world currently, with 43 million expected by 2020, a scant four years from now. The days where we could rely on habit and convenience and ease-of-use as the driving forces (pun intended) for radio usage in cars – those days are winding down or, as it were, running out of gas. We’re moving to an era where folks will act according to their deepest desires in a space where anything is possible.
Second, it means that radio needs to rethink its business models especially when so much of its business comes from folks sitting in traffic. If you’re not planning for a much larger fraction of your business to come from non-spot revenue, then you’re not planning at all.
It’s interesting to see this play out in the podcasting space, where there is no legacy advertising model for even the leading podcasters to lean on.
Take Welcome to Night Vale, a very popular podcast that had its best year ever in 2015. Consider the monetization portfolio of this podcast and note that nowhere do I list traditional interruptive ads:
- Live touring show
- A tie-in novel that debuted at number 4 on the New York Times bestseller list
- Fan sponsorship (“membership”) and rewards
Finally, it means that radio needs to ask much bigger questions about what it means to bring your content to the kind of mobile platform with four wheels, now powered by the smartphone. Do you think it will be enough to simply simulcast your over-the-air stream? Well, unless your content is more magnetic, more special, more unique, more expensive, and more valuable, then you’re wrong.