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Chrysler announces wireless Internet access in 2009 models

It’s called UConnect Web, and Chrysler will announce it at an event in Detroit tomorrow spotlighting its 2009 lineup.

According to the LA Times:

The automaker did not disclose pricing, but said there would probably be a base charge for the option, plus a monthly or annual fee. UConnect Web is an extension of the company’s UConnect system, which provides Bluetooth connectivity for cellphones and MP3 player integration with the car stereo. Rival Ford provides similar services, but without Web access, in its popular Sync system. With the added Internet connectivity, drivers and passengers will be able to get such devices as laptop computers and Nintendo Wii consoles online. As to what users can download while in the car, Chrysler’s Leung said anything was fair game.“There are no limitations in content,” he said.

As long predicted in this blog and elsewhere (okay, everywhere), it is inevitable that every new car driving off a showroom lot will eventually be high-speed Internet enabled. And the consequences for the radio industry – both good and bad – are profound.

There are at least five critical issues facing radio as a result of this unambiguous trend (and I’ll consider these more thoroughly after I get a peek at the Chrysler system):

First, an Internet enabled car will have an all-new user interface which may substitute for the radio. Will this interface provide one-button access to what used to be a separate radio? Or will it be installed above the radio and have nothing to do with it? (If I were designing it, it would be the former).

If this new interface replaces the radio unit (while not eliminating radio reception) then automakers have essentially turned a radio into an entertainment tool where at least some of the driver’s time will be spent off the radio dial (so to speak) and outside the advertising universe under the control of the radio industry.

Under no circumstances would Chrysler or any other automaker do away with the ability to receive local radio in its traditional form. But the value-add of this technology to automaker offerings speaks for itself.

Second, the fact that your station streams (and it does, doesn’t it?) does not mean it will be easily accessed on these new systems. Just as low channels on Cable systems are prime positions with larger audiences, so will there be premium placement on these new Internet entertainment systems. Who, for example, is likely to strike a better deal with the Chrysler’s of the world, your station, your group, or AOL Radio (and their friends at CBS), Slacker, Pandora, AccuRadio, and their kind?

Third, what does it mean to be “radio” in a world where audio is fully integrated into an experience that includes video, text, interactivity, and personalization? The attraction to these services will not only be that they’re supplemental to radio, but that they expand the definition of radio. And that expansion will benefit only those broadcasters and their partners smart enough to recognize that the advantage of a broadcast tower is non-existent in this context.

Fourth, that tiny whimper you just heard was the final gasp of HD Radio. Time to move on to the real challenges, radio.

Fifth, why do I want a satellite radio when an Internet-enabled device offers so much more?

Based on the importance of the auto listening audience to radio’s sales equation, there are few questions more important than these.

I suggest that David Rehr at the NAB spend less time bending the ears of the FCC over satellite radio and more time focusing on the true issues which can leverage radio’s future.

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