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Radio’s Spot on the New Dashboard – Time to Do a Deal?


This past week I had a conversation with someone knowledgeable in the auto technology space:

“The dash is getting crowded and complicated,” she argued, “and the harder to find a radio station is the less apt folks will be to listen to it.”

“But if the content is compelling enough, they will seek it out,” I replied.

“Ease of use trumps compelling content,” she argued back. “It has to be easy to find and use first, and some of these new dashboards don’t even have an FM/AM button.”

Now this is abjectly true: You can’t listen to what you can’t find.

But what are the consequences of that truth? What can we actually do about it?

You see, historically, radio was not only a distribution channel, it essentially was THE EXCLUSIVE live entertainment platform built into every car. It not only owned the market, it WAS the market. The radio was a “thing” on the dashboard and every station was not only easy to find but it was the same on every device (i.e., “radio”) because it was synched in the cloud (i.e., broadcast from a tower).

If radio is becoming harder to find on the dashboard that’s because the “exclusive live entertainment platform” built into every car is no longer a radio, but an Internet-connected digital entertainment hub where the shelf space belongs to the platform maker or the automaker.

So we have gone from an era where the shelf space was all radio’s and licensed by the FCC to an era where the shelf space belongs to someone other than the licensees of the airwaves and the public they are presumably dedicated to serve.

So how to do you secure that shelf space when your distribution channel no longer “is” the shelf?

You pay for it, of course.

Perhaps radio broadcasters should be gathering as one to belly up to the platform makers with a nice big juicy check.

While I’d like to think that consumers would cry foul if their favorite radio stations were somehow harder to find, what if they don’t? Or what if their cries fall on deaf ears?

Pull out that checkbook, Big Radio.

Lobbying and whining and masticating research factoids are unlikely to secure the pole position on the new dashboard. Doing a deal is what will guarantee that position. Just ask Netflix about its deal to speed download service with Comcast.

Welcome to a world where the “radio” becomes an app on a platform filled with apps.

Tomorrow, I’ll write about another scenario: What if the radio industry doesn’t “pay” for prime access and stations need to compete with everything else on the dash? Maybe it’s not as bad as you think.

Or maybe it is.

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