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Radios Ripped from New Cars? “Not So Fast,” say Consumers

You can climb down from the ceiling now, Mr. Broadcaster – it turns out new cars will feature FM/AM radios built-in for the foreseeable future (although certainly not forever).

The logic of this should be obvious to us all, but particularly obvious for anyone who bothers to talk with consumers.

And I did.

Between March 9 and March 10 2013, I fielded a random, balanced, national online study of 1,000 consumers and asked how they feel about those radios in their cars – and how they’d feel if they disappeared. Each chart shows five rating points, from “DISAGREE” to “AGREE.”

First question – Agree or Disagree: “If automakers removed FM/AM radios from my next new car, I probably wouldn’t notice”

Um, yes. Pretty clear. When you forget to install a radio in a brand new car, Mr. Automaker, people will notice.

Second question – Agree or Disagree: “It’s okay if automakers remove FM/AM radios from my next new car because I could always listen to my favorite stations on my mobile device via the Internet”

Um, no, it’s not okay, actually.

The ability to access audio content via the Internet from mobile devices is not viewed by consumers as a substitute for the easy, ubiquitous, dependable radios in their dashboard.  It’s viewed as a complement – a new platform for new choices – not an invitation to limit choice to the mobile device-only. And not an invitation to create more work for folks accustomed to the miraculously easy tool that is a radio.

Don’t get me wrong, by “complement” I don’t mean these new choices will add to overall audio usage.  Quite the contrary, I expect. Look for plenty of radio cannibalization, but less if your choices are among them, right?

Broadcasters, I would argue that you’re not streaming content to substitute for over-the-air listening, you’re streaming content to give new people new experiences to consume in new places on new platforms and in new ways – the experiences, places, platforms and ways of their choosing, not ours.

And woe unto you if you don’t keep pace with their choices.

Consumers are likely to use online radio as a terrestrial radio substitute, but that’s their choice, and it’s under their control.

Third question – Agree or Disagree: “Even if I could always listen to my favorite stations on my mobile device via the Internet, I would be unhappy if automakers remove FM/AM radios from new cars.”

A flip of the previous question. And oh yes, Mr. Automaker, “unhappy” appears to be an understatement.

The automakers understand all of this, of course.  And for consumers it goes without saying.

Now, hopefully, broadcasters know the truth, too.

The disruption is happening and it is bound to accelerate.  But we will not wake up tomorrow and discover new cars with no radios. Indeed, the problem is that those new cars will be full to the brim with entertainment choices galore.

And, as I said, woe unto you if you don’t keep pace with consumers’ choices.

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