Finding Radio at CES

“So, why is a radio network at CES?” Mike asked as we waited in line for a morning session. The well-dressed tech writer seemed to be trying to figure this one out. In a city filled with media, innovators, tech executives, and entrepreneurs, maybe this radio guy stood out. As I explained how the changes we’ve seen to car dashboards and home electronics have changed our listener behavior, his eyes lit up as the dots were connected.

The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas is a place for some of the largest… and smallest… brands to show off their new products and ideas. Northwestern Media station managers Matt Deane and Niki Corbin joined me in wandering the endless exhibit floors of this year’s show. The trip allows us to get a handle on the technology that will impact the lives of our listeners, but also to see where our platforms and content fit into that ecosystem.

Beyond the Charmin robot that delivered toilet paper, the three of us found some trends that could impact our organizations.

Don’t worry. Radio is still a part of the dashboard.

We started our week in the North Hall of the Las Vegas convention center, which focused on the automobile.  We made a point of asking every dashboard demo how we could listen to the radio. We only stumped one demonstrator as he got lost in a poorly designed menu. A few solutions were actually looking to improve the terrestrial radio experience. Xperi demonstrated DTS Connected Radio as a way to use internet connectivity to bring rich information from the station alongside the broadcast.

As we look ahead to autonomous driving, manufacturers seem to realize that the content rich entertainment experiences they thought we would want, are already in our hands. We won’t be watching movies on our commute. We’ll be on our phones. Probably listening to audio.

One of the more exciting things we saw was the way that an Alexa enabled GMC vehicle addressed my request to play a radio station. Rather than pulling up the stream of the station, the dash switched to the FM tuner. Not only is that cost saving for our stations and our listeners, it demonstrates that radio was addressed in this experience as more than just an afterthought.

Speakers all over the home.

Google and Amazon continue to have a big presence. Not only in their own exhibits and suites, but throughout the rest of the show as well. Google’s team, decked out in white jumpsuits and stocking caps, could be found in many booths around Las Vegas.

Voice activation for smart homes is putting more speakers and audio experiences in the home. We live in a multi-tasking world, and radio is built for the multi-tasker. We will see continued growth of in-home listening on these devices.

Content is more important than technology

The conversation we need to have will be less about how we will be available on emerging technology, but how our content will step up to be the best option on that technology. Westwood One mentioned that they will continue to focus on audio, but are investing in podcast audio production to address changing user behavior.

A big opportunity for legacy formats

Victorola and Crosley had large booths that focused on their vintage-replica lineups. The 1980’s inspired boom box with Bluetooth connectivity was my personal favorite (Yes… it takes D Cell Batteries). Large collections of vinyl record players took up these exhibits. This isn’t anything new at CES. We can walk into Target and look through a moderately decent sized collection of records.

But this points to a trend. In times of uncertainty and insecurity, consumers tend to fall back on things we could trust. Record players, cassette decks, instant film… and the radio. We have a legacy medium, with a legacy message. This year will almost certainly be a year of anxiety and uncertainty. This will be an incredible time for our stations to step up and provide a message of hope and comfort in a way our listeners can trust.

This barely scratches the surface of what we saw, and how it could impact our stations. But we left excited about the opportunities we have to be a part of our listeners’ lives in the coming years.

Carl Bliss
Carl Bliss, Director of Digital Media – Northwestern Media

 

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