Why radio holds the key to automotive OEM success

By Sven Eckoldt, Global Product Director, ACCESS Europe, and Xavier Filliol, COO, Radioline

The car has a long history with audio content that goes back many decades. Think FM radio, cassettes, CD players, DAB and satellite radio. Audio in the car has been a staple part of the driving experience ever since the first commercial car radios launched in the 1930s. 90 years later and radio remains the champion in the car.

In this blog we’re looking at what audio in the car will look like as cars become connected and, crucially, the implications for automotive OEMs.

In car infotainment (IVI) has evolved over the years but radio has always been at its heart

Radio is King

A reason why radio in various forms has proved so popular is that it’s so easy to use. Long before “user experience” became a well-used term, radio offered a simple one-touch solution to car drivers who wanted to be entertained but had to keep their eyes on the road. One press of a button and they could start a channel that was curated based on factors including music tastes, time of day, and location.

It’s easy to see why audio in the car has been so popular through the years. But the relationship between cars and content is undergoing a fundamental shift as cars become connected. They will be an extension of the always-on, connected lifestyle that encompasses smart TVs, smart homes, and smartphones. In turn, user expectations will increase and they will want access to all the content they want wherever they are. What does this change mean for the future of audio services in the car?

Radio led in user experience long before it was even a term. With one push of a button to activate, the simplicity of radio suits car drivers perfectly.

Automotive OEMs are manufacturing and shipping tens of millions of cars around the globe every year. They need an entertainment device that will deliver relevant content to car users anywhere in the world with the least amount of hassle. And they need it to work throughout a car’s lifecycle, which is years in planning and manufacturing, before being rolled out onto roads across the globe where they could be in use for 10+ years.

FM radio’s ability to tune into local stations anywhere made OEMs’ lives very easy. Then, when DAB came in, listeners could enjoy greater choice and user features but with the same low maintenance for OEMs: once the radio device is up and running they don’t really need to touch it again.

Now we’re entering the age of the connected car and there is a fundamental shift in: a) the expectations of car users; and b) the work required by OEMs to deliver on those expectations.

But why the rush? There are several reasons. One is that connected services are becoming an increasingly important factor in car purchasing decisions. The PwC Digital Auto Report 2020 reported that 63% of US drivers rated in-car entertainment as one of the car’s most important features. Another factor is electrification. As engines are replaced by batteries, OEMs will have to find new differentiators inside the car to stand out.

The automotive and content mismatch

Delivering what car users want in this connected age poses problems for OEMs that they have never faced before. The world of content rights is incredibly complex, especially when you’re looking for content that is locally relevant in a multitude of different countries with different languages and cultures.

Also, rights deals tend to be short-term compared to car lifecycles. Where OEMs are planning 10 years ahead, content deals tend to be limited to certain geographies over a period of two to three years. The timings between the automotive and content industries just don’t match.

One option could be to strike a deal with one of the biggest content players. But who’s to say that a music service like Spotify, which is big today but barely existed 10 years ago, will still be around in its current form 10 years from now? OEMs simply can’t take the risk of placing all their eggs in one basket. They need to present car users with whatever choice of content they want at that time, whether it’s three, five, or ten years from now.

They need a future-proof solution. And this requires a content aggregator to handle the rights, as well as a software provider to ensure that operating systems, browsers, and app stores work throughout the course of the car’s lifecycle.

Content and software going hand-in-hand

This is why the tie-up between ACCESS Europe and Radioline is so important right now. For those of you who are not familiar with Radioline, its app offers more than 90,000 radio channels, web radio stations, national and local programmes and podcasts from 130 countries. It is hosted on ACCESS Europe’s ACCESS Twine™ for Car (Twine4Car) in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) system, which includes the first dedicated in-car app store. Twine4Car handles software challenges such as operating system updates and user experience issues such as synchronisation between mobile devices and the car.

The evolution of content consumption in the car is proceeding at pace. After decades of FM radio, then cassette, CD, DAB, and satellite radio, the streaming revolution is set to take off at spectacular speed when connectivity comes to the car. It is an exciting time for OEMs who have an opportunity to build relationships with their users in a way they’ve never been able to do before. But the clock is ticking and they will not have time to find success alone. They need partners who understand content rights and software to future-proof their interests over the long-term. However, if they set the wheels in motion now then the future of looks incredibly bright.

You can find out more about ACCESS Twine™ for Car here, or about Radioline here.

About the author:

Sven Eckoldt is Global Product Director at ACCESS Europe, where he leads the content strategy for ACCESS’ automotive product development. Prior to joining ACCESS, he spent over a decade working in the media industry focusing on new media and video services, both from a broadcaster’s point of view during his tenure at Deutsche Welle and RTL II, and from the platform side while at Media Broadcast/freenet TV.. Follow him on Twitter / Linkedin