Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Can Radio Survive in the Era of Self-Driving Cars?

Although it will be several years before our highways and roads are filled with autonomous vehicles, their potential has already prompted consternation in a range of industries: auto insurance, car manufacturing, trucking, and radio.

According to, streaming appears to pose a more serious threat to car-based radio listening than autonomous vehicle technology.  The ability to use mobile devices to access, stream, and consume audio is leading to a boom in spoken audio content.

Given that streaming’s incursion is already well under way, radio companies may not consider the future risks of autonomous cars urgent. But failing to plan for them now would be a mistake.

With their newfound freedom from driving, most passengers will pick an experience that’s more immersive than drive-time radio or streaming. They might turn to video or virtual reality content, or work on their laptops, or play games on their phones. This prospect has made some commentators suggest that driverless cars will mark radio’s death-knell. But the reality is more complex. Although self-driving cars might look like a serious threat to radio companies, they’re a catalyst for making the pivot that’s needed anyway: to entertainment businesses operating across a wide array of delivery channels — both legacy and new.

It’s important to understand that autonomous cars are a long way off. In the U.S., for example, the typical car on the road today is 11.5 years old. Whenever autonomous cars start to enter the market in large numbers, it will take at least another decade for the installed base of conventional vehicles to roll over. Self-driving models will likely take off faster in urban areas, while most consumers living outside major cities — the ones who travel long distances in their cars — will probably continue to drive and listen to their car radios for much longer.

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