The Corner Office: October 2014

October 1, 2014

Peter SmythIs it a Marathon or Is It a Dash?

The evolution of the car radio into an infotainment and communications center continues at a brisk pace. During the past year, we have seen both forward and backward looking decisions as all of the actors in the automotive space jockey for proper position.

AM radio has been banned by BMW from their electric i3 and i8 EV, even though other electrics and hybrids found a way to eliminate the interference.  General Motors has removed HD radio from some truck and car models; added it to some others and given off contradictory signals.

What does this mean for radio’s future in the car? Bluntly, probably not that much. These two developments could be a harbinger of bad things to come or they could simply be another bump in the road as the auto companies explore the way forward. The center stack, as it is called, has become the home for so much more than the simple radio that used to take up that space.

In the past year, we have seen the deployment of in-car wifi as well as in car 4G LTE modems. This has opened up a new dashboard function called “advanced driver assist”.  That’s technospeak for smart sensors that will activate the brake if there is an obstruction behind you as you back up, or even avoid a rear-end collision by bringing your car to a rapid, safe stop mere feet away from the guy in front of you who slammed on his brakes.

These functions are the foundational elements of the autonomous or self-driving car. No flying cars like the Jetsons yet, but the self-driving car is somewhere out there in the foreseeable future. And why is that significant for radio? Because all of those computer-aided electronics and communications will also run through the center stack.

Automotive engineers not only have to develop an in-dash entertainment system that is easy and intuitive for real people, but they now have to absorb and manage an ongoing stream of data to and from the car, networks and other intelligent cars. The amount of computing power, sophistication and machine intelligence required to do all of this is growing each day.

So, car types have a lot more on their plate than radio reception and ease and safety of use while driving. They have big plans for the center stack, and are in a global competition not only with each other, but with Apple, Google and the big wireless players. How does this all shake out, and what is broadcast radio’s place? Are we now part of a larger universe called “audio”? Should we be streaming?  What about time-shifting? Podcasts? How about the Artist Experience in HD Radio?
For all of these reasons and questions, I am making sure that Greater Media is well-represented at the upcoming DASH Conference in Detroit on October 15-16. Last year, it was an eye-opening experience.  It is an opportunity to get outside of ourselves and our radio-centric view of the world, hear how the other industries who have a stake in the future of the car dashboard are viewing the last twelve months’ progress, and get an idea of what their priorities are for the next year. When we are all moving quickly, much can be lost unless we take the time to sit in the same room and listen to one another.  We need to know what the stakes are and refine our expectations for the future. We cannot take our historic place in the car for granted any longer; the latest estimates are that there will be 10 million connected cars on the highway by 2017. That is only three years from now.

That’s ten million and three reasons why DASH is so important.

Choosing Partners

September 5, 2014

As I’ve been thinking about the challenge of transforming the radio business into a multifaceted local media business, I realize that we are challenged as never before by the multitude of startups, digital divisions, and online networks that have covered the landscape of every market, no matter what size or location.  And our advertising clients are trying to understand and utilize these new digital platforms to better sell their products and services.  Yet, no matter how talented our employees are and how much creative resource planning we do, each individual radio station simply cannot  be expert in all aspects of digital marketing, including content marketing, podcasting, social media, online audio and video, consumer generated content and other advertiser needs.There is a strategy, however, that works to everyone’s mutual benefit.  Partnering with the brightest and most innovative of the digital universe can rapidly expand our capabilities and build upon, rather than compete with, our traditional radio audience and client base.  Choosing partners and finding the proper balance within the relationship requires some careful planning and a willingness to experiment, but it can be done.

Greater Media has partnered with a number of technology companies and we constantly talk with many more.  It is an education in and of itself to find out what creative approaches new people have taken to traditional marketing problems. We have partnered with audio providers, online delivery companies as well as video, data and e-mail experts who create and maintain an ever-more-complex infrastructure.   It allows staff at our stations to focus on what they do best – understanding their clients and listeners and then putting these innovations to work.

As an example, our Boston stations have just entered into a market exclusive agreement with a young, fresh, innovative start-up digital business called Jebbit.  Have you ever heard of “post-click engagement”?  I had not either, until I was briefed on the Jebbit technology, which allows Greater Media Boston to offer a new tool to their advertisers, both local and national.   Rather than just presenting online users an e-mail or an online display ad, Jebbit allows advertisers to ask online questions to users who click on the ad.   It gets them one step further toward the ultimate goal of converting a user to a customer, whether it’s online or brick and mortar.

Post-click engagement is an ideal technology for radio advertisers.  Jebbit’s platform gives Greater Media Boston new capabilities to bring to our advertisers.

Consumers are a savvy bunch, and they have already taken to seeing past online static display.  Post-click engagement makes it easy for users to dig deeper when they are interested in an ad such as display, native, paid search, email or mobile.  The platform allows advertisers to introduce new products, build awareness, drive leads and acquire new customers. It is another capability in our growing toolkit of digital assets that we can employ to meet our clients’ expanding needs It is a challenge to us as well as our clients to rapidly understand and employ new techniques and technology.  When we search for partners, we look not only for the technical innovation they bring to the table, but also for their ability to teach and apply their tools to the marketing process.

There are tons of enthusiastic people making software out there, but they often start with technology rather than a marketing need.  Too often we are demo’ed gadgets in search of a mission rather than smarter, easier, quicker and more enjoyable ways of meeting customer needs.  That is what we look for when we are talking with potential partners.  We are happy to have found a new one in Jebbit.

It certainly is not the end of the process and we will continue to search for new and innovative partners who can help us better serve our advertisers and extend the reach of our station brands.



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