Wisconsin Broadcasters Association

This January, Fred and I started our year in Las Vegas, attending our eighth Consumer Electronics Show. It’s not the easiest way to start the year – when you bring close to 180,000 people into a city, everything becomes challenging. Good luck making a reservation at a restaurant, and it’s hard to get used to waiting a minimum of 30 minutes for a taxi.

But it’s worth it. CES is an opportunity not just to see what’s next, but also a way to get energized about innovation, and to see possibilities for our industry that will impact all of us for decades to come.

Over four days, we try to see everything – we get there early for Press Day, go to Eureka Park to check out all of the smaller inventions that are pretty unique and off-the-wall, C-Space at The Aria – a separate conference dedicated to media and technology with ad agencies and broadcasters presenting, and the big daddy, the convention show floor that takes over the three main halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center as well as the parking lot in front of it.

But you can’t see it all – it’s simply too big. So here are our takeaways and their implications for radio and television broadcasters for you to think about. As you’ll read, we’ve tried to condense our findings into two areas that affect broadcasters – changes in the car and in the home. But first, to give you a sense of scale, here’s a look at CES by the numbers:

  • It’s the 50th anniversary of this event, which started out focusing on radio.
  • There are over 175,000 people registered – 55,000 are from outside of the U.S.
  • There are over 600 start-up companies featured in Eureka Park.
  • The convention takes up more than 2.6 million square feet of exhibit space.
  • There are 3,800 exhibitors.
  • There are nine auto companies showcasing what’s next, including autonomous cars.

CES is an auto show. Despite the fact that the North American International Auto Show in Detroit is the following week, virtually all major car companies are in Las Vegas, showing off what’s next. And beyond the displays from Ford and Chevy, cars are everywhere because there are so many auto suppliers on hand, showing off cars made from 3D printers, driverless technology, and yes, in-car entertainment systems.

One of the most compelling displays was from Nvidia, a leading company in autonomous driving. Their technology monitors the driver so it can educate the car. It monitors body temperature, attention spans and other factors to ensure that the car is in-tune with its passenger. Investment in this type of technology underscores the massive investment being made to change the driving experience, eventually culminating in the driverless car.

But the main focus of our automotive tour at CES was on entertainment. For radio stations, the car is the epicenter of consumption. And until recently, it’s had limited potential for television stations.

That’s about to change.

I attended a session at C-Space featuring the head digital teams from NBCU, Sinclair Television, and The Weather Channel. When asked about their mobile plans, they all began talking about the car as a new mobile platform. They’ve already moved on from the smartphone, and see autonomous cars as a huge opportunity for growing consumption of live video.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Currently, the driving experience requires that all senses except one – hearing – be engaged while driving. That’s great for radio. But when you don’t have to watch the road, what possibilities emerge? Video consumption, reading, and other entertainment all of a sudden become quite viable.

For radio broadcasters, other changes are taking place in the car right now that are affecting listening. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto continue to proliferate, opening up audio apps on smartphones to the dashboard, alongside local radio stations. But when we visited Visteon, the company that designs the dashboard of the future, it’s clear that a lot of energy is being invested in providing as many entertainment options as possible in the car, and the radio tuner runs the risk of becoming another option instead of the primary entertainment provider.

The other automotive trend we saw at CES was how mobility is changing. Ford announced an investment in a ride-sharing company called Chariot at CES. The service will be rolled out to eight cities this year, providing on-demand transport to work and back without the hassle of owning a car. Once again, the implications for broadcasters is significant – if you’re riding in a van with others, chances are the radio won’t be on and in its place, each rider will bring along their own entertainment on their smartphone. And video will also be available either in these vehicles, or on individual smartphones.

Without question, changes in the car provide challenges and opportunities for broadcasters. For the radio industry, challenges abound, and we strongly recommend investing in a mobile strategy via apps and unique, downloadable content, as well as presence on platforms like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

For television stations, changes in the car present a significant growth opportunity. The individual driving experience, as well as changes in mobility, represents a new location for video consumption. No longer is watching television confined to static locations where there is a television. Video is going mobile in a big way, and this is potentially going to lead to real growth for the industry.

The Home Is Getting Smarter. The other big trend at CES was the major changes in technology affecting the home front, with big implications for broadcasters. First of all, everything in the home is becoming “smart.” In other words, devices are connected to the Internet and to other devices. So, for example, a “smart” refrigerator knows when food is expiring and can send an alert. It can even connect with a grocery store and order fresh replacements. A kitchen robot contains recipes and is connected to all devices. When a recipe is selected, it can order the food from the grocery store for home delivery, and when it’s time to cook, can walk the chef through the process while controlling the heat in the oven.

But the other mega-trend at CES was the proliferation of voice-controlled technology, primarily provided via Amazon’s Echo device. If you haven’t played with one of these, we encourage you to do so, because they provide the owner to control media, the home experience, and the Internet via voice activation. So, instead of going to the channel guide, you can ask, “Alexa, when is the Badger game on and on which channel?” Or, “Alexa, play Taylor Swift.”

In both cases, ease of access to media accelerates, but broadcasters need to invest in creating “Skills” in these systems to ensure that your station appears when a request is made. For example, when requesting a radio station, the system will immediately go to TuneIn and not the station’s stream. Other audio content like podcasts won’t be able to be accessed. And how will Alexa know which “KISS FM” the user is requesting without more specific commands?

These are just two of the big trends we saw at CES, but the ones most relevant to broadcasters. We encourage you to start off 2018 in Las Vegas with us. It is impossible to understand the tectonic shifts taking place that impact how radio and television are going to be consumed without immersing yourself in it. Without question, big changes are on the horizon, and by understanding early what they are, you will be able to capitalize and thrive.

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