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The Digital Dash – How Big a Threat?

October 17, 2013

Much has been discussed about the digital dashboard that is now appearing in many new cars. Several industry experts have made statements that have been misinterpreted that the radio will disappear from the car dash. While there are no plans for this to happen, radio’s monopoly on the dashboard is eroding. How we, as broadcasters, react to this competitive threat is important.

Yes, many new cars offer more entertainment options than older models. However, in my humble opinion, many broadcasters are overreacting to the new audio options offered in new cars.

If you listen to some broadcasters, the digital option is the reason why people are purchasing a new car. Clearly, when a consumer is car shopping, they are looking at more than just the audio system. I believe they are more concerned about items like size, style, reliability, gas mileage, and other typical automotive features besides the availability of Pandora or other audio services. A good digital dash is a nice feature, but not a game changer. Many believe that Cadillac presently has a leading edge on the digital dash. However, their sales are trailing most other car makers.

As a broadcaster who just bought a new car, I was keenly aware of the push for this digital dash. After visiting several showrooms, very few salespeople brought this up as an option. Even when I asked about it, their answer was a matter of fact. Yes, the car I bought has satellite, Pandora (through my smartphone), and several other audio options. However, AM and FM radio remain holding a prominent place on this system.

So what does this all mean? Motorola was started in 1930 by installing a phonograph in cars. Radio has survived the 8-track tapes, cassettes, and CDs in the car. It will survive the new entertainment in the car as long as we focus on delivering a quality product. It’s true that the digital dash is offering new car buyers even more options. However, if done properly, local radio can remain the leader for in-car entertainment.

To do this, we as broadcasters must do what we have always done: deliver compelling content to the local community we serve. The hill we have always owned, the car, is becoming more competitive. However, by serving the public, radio will remain an integral part of in-car entertainment.

-Charlie Sislen, Partner