Fred Jacobs

INTERVIEW: Fred Jacobs and the DASH conference

Friday, October 4, 2013 - 10:30am

The connected car, built with a digital dashboard and Internet-delivered audio, is an increasingly vital touchstone for both broadcast radio and Internet radio. With that in mind, research and consulting firm Jacobs Media is hosting DASH: The Connected Car AudioTainment(™) Conference, scheduled for October 23 and 24 in Detroit, where the company is located. (See the DASH site here; the conference agenda is here.)

DASH is a deep dive -- a day-and-a-half conference devoted to the present and future of infotainment in the car. The event seeks to bring together many sectors which are converging in the space for a comprehensive discussion of how different influencers are shaping the future of car radio.

RAIN spoke with Jacobs Media president Fred Jacobs, to discuss the vision of his DASH conference.

RAIN: How did the DASH conference come to be?

FJ: The idea was to put together a mash-up of constituencies that are critically important to the conversation -- OEMs, tier-1s, advertising agencies in the automotive space, and car dealers. And of course radio people. There are a lot of moving parts. The challenge was to put together a conference that touches on all these different flavors.

To us, it’s simple. When you think about the role the car plays in the overall health and welfare of the radio business, it comes down to two things. First, the lion’s share of listening to broadcast radio takes place behind the wheel. Second, automotive is the largest category of revenue generation for most radio stations. So we thought: Let’s design a conference solely dedicated to the connected car.

Another genesis of this was the Consumer Electronics Show. A few years ago, Alan Mulally of Ford presented one of the keynotes. The automakers are excited about the [connected car] space. At many of [the tech-oriented conferences], radio is MIA. Pandora is there, satellite is there. We felt that radio needed to figure out that this space is critically important, and radio needs to be there.

RAIN: Radio has the most to lose in a big disruption taking place in the car. If radio is behind the curve, what do you think is the future of AM/FM in the car?

FJ: AM/FM is always going to be there. But broadcast radio outlets have to rethink their strategic position. For the most part, radio stations have been in competition with other stations down the dial for ratings and revenue. Part of what DASH is all about is to help open up their points of view to begin to see that they’re competing on a much grander scale.

You might think, ‘We have time.’ I think that would be a mistake. The radio industry needs to engage with the space, we need to get involved, deepen our relationships with the car companies -- they really do represent a large part of our future. We need to engage with them and let them know that broadcast radio always has been, and always needs to be, an important element of what is rolling off these assembly lines. We’re hoping that this event really helps deepen the relationship.

RAIN: In your “Connected Car” Super Session at the Radio Show in Orlando last month, you and Roger Lanctot showed videos of prospective car buyers grappling with the challenge of turning on the radio in digital dashboards. You also predicted that by 2017, all cars would be knob-free. Are those videos a warning to car companies?

FJ: They are. It’s very Wild West out there. The car companies are all moving in different directions. None of these systems talk to each other. The OEMs feel that what they’re developing is the right way for them. It’s every company for itself. They’re all doing extensive research to figure out what the consumer wants, but it’s still pretty embryonic. Those videos really show that.

Of course, they also showed people who hadn’t had any orientation. But there’s some logic there. If we handed somebody an iPhone, who had never seen one before, chances are pretty good that, after playing with it for a couple of minutes, they’d be able to make a phone call or send a text. And that is typically not the case in [the digital dashboard] space. So [the car companies] have a long way to go here.

RAIN: One of the sessions at DASH represents car dealers.

FJ: I’m really excited about the car dealer session. They’re the ones who are charged with training customers to figure out how this works. It’s the local car dealer you go to when you’re having a problem with your system. They’re hiring specialists, they’re doing classes on Saturday -- it really has changed the nature of the dealership.

The other piece is the way car dealers and their ad agencies are looking to buy local media to build their brands. There is change happening at the dealership level. We think it’s important that DASH represent the car dealer.

RAIN: If AM/FM has the most to lose, pureplays have the most to gain.

FJ: Absolutely right. It’s important that they be there. Pandora jumped right in. We’ve got TuneIn and iHeart. I like the idea of bringing in lots of different players and turning them loose. You’re going to meet people and talk to people that you don’t normally see at conferences. At last count we’ve got 45 speakers -- paneling, moderating, keynoting, participating onstage. It’s a 360-degree view of the connected car. Our feeling is that our attendees will return from this conference with a much deeper understanding of what’s going on.

RAIN: What do you hope will be advanced during the DASH conference?

FJ: The goal is to bring these segments together at one conference, let people work together, talk to each other. The auto companies all understand the value of broadcast radio. They don’t need to be convinced that it’s viable. Broadcast radio needs to show that we care, are engaged, and understand the importance of the space.

What we also hope comes out of this conference is a greater realization of what broadcast radio’s true value is, as content providers. When you talk to automotive people about what broadcast brings to the table, they talk about local, they talk about personality, they talk about community. Yet, at times, [radio] has gotten away from those values. When it comes to the connected car, broadcast radio needs to redefine its value proposition, in an environment where there is increased competition, and commit to its unique differentiating elements. That is long overdue. We believe a conference like this can help accelerate that thinking.

I really think that no matter what your place in radio is, there is absolutely going to be something here for you. Personally, I hope that I have an opportunity to catch my breath, sit in the seats, and take some notes!

Fred Jacobs and Roger Lanctot illuminate the mysteries of Net-connected cars at The Radio Show

Friday, September 20, 2013 - 9:10am

It is an oft-repeated platitude that AM/FM will never be outcast from digitally empowered cars of the future. That might be true, given broadcast’s stalwart advantages of locality, simplicity, and ubiquity. Even accepting that premise, though, doesn’t address questions of form. What will AM/FM look like on the dashboard of a 2020 model-year car? How will it be operated?

Fred Jacobs (Jacobs Media) and Roger Lanctot (Strategy Analytics) took a swing at imagining the future by documenting digitally advanced versions of the present in their joint presentation, “Radio and the Connected Car,” at The Radio Show in Orlando. A highlight of the 45-minute multimedia session was a segment of consumer-testing videos staged in cars with digital dashboards. (That is to say, dashboards with infotainment display screens controlled by touch or voice.) In each of the four clips, a subject was given one task while sitting in the driver’s seat: “Find your local radio station.”

The setup foretold some amusement, and indeed, the audience tittered as test subjects helplessly swiped, scrolled, and called out commands in their attempts to simply turn on the radio. The tests did not represent actual new-car ownership, which in 2013 is supported by dashboard training at the dealership, but the point was less about the intrinsic value of sophisticated dashboard control than about the likely disappearance of push-button radio … and with it, the simplicity and naturalness which encourage broadcast listening.

One couldn’t help noticing, in the close-up views of four distinct dashboard systems, how divergent were the OEM approaches. One featured voice-based command-and-response, and another spotlighted Tesla’s vertically oriented 17-inch touch screen.

The operating systems powering these control platforms (and struggling to turn on the radio) differed from each other far more than Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android mobile platforms do. Even throwing Windows 8 into the comparison, the car companies seem to be widening the chasm that separates drivers from a standard set of infotainment control features. If a unifying standard would coalesce this still-nascent product field, reduce development cost in the industry, and help consumers (of both new cars and rentals) get a grip on, well, turning on the radio -- that outlook seems like a receding vision.

Whether OEMs take many paths forward or few, Jacobs and Lanctot believe that the future will arrive in four to seven years. Their specific predictions? 140-million connected cars in 2017. (This means some kind of link to the internet and IP-delivered audio.) Universal plug-and-play in cars by 2020 -- in other words, Bluetooth or USB connections. (Their prognosis for the aux-in plug is grim: it’s on the way out.) And finally, in 2017, Jacobs and Lanctot claim that all cars will be knob-free. Or knob-deprived, depending on how facile you are with voice commands and 17-inch screens.

[On a side note, congratulations to Fred and Paul Jacobs and all our friends and colleagues at Jacobs Media, which this week marked 30 years in the business. With the Classic Rock format, audience research like its annual TechSurvey, and the birth of its jacAPPS mobile apps division, Jacobs Media has left its mark, and continues to do so, on our industry. Bravo!]

Saga's elimination of ad-insertion will help costs and quality, say observers, but more needed to compete online

Friday, August 24, 2012 - 12:35pm

SagaEarlier this week, Saga Communications announced it would no longer substitute "online only" content for the on-air ads on its station's Internet streams (RAIN coverage here). Saga EVP Warren Lada said he's not worried about losing streaming inventory because it's really not that profitable compared to other areas.

Radio Ink editor Ed Ryan reports other broadcasters may be leaning in the same direction. He writes (here), "While broadcasters know they need to be everywhere consumers want them to be, losing gobs of money to be there is not something they signed up for... When you tack on the cost of the technology paid out to make ad-insertion a part of a radio station stream, it adds to the financial headache."

And besides the costs, there's the subpar experience for the listener to consider. "Nothing sounds worse than 7 minutes of Public Service Announcements in a row."

Nothing, perhaps, except 7 minutes of ads, argues Angel Street Capital's Bob Maccini. Especially when compared with the offerings from pureplay competitors.

"This movement if successful will sound the death knell for terrestrial stations that are streaming," Maccini writes on the Angel Street Capital blog. "Given the other Internet radio listening options consumers will not choose to listen to a stream that is running 10-14 ad units an hour complete with some 60 second spots... Stopping ad insertion may save a few shekels in the short run but long term it will have more significant costs."

Instead, Maccini suggests (here) "rather than inserting PSAs and other filler content that music stations insert songs."

Audio Graphics' Ken Dardis agrees that just "regurgitating" over-the-air signals online won't work. "Radio's place online is to use what the Internet offers to expand limitations of over-the-air content. NPR does this in a remarkably successful way. So why do we not hear it being done by commercial radio industry groups?"

Online radioHe continues (here), "The radio industry belongs online, just not in the way it presents itself over-the-air."

Jacobs Media's Fred Jacobs appreciates Saga's move in that it should help improve the overall quality of its streams. "Radio streams uniformly sound like crap," he writes. "PSAs, bad music, comedy cuts, crickets, and other interstitial material has made the customer experience on radio streams a nightmare."

But he also argues, like Dardis and Maccini, that radio's digital product shouldn't just be a clone of its over-the-air signal. Web efforts required a dedicated team. "Treat digital revenue as a separate business and hire reps with digital sales experience."

Jacobs continues, "it’s time to realistically assess what’s working and what’s not. Radio needs to come to grips with the fact that in many situations, traditional radio salespeople cannot take on this effort, and that digital selling doesn’t cannibalize the traditional spot sales effort."

You can find more of Jacobs' thoughts on Jacobs Media's jacoBLOG here and here.

In-car tech development may soon speed up as prices "continue to drop" for consumers; radio should take note

Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - 12:00pm

Tesla Model SFor the past few years, the tech world -- much like the Internet radio industry -- has been focused on mobile. From touchscreens to apps to voice command systems, "the hottest tech" has been on our phones, GigaOM writes. "But that may be about to change...our vehicles have a brighter future. The chip industry is betting on automotive in a big way."

As RAIN readers will know, many new cars already offer somewhat easy access to web radio services. Ford, GM, Toyota, Honda, BMW and others all offer in-dash apps for Pandora, iHeartRadio, Slacker, TuneIn and other web radio services.

But development in auto tech may accelerate. Companies like Nvidia, Texas Instruments and others are building new processors for cars to run more apps and offer more functionality on dashboards, GigaOM reports. Such developments are driven in part by "steadily rising" revenue derived from putting new entertainment and connectivity technology into cars.

"In the next year or two we’re going to see cars with services that redefine technology," GigaOM comments.

But connecting to the web may be a problem. Most car systems now rely on smartphones, but others take a different approach. The Tesla Model S (pictured above), for example, connects directly to the web -- no smartphone required. It will also come with TuneIn's web radio directory built in to the dashboard's whopping 17" touchscreen (and also happens to be TuneIn's 200th distribution platform).

Still, such systems -- regardless of how they get online -- run into the same issues of data costs and network capacity. While "the jury is still out" on such issues, GigaOM writes (here), "it's clearly a platform of interest to carriers."

Toyota EntuneCompanies like Livio are looking to make it easier for carmakers to adopt and include web radio technology in dashboards. Livio has just announced it has joined the GENIVI alliance, a Linux-based infotainment platform used by automakers as "a common framework" (more here).

For consumers though, access to such digital connectivity is getting cheaper. "The price of entry continues to drop," writes Jacobs Media president Fred Jacobs. He points (here) to the sub-$18,000 Ford Fiesta (equipped with Sync) and the $27,000 Toyota Tacoma (with Entune, pictured left) as examples.

"The automakers and the after-market manufacturers are looking for ways to make the digital dashboard a cheap, easy entry point." And, as Jacobs has found in his own Techsurveys, "about one-fifth of those who have vehicles equipped with these systems [like Sync and Entune] indicate they are listening to less broadcast radio as a result."

"It all points to the need for broadcast radio to do what it does best – serve local communities with programming and personalities that you just can’t get anywhere else with a great consumer experience."

Research from comScore finds 27% of mobile subscribers have listened to music on their devices

Thursday, July 5, 2012 - 12:50pm

comScore's research, with key findings highlighted by Fred JacobsSmartphone-wielding folks now use apps more than mobile web browsers. So found comScore in a new study, which also discovered that growth in mobile music listening outpaced other activities like playing games or using apps in general.

More than half of mobile subscribers (51.1%) said they used apps, compared to 49.8% who said they used the web browser, according to comScore. App usage grew 1.6% from the three month period ending February 2012 to the three month period ending May 2012.

That growth was surpassed by the usage of music services on mobile devices, which increased 2.2% over the same time period. Now 27% of mobile subscribers say they've listened to music on their device. 

"All of this spells opportunity for big radio brands and smart broadcasters, most of whom have plans and strategies in place for mobile presence," writes Jacobs Media president Fred Jacobs in his jacoBlog (here). "Our stations can be in the starting lineup of the greatest tech game of all time."

TechCrunch has more coverage of comScore's findings here.

Jacobs Media Techsurvey8 finds Pandora a favorite while smartphone, tablet ownership growing

Monday, April 30, 2012 - 11:40am

Jacobs Media's Techsurvey8Nearly 4 in 10 of "core radio listeners" stream Internet radio weekly, according to Jacobs Media's new Techsurvey8. "The high-tech revolution continues," notes the company, pointing out that nearly half of respondents can listen to their smartphones in cars, a quarter own a tablet and more than half begin their day with media and gadgets other than radio.

Jacobs Media says 45% of "streamies" listen to Pandora to some extent, compared to 19% for iHeartRadio, 7% for Spotify, 7% for TuneIn and 5% for Slacker. (Interestingly, 49% of Pandora users said they don't consider the service "radio"... a classification that apprently hasn't stopped them from using Pandora).

Additionally, nearly half of respondents said they can connect a smartphone or mp3 player to their car stereo. And 9% already own a web-friendly dashboard system like Ford's Sync. "The car is becoming a major battleground for radio," Jacobs Media writes.

They also point out that 57% of respondents start their day with media or gadgets other than radio (like TV, email, Facebook, newspapers or other websites). Indeed, 52% of respondents said they own a smartphone, 24% a tablet and 79% are on Facebook.

Among so much competition, why does AM/FM remain important in consumers' lives? According to respondents: "Favorite songs," local personalities, easy access to a radio at work, radio's mood-lifting abilities, a feeling of companionship and an "escape" from everyday life.

"The data from Techsurvey8 strongly suggest that focusing on connecting emotionally and meaningfully with listeners is radio's best avenue toward remaining relevant and vibrant in the face of new digital competition," said Jacobs Media president Fred Jacobs.

This is the 8th edition of Jacobs' annual tech study, but the first survey to include radio listeners of 12 different radio formats. In the past, Techsurveys were focused on rock radio listeners.

The results were presented at the recent Worldwide Radio Summit, where Fred Jacobs was named "Consultant of the Year" (more info here).

You can find more on Techsurvey8 from Jacobs Media here and the company's full infographic here.

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