Big 2013 Consumer Electronics Show: Big Implications for Radio

| January 11, 2013

By Holland Cooke
News/Talk/Sports Consultant

LAS VEGAS — Remember how iPod changed the way we collect and consume music? Decades earlier, Walkman had already rendered songs portable and empowered the listener-as-DJ. Then Apple obsoleted its own game-changer. As lines snaked around the block, again, for 2012’s iPhone 5 debut, sales of iPod and other mp3 players were plummeting 22%. We now tote our tunes on smartphones…which have also disrupted cameras, GPS, etc., etc., etc.

And again this week, 150,000 attendees here oooh’d-and-ahhh’d at 20,000 new products, many seeking to obsolete last year’s 20,000 shiny objects. That alone makes this a useful trek for radio folk. The CES conversation about what’s-new/what’s-next is a real pump-up compared to the “What’s left?” that haunts too much of radio’s shop talk.

Three radio stories were conspicuous in the 31-football-field-size CES Exhibit Hall.

While Apple stays mum about the iPhone’s long-rumored sleeper FM chip, Sprint announced that it will prioritize radio receiver apps in phones it will introduce later this year. That’s welcome news to AM/FM stations, because it puts radio back in the pocket; and, hopefully, other carriers’ phones will follow along.

But radio never left the dashboard. Now, as Jetsons-looking consoles evolve, automakers are welcoming third-party apps. Congratulations to rock radio consultant Fred Jacobs, whose jacAPPS division has been customizing smartphone apps for stations for several years now, and was among vendors Ford announced as approved developers. Giving radio a second button can’t hurt…IF what we’re programming is sufficiently compelling to make drivers push our button to begin with…especially now that it’s alongside so many other buttons.

And here’s HD Radio, “available in more new cars than ever!” But what is it? Keeping the main transmitter channel relevant and useful and habit-forming is increasingly daunting as ongoing cutbacks limit stations’ ability to produce the local content that will always be broadcasters’ silver bullet. That’s the “What’s left?” conversation we need to confront.

“Can you hear me now?”

Increasingly, you cannot. More of the world’s people now have mobile phones than have running water, we were told. And we’re all suffering with what FCC chairman Julius Genachowski calls “the Wi-Fi traffic jam.” He told an overflow session, “I’m really pleased that we’ve focused the agency on broadband.”

Less enthused, some in the broadcasting industry remain wary of the coming Spectrum Auctions, in which television stations may volunteer to surrender their over-the-air-channel, for one-time mega-bucks, so those airwaves can be repurposed to support our mushrooming wireless needs.

Even after TV’s Digital Transition made antennas cool again, so many of us watch stations via cable and dish that “stations” could continue without transmitters…IF “what’s left” stands out among gazillions of other choices viewers graze on the “connected TV” we saw displayed at CES.

Now that “channels” include Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube, sorting it all out gets complicated. So the LG “Magic Remote” we saw now has voice recognition. Speak the name of a show or movie or actor or director, and you’ll see a list of choices. Watch this: “Scarlett Johansson.” But seriously…

Radio makes it real, but that’s not enough.

Big thinkers speaking at CES call this “the post-PC era.” Apps have replaced software, on that-everything-thing-in-your-pocket we-used-to-call “a phone.” It’s always-on, always-connected, and increasingly personalized. And it’s not just a receiver. It’s a transmitter, and that makes everyone a publisher.

If you weren’t following my Tweets @HollandCooke, they’re still there, and I published them all via iPhone. If you didn’t hear my daily radio reports on 800+ stations, they’re archived at HollandCooke.com, and I did ‘em all on the $299 netbook I’m writing this on in the CES Press Room.

And a crowded, noisy Press Room it is. Only about half here are speaking English, and all are publishing. Anyone can, regardless of whether or not anyone consumes it. At least I knew someone heard me, because some of the stations I work with sold sponsorships. Like my work, others’ reports are also still “out there…” somewhere. As all this stuff piles up, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

In one session I attended, maverick NBA owner and media mogul Mark Cuban declared, “I don’t do meetings and I don’t talk on the phone. Unless you’re writing me a check, I only do email.” Fellow panelist – Ford Motor Company “futurist” Sheryl Connelly – called our modern over-abundance “feature fatigue.” She says, “Digital devices were sold to us on the basis that they would save us time, but they steal our time.” Still, she figures that technology can also cure info-overload, by letting consumers curate. We filter, to only see, hear, and read what we choose.

Because licensed transmitters now compete with so many other platforms, any TV station confident enough that its content is THAT special can forego the transmitter. But even with transmitters making radio “real,” people will filter it out unless it’s real special, no matter how many dashboard buttons we get.

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See/hear/read more from consultant Holland Cooke at www.HollandCooke.com; and follow HC on Twitter @HollandCooke.

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Category: Analysis