Nearly 40% of smartphone owners have used their device to listen to a streaming music service while in their car, according to new research by NPD Group on automotive connectivity. Devices and ways to connect them have become a serious focus for the auto industry. 79% of car owners are using a digital device in their cars.
It appears at this point that streaming in the car is used to supplement listening to traditional radio – according to NPD’s Ben Arnold, seventy three percent of drivers report still using their FM radio “always” or “most of the time” during car trips while more than half (57 percent) of vehicle owners say a CD player is vital in their decision to buy a car stereo or entertainment system.
The desire to consume connected content is a challenge for the auto industry as well – as they focus on best ways to integrate mobile connectivity into the car with minimal driver distraction. Apple’s voice controlled Siri and Microsoft’s motion controlled product found in Kinect are technologies that automakers are looking to integrate into the equation.
Meanwhile, in place of smooth integration, consumers are finding ways to connect their mobile devices using auxillary inputs (18%), USB ports (11%), and Bluetooth technology (56%). This fact – that consumers are so interested in developing workaround ways to use their connected devices in their cars, is a huge indicator of the desirability for a more connected dashboard.
“The key is for auto makers and traditional audio manufacturers to facilitate consumer use of connected devices in the vehicle, allowing content from the smartphone, tablet, or digital media player to easily stream or be controlled through the deck mounted in the dashboard,” Arnold said. “We’re only going to see greater consumer attachment to social media, streaming audio and video, and other services as content options grow.”
Not to be outdone by recent enhancements by Spotify and Pandora, Last.fm has rolled out a new interface for Last.fm Discover that is easily the best looking offering I’ve seen by a streaming station. It’s based on HTML5 and was developed in tandem with Microsoft to showcase the new capabilities that HTML5 in Internet Explorer 9 can offer.
Last.fm Discover is a customizable, personalizable offering that focuses on new music and artists. Launched a few months ago, the offerings are influenced by Last.fm’s charts of what listeners are scrobbling and listening to on Last.fm.
The site is very playful and inviting – perfectly suited to the Discover theme – rolling green textured hills invite you to explore the various music genres. It’s a fun and inventive look that feels more like a game – listeners can’t help but poke around, relax, hang out and discover new music. Once you select a genre, it shows you some artists and endless options for listening to similar artists, or taking a new direction. It’s addictive – I found it hard to stop clicking. (The screenshot reveals my affection for K pop..)
While much of the new site can be seen in any browser, the experience is enhanced in Internet Explorer 9. In fact, I’m a Chrome user and this got me to open IE for the first time in a while. “What we want is to see more and more websites using as much of HTML5 as possible and one of the reasons for that is we want websites to be more like apps in the way they feel,” explained Ian Moulster Microsoft product manager.
I really like this new development – I think they’ve done a great job of breaking the mold when it comes to streaming station interfaces, developing a look that matches the station’s theme of discovery. So we’ll see if it gets Last.fm a little more traction in terms of listening. Last.fm has been surprisingly stagnant in terms of audience growth and general awareness here in the US compared to Pandora and Spotify.
Guvera, the on-demand service that recently launched here in the US, has gotten some early traction with big national advertisers who like the streaming services idea of building streaming channels of music around a brand.
According to a report last week, advertisers in the US include Victoria’s Secret, Microsoft, Sprint, Mastercard, Geico and H&M, all of whom have dedicated channels. Guvera Founder Claes Loberg explains that listeners are “brand loyal, taking the time to select a brand and interact with the individual channels to download their free music.” They are logging long periods of sponsor engagement double digit click through rates as well.
Guvera hails from Australia, started streaming in the US in March and is still working out licensing deals with some of the record companies. Their song library currently includes EMI Music Group’s labels; EMI, Virgin, Capitol Music, Bluenote, Mute and Domino. The website informs us that they’re hoping to add Universal Music Group, IODA and several independent labels in June and July. They are reporting 75,000 users across Australia and the US, with roughly 40,000 coming from Down Under. About 3-5,000 are joining weekly.
I like the approach this station is taking. They set out to distinguish their ad model from the beginning, emphasizing that they weren’t selling impressions but were focused on brand engagement by working with brands to create channel sponsorships. Apparently, some big brands think it sounds like a good idea as well.
Big news for HD Radio this week is that it’s available on iPhone. While the HD Radio app for iPhone is free, listening requires the purchase a Gigaware HD Radio receiver accessory, which costs $80 and is only available at Radio Shack.
In this interview with wsj.com, iBiquity chief executive Bob Struble mentions that first HD Radio went portable with Microsoft’s Zune, and now extends its mobile offerings to Apple’s incredibly popular iPhone. In addition to being able to listen to your favorite stations digitally, the app enables you to tag songs that you hear and like for future purchase.
HD is simply a brand name for the digital upgrade to AM and FM, says Struble. AM/FM is the last analog medium in the US, and HD is the digital version of those offerings.
The question is, will listeners adopt the new HD technology and move to HD devices and listening, or will they shift directly to an alternative like Internet radio? Streaming Pandora, for example, is free for everyone on iPhone. The reason to purchase the HD Radio iPhone accessory, according to Struble, is that it will allow listening to HD Radio stations on your iPhone even when you don’t have a wifi connection. (but your purchase of the iPhone required you to pay for a monthly data plan that gives you unlimited broadband…)
He hopes they will convince Apple to build HD Radio receivers directly into iPhones and iPod Touch devices, which would eliminate the need for additional hardware. It sounds far fetched to me, but a while back I was betting against FM on iPhones…