Steve Goldstein: Six Important Takeaways About Audio From CES

Steve Goldstein was EVP of Saga Communications for nearly three decades. He left Saga last year to start Amplifi, a new podcast company. This column was originally published on Blogstein, the Amplifi blog.

CES is an overwhelming spectacle of 170,000 people, and an array of robotic dogs, hoverboards, drones, 4G TV’s, refrigerators that can talk, start-up companies, health apps and connected clothes (yes, a huge Under Armour display).  Here are a few distilled thoughts that pertain to audio and how it will be consumed in the near future.

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These demo cars are all equipped with Mobileye technology and won’t run into one another.

The autonomous car is coming, but not yet.  It is sexy, fascinating and a bit scary thinking about a car navigating traffic and passengers free to read, write, listen, watch or whatever. Auto companies are imagining a new driver experience – seats that swivel, video systems, etc.  We spoke with a scientist designing BMW cars and everything is on the table in terms of design. However, it is all in prototype at the moment with a hope to put cars on the road before the decade is out.

In addition to self-driving cars, the electric car is much closer to mass appeal. GM announced The Bolt EV, an electric car priced at $30,000.  Ford announced $4.5 billion to develop electric vehicle technology.  Toyota announced $1 billion toward self-driving vehicles.

sg ces 02Connected Car is here – GM, Ford, Chrysler, Audi, Toyota and others are selling 2016 cars with tremendous connective options. AM/FM radio’s wide-moat in the car is under attack from Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and each car company has their own system. This is not some Jetson’s futuristic thing; it is here now and as with on-demand digital TV, it is a game-changer enabling greater choice.  The car companies have come a long way in a short period of time recognizing that people bring their entertainment into the car via the Smartphone and thus have to create a simple-to-use experience.  Importantly, podcasts and streamed audio move front and center with the new user interfaces while AM/FM may be 3 or 4 clicks away.

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The car companies are all in for the Connected Car

The marketing for auto companies is all about connectivity – The clear focus is on choice and control in the car – which is significant for the growth of on-demand audio.

Watching ads for cars, one can see the stress is almost entirely on entertainment options. Not a lot of talk anymore about cup holders.

I was invited to Genivi an international consortium of manufacturers focused on setting standards and options for in-car entertainment systems. There are many multi-national companies pursuing this growing and lucrative category.

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In a keynote address, General Motors CEO Mary Barra sets the GM agenda with connectivity at the top of the list.

Hi-Res audio may be a thing – In a world of distorted MP3 files and compressed radio audio, there seems to be a movement to better quality sound- high resolution audio. Driving in my car I am always amazed at the difference in fidelity between the clean sound of Sirius/XM, my own music from my iPhone and over the air radio.  Jay Z’s Tidal and Neil Young’s Ponos haven’t exactly set the world on fire with their improved audio, but nonetheless, the push was on at CES with big headphone makers drawing large crowds curious about better sound.

sg ces 05“TV has gone from corporate to consumer control” – Netflix CEO Reed Hastings on the remarkable ascension of Netflix – The internet has “given people what they have always wanted, to watch what they want, when they want” vs traditional linear TV “where you have to be ready at 8pm in the evening.”  Read my previous blog post for more on this critically important change from legacy media to digital media.   

Digital video is on track to be the dominant choice by 2020 – just four years from now – YouTube’s growth is impressive – up 60% in the past year. According to YouTube’s Chief Business Officer Robert Kyncl, more millennials are watching digital TV than linear – 1:15 minutes each day.  For the second year in-a-row, the most popular entertainers among high schoolers are not TV or movie stars, but YouTube stars. Nielsen Research reports TV time among millennials is down 9% last year, while YouTube viewership is up 48%.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings at CES

YouTube’s dominance in music streaming is significant and often overlooked with the chatter focused on Pandora and Spotify. Watching video is the number one way we spend our free time, but number two is listening to music.  YouTube is launching “Red,” a commercial-free personalized option for video and music content.  Yet another source for audio.

On-demand options are growing rapidly for video and audio.  That was a dominant theme at CES and an irrefutable trend.


Steve Goldstein

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