Entertainment in the age of self-driving cars

Entertainment in the age of self-driving cars
Credit: Google

In today’s world where our entertainment options have arrived at AR/VR headsets and an overabundance of on-demand TV options, one seemingly antiquated form of entertainment media still lives on— the radio. But despite the gamut of headlines reiterating the “death of the radio,” in 2015, 91% of Americans over the age of 12 had listened to traditional AM/FM terrestrial radio in the past week. 

It may be difficult to wrap your head around for some (especially millennials), but this statistic makes sense of it: according to a 2016 study, 90% of car commuters listen to the radio, beating out CDs, digital music files, and streaming internet radio like Pandora and Spotify.

The radio has been part of the car since the first Chevrolet Radio Sedan in 1922. Almost 100 years later, the radio is still the most popular form of entertainment in the car. Radio’s popularity is attributed to two of its features: it takes almost no effort to turn on/off and doesn’t require much attention span usage when you’re occupied with driving. Thus, nothing has been able to replace radio’s popularity in the car.

However, with the advent of self-driving cars, radio is about to lose its survival crutch, the current car as we know it. Think about it, when was the last time you listened to the radio outside of a car? Without the need to keep eyes and attention on the road, we open ourselves up entertainment options beyond radio. As the result of self-driving cars, car entertainment content is about to shift away from radio for the first time in almost 100 years

Today, if you look around on any subway or train, there’s easily a large mix of music, TV, movies, games, ebooks, social media, etc. Entertainment on transportation systems is typically more diverse than entertainment at set locations (homes, offices) because different travel times call for different entertainment forms. For example, somebody on a 30-minute subway ride is more likely to watch a 20-minute TV episode than somebody on a 5-minute ride. This kind of diversity of entertainment content that we already see on public transportation will hit self driving cars.

But there’s a key difference between self-driving cars and public transportation— self driving cars are closed ecosystems. Unlike the communal, open ecosystem of public transportation, cars have always been personal, closed ecosystems. We’ve always felt comfortable playing music and conducting phone conversation as loudly as we want inside our cars; the same can’t be said for public transportation. The privacy and personalization of a car is actually similar to that of a home, which is also a closed ecosystem.

Thus, it makes sense that by the end of this year, Ford cars will have the Amazon Echo, and Mercedes Benz and Hyundai also have the same plan for the near future. It’s fitting that the personal, closed ecosystem is outfitted with a personal, closed AI voice system. Going down this trajectory, we’re on the way to set up entertainment inside self-driving cars as personal as in a home and as diverse as on public transportation.

So then what will happen to traditional AM/FM terrestrial radio as we move into self-driving cars? It’s likely to give way to other audio entertainment like podcasts and audiobooks, further diversifying in-car entertainment. Podcasts have been growing in popularity: between 2006 and 2016, the percentage of Americans age 12+ who have listened to a podcast grew from 11% to 36%. Not to mention the affluent first adopters of self-driving cars are also likely to be the same affluent avid listeners of podcasts. Likewise, audiobook growth is at around 20 to 30 percent per year. Essentially, audio entertainment in-car will evolve from nonspecific broadcast radio to more personalized and focused/niche content.

There’s much to believe that self-driving cars will shift the entertainment inside our of cars. But more importantly, self-driving cars represent an exciting opportunity for us to innovate and reimagine entertainment inside a new ecosystem.

This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.

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