Why self driving cars might be the death of commercial radio.

Commercial radio* may struggle more in the not so distant future and one of the causes will be self driving cars. Why? The drive to work is an important part of the radio ecosystem – it’s the one place where it still has an almost 100% install base. Importantly radio is a legal form of in-car entertainment (even though research has shown Radio is a contributor to distracted driving accidents).

Around 33% of all radio is listened to in the car but in the future consumer behaviour inside vehicles could see a pendulum change. Various analysts predict that by 2050 all cars will be driverless (with the exception of designated zones or specific roads). Road safety, environment and congestion benefits will be the catalysts of change.The new family transporter vehicle will be a completely different environment. Think about a moving lounge that takes you to your destination. Comfy seats facing inwards, no seat belts (you don’t need them if cars don’t crash anymore), big TV/PC, fridge and other home comforts. In this new moving room, radio as a medium loses its stranglehold – other forms of entertainment are free to compete.

It will inevitably face stiff competition from others offering much richer in car entertainment that may be tough to compete with in 2050. The listener numbers will decline without doubt – the only question is by how much but this may also depend on what else is on offer by 2050. Certain death? No, because there are many other instances where we listen as we perform other activities. I think commercial radio will exist in various forms but probably not at the same scale we have today. Non-commercial radio can rest a little longer (see note below).

Perhaps this vision of the car from around 1960 is not so far from the truth…

Ad Circa 1950

Ad Circa 1950

*Note Commercial Radio defined as being radio stations that exist to serve audible content on a commercial basis. Non commercial radio also serves a wider purpose (vision impaired listeners, religious faith radio, language, local community etc). Because of the utility benefit, non commercially funded radio will continue to exist until the need for radio is superseded (eg: a 100% cure for blindness is available to all).

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