Developers have always felt the tension of innovation: torn between the possibilities of cutting-edge tech, and the benefits of developing for a mature platform.
But National Association of Broadcasters CTO Sam Matheny says revolutionary new hardware and exploding mobile data networks offer broadcasters and developers the chance to start a "virtuous cycle"—a win-win scenario that makes trusted, high-quality broadcast content a key driver for mobile app and hardware sales.
As Ford's Scott Burnell told NAB members at their annual Radio Show Luncheon, those innovations and opportunities are coming together in what could be the "new living room": the connected car.
After decades of AM/FM radio and NTSC TV, over the last 10 years consumers have experienced an explosion of broadcast technology. From satellite radio and HD flatscreens, to HD Radio and 4K UHD smart TVs, the quality and features offered to users has grown astronomically. Over the same period, smartphones have opened new worlds of social and streaming apps, revolutionizing the way people get their information and entertainment. As mobile apps and IoT technology converge inside the connected car, the rate of change is thrillingly fast—and getting faster.
Yet according to Nielsen figures provided by NAB, 265 million Americans over age five regularly listen to AM/FM radio. That's 93 percent of the U.S. population!
When it comes to choosing between the massive legacy audience and exciting new tech, though, "It's not an either/or decision; it's a both/and," Matheny told the Ford Developer Blog. "We think that this rate of change really presents lots of opportunities for broadcasters to open up their relationships with their audiences and their communities."
Hundreds of millions of people regularly listen to over-the-air radio, including 93 percent of millennials at an average rate of 11 hours a week. It's still the No. 1 way people discover new music. The audience is there, the hardware is there, and AppLink gives broadcasters and developers a platform linking the two.
"The opportunity is tremendous, but it's not one in isolation," Matheny said. "Yes, of course, we would love to have radio apps, be that iHeart, or NextRadio or individual station-branded apps in the automobile. But to me, that would just be the beginning. Where I begin to really get excited, and what our members are getting excited about, is when they begin to wrap their heads around something like AppLink."
Radio broadcasters have always sought to maximize audience interactivity—from fielding listener requests and sponsorship giveaways, to call-in talk shows driven by user-generated content. With SYNC3, AppLink and the Ford Developer the opportunities for broadcasters and developers to create customized, compelling user experiences are unprecedented.
Matheny outlined the problem broadcasters are facing as they try to maximize these opportunities—the same problems facing developers on the cutting edge of the mobile space: Can they afford to iterate solutions across many different proprietary ecosystems? Where do they invest development resources? Where do they place their bets?
"We're really excited by the idea of SmartDeviceLink," Matheny said, referring to the open-source platform on which AppLink is built. "Now, as the developer community works with radio as part of their solution stack, you can develop something that can potentially play across several different car lines. That's a big checkmark, because that gets scale and it enables people to feel like, 'this has enough legs that I can invest here."
But AppLink and SDL offer broadcasters far more than just an open-source platform that ports radio apps across many different makers and models.
"Radio doesn't have to just be radio," Matheny said. "How do you take that experience, and know you have connectivity into the car and think, 'What else can I do with that? How can I create a better, more rich experience?'
"Maybe it's one that's personalized," Matheny continued. "Is it raining? Are the headlights on? Is the fuel almost empty? You may have access to other data, like if the person is a Starbucks drinker and whether there's one around the corner. There are all sorts of different opportunities that combine themselves."
Software that marries high-quality broadcast content, an enormous user base, unprecedented audience engagement and cutting-edge streaming technologies will drive Americans' information and entertainment consumption habits for years to come.
To be a part of it all, sign up for the Ford Developer Program and start learning how SYNC3 and AppLink are already shaping the future (and present) of digital media!