Moving The Needle

How Radioplayer is influencing in-car entertainment

Radioplayer yesterday announced a partnership with BMW.

In the press release is this line:

The partnership will see BMW Group using official broadcaster metadata from Radioplayer’s Worldwide Radioplayer API (WRAPI) to help create a brilliant radio interface.

It seems quite innocuous, but it’s something that’s hugely powerful.

Radio is the legacy occupant of the car. It’s been the key to in-car entertainment since 1924, when Kelly’s Motors in New South Wales, Australia installed the first car set. In the 1930s if you wanted an after-fit in your shiny new Ford Model A, you’d be paying $540 for the car, and another $130 for the radio.

Having had a place in the dashboard for nearly 100 years, it’s no surprise that the radio sector hadn’t really thought much about something that delivers between 20% and 40% of its listening (depending on country).

Meanwhile lots of new entrants were busy getting themselves embedded in this environment. Spotify, Apple Carplay, Android Auto were looking to muscle in. They also provided something that radio didn’t - a single point of contact. Who did the car industry ring if it wanted to speak to ‘radio’?

Radioplayer, initially setup in the UK as a way to fix pop up players on radio station websites, ended up amassing something incredibly useful - data. Yes, from users when they used its players - now on the web, mobile and smart-speakers - but more importantly data from radio stations themselves. Logos, streams, links, frequencies, on-demand programming, even phonemes (how to say a radio station name) - all properly sourced and regularly delivered.

This library of data had, oddly, never existed before. As Radioplayer expanded to new countries - Austria, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Canada… - it became even more valuable in the modern data-driven audio world.

For radio this means Radioplayer can deliver radio-as-a-product to, amongst others, car companies. By delivering this through a software API, it means it’s as easy for a car company to make the radio button as interactive as the Spotify one.

Helping car companies do a better job of radio is great for everyone - consumers, the car companies and the radio industry. It also makes sense that ‘radio’ does this, as they should be the best people who know what their listeners want, and how they use the medium. In fact, the quid pro quo, to coin a term, of using this data is that car companies are encouraged to follow the sector’s guidance to make a user experience that it know works.

With a direct relationship with a variety of car companies, Radioplayer’s learned what systems and platforms they’re using now, and in the future. This will allow them to provide even more services and know-how. For example, an understanding that many car companies will be using Google’s Android Automative operating system meant that they could demo an integration on it, using the Radioplayer data.

The video below shows a demo interface that combines the FM and DAB tuners in the car with an IP feed. The result? A cross-platform station list, and no issue if a listener travels outside a broadcast coverage area - they just get mapped to the internet audio feed, and back again:

Yes, there’s TuneIn and other aggregators, but do they provide the product that the radio sector (and its listeners) want? The Radioplayer model works because the sector has a stake in the project, it can provide comprehensive solutions for the car industry, but also importantly because there are now teams to talk to the Fords and Hyundais of the world.

The BMW announcement alongside an earlier agreement with VW Group means Radioplayer tech is likely to be in 1/3rd of cars that are shipped in Europe. I’m sure there will be more to come, 10 firms are responsible for nearly all cars produced.

For the radio sector, opportunities come from uniting together and turning a medium into a product. If it doesn’t there are plenty of people with products that would like to replace it.

Podcasts

Radioplayer’s succes made me think about other audio sectors. For podcasting, its open nature and the ability for anyone to start a show and make an RSS feed - all seemingly positive - could also be its weakness.

There’s plenty of apps that are building popular properties by taking all of these podcast RSS feeds, and layering on commercial services, but there is little control or direction from the content creators themselves.

As talked about previously, Apple and Spotify are just two of the companies who can be strong champions for the medium, but also bend it to its will. Will creators continue to be buffeted or will the sector evolve to do something like Radioplayer has?

There’s some interesting things happening with Podcast Index, which seems a good attempt at evolving the data in the RSS feed to provide the functions creators need, rather than those aggregators want. But can they, and the podcast sector, work together to start influencing the apps that are building their success off creator’s work?

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