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Monday, April 9, 2007

The Light at the End of the Tunnel: In-car Internet

Imagine my joy/shock when I read this week that the Internet is coming to automobiles later this year. And when it arrives it will start to change how we interact with each other and the world around us. And, oh yeah, that includes listening to the radio.

In-car Internet has been a future possibility now for several years. Bridge Ratings began projecting in-car Internet radio listening estimates back in 2004 when its arrival was still unpredictable. However, 2007 will be the year cars and tech really mesh, thanks in part to Ford's Sync, a hands-free cell phone gizmo. It will also let you control your MP3 player using voice commands. Sync will be available on about a dozen 2007 car models in the fall and, yes, it works with those 100 million iPods out there.

But this is only the beginning. Future versions of Sync will incorporate Wi-Fi so you can download your email while driving through a Net cloud and then have the system read them to you.

And there's something called Autonet Mobile that wants to turn your car into a rolling hot spot. It will allow for high-speed Internet reception and seamless data streaming; that means you can listen to Internet radio, or browse the Internet, or pick up your email without signal drop-out. It also means everyone in the car could share one connection.

You may have once heard the joke that you shouldn't always look at the light at the end of the tunnel as a good sign; after all that light might be coming at you. Well, in-car Internet radio with thousands of streaming options as well as most of your favorite terrestrial radio programming is on its way and by 2008 traditional radio will have yet another competitor.

What's terrestrial radio to do? Well, it can't do too much about this one, folks, but what it can do is step up in this battle against increases in streaming royalty rates. Traditional radio's objection to the massive increases in streaming costs has been luke-warm and timid. In fact, the loudest, most thought-provoking objections have come from National Public Radio because they understand the impact of these large increases on their business.

Once again the National Association of Broadcasters and/or whatever other lobbying group radio can put together, is failing radio. When all but the streaming initiatives of the largest radio companies will survive the many-fold cost increases proposed by the Copyright Royalty Board, radio, as an industry, will be unable to effectively compete.

Internet radio industry spokesman Kurt Hanson who knows this stuff in his sleep was recently quoted as saying, "The implications of this (rate increase) are potentially fatal for Internet radio as an industry..."

So, yes, there is something radio can and should do as the light at the end of the tunnel draws closer: it can preserve its right to distribute its content over the Internet so that it will be there when its audience arrives.

This would seem to need to be pushed to the top of radio's priority list - but will it?

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