LAS VEGAS — Hot buzzwords here at the Consumer Electronics Show are "The Internet of Things," meaning devices-talking-to-each-other; often referred to as "connected" or "smart" devices. Sensors and software in your home, even your clothing, monitor your environment and your health, and fulfill your needs.
Maybe your washing machine isn't yet auto-ordering detergent, based on how many loads you've run, but new washers already can. Amazon, Sam's Club, Target, and others are setting up subscription delivery, based on your use patterns. It's a new-tech throwback to the milkman leaving-and-retrieving bottles from your grandparents' porch in olden times. And it's a curveball for the traditional retail advertising broadcasters sell.
Middlemen – including radio – are being disrupted.
Nowhere could the automated digital data handshake change the consumer's experience – including how consumers use radio – more than in-car, where so much radio listening takes place.
Cars we're test-driving here talk to each other…the cars, not the drivers. "Texting each other" actually. 2017 Cadillac CTS Sport Sedans can share information about driving conditions — weather, speed, sudden braking, and accidents.
The term is "V2V," meaning vehicle-to-vehicle communication, your car's sensors feeding, and reading, the cloud, to tell you what's beyond your line of sight. With real-time information, instantly updated, why wait until the 8s for an old-school radio traffic report?
"We don't buy cars based on horsepower anymore."
"The auto industry is where the smartphone industry was just before the iPhone: on the verge of a tech revolution!" according to the head of research for the Consumer Technology Association.
Nine auto makers are exhibiting here, some introducing new cars here, rather than at next week's North American International Auto Show in Detroit, where new models have traditionally been unveiled.
Here's another buzzword they're saying nonchalantly here: "platooning:" technology that allows packs of vehicles to drive close together at high speed without slowdowns or accidents. Mapping technology is now accurate to centimeters.
Eliminate the driver? The car itself?
It's estimated that – without drunk driving, texting, and other human errors – robo-cars could eventually eliminate 90% of 35,000 traffic deaths every year in the USA. You may end-up paying higher auto insurance premiums if there's a human behind the wheel.
Since September, Uber has invited Pittsburghers to hail self-driving cars. There's a safety driver, ready to grab-the-wheel JUST in case; and a co-pilot monitors the route. But this test program is what Uber's CEO calls "the very beginning stages of becoming a robotics company." In October, Uber drove a robo-truckload of Budweiser beer across Colorado. There was a test driver in the cab…sipping coffee.
Volkswagen is investing heavily in what's being called "mobility service." Translation: Vehicles for a time when fewer people own one. VW figures Uber and Lyft are just the first step. They're planning small-but-roomy electric shuttles, ultimately for driverless on-demand travel.
Look for widespread availability of autonomous cars in just three years.
Is Putin peeking?
With all this new convenience comes a new concern: security. This past October, a hacker hijacked millions of cheap made-in-China webcams to flood Twitter and PayPal with fake traffic, and took both sites down for hours. Could techie toys be spying on your kids? Is your smartphone a-little-TOO-smart?
Web-connected televisions and inexpensive baby monitors and other devices are easily hacked. And it is unlikely that they will be required to beef-up security, as the incoming Trump administration promises less regulation.
Few industries have suffered robo-reinvention more than radio, where most AM/FM broadcast hours are now automated. And robots replaced lots of humans on the assembly line for that new car where we're now competing for attention.
Music is now a commodity, thanks to Pandora, Apple Music, iHeartRadio, Spotify et al. For 15 years, the service now called SiriusXM has been giving new car owners a 90-day free sample, after which many opt-in. Yes, listeners now PAY not-to-suffer what-they-don't-like-about broadcast radio. With robo-car freeing-up hours of attention previously spent driving, our new in-car competition will include Netflix.
What's a local radio broadcaster to do? Solid local radio. No matter how hard it now is to find AM/FM in that iPad-looking dashboard, listeners will, if you're giving them something they can't get anywhere else.
Holland Cooke is a media consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet, and he covers industry conferences for Talkers. Follow him on Twitter @HollandCooke