Dashing Through CES 2013
January 11, 2013
It's telling that several of the FCC Commissioners had the same reaction I did when asked what impressed us most about the International CES this year. My answer and theirs: 3D printing. Not an entertainment device, not communications, but the future, machines that can "print" nuts and bolts and even, using actual cells, real body parts for transplants. It's awesome, "The Jetsons" come to life, and it sent me off thinking about where we're heading and what's possible for human life in general.
But CES is still about entertainment and gadgets and, hey, it's in the title, consumer electronics. And the biggest news for radio wasn't an actual radio, but, then, it hasn't been about a radio receiver for a long, long time, even though some very nice automotive head units were on display. No, it was the announcement of Ford's developer program for apps on the dashboard, followed by similar announcements by GM and Chrysler. If you missed the story that All Access happened to have first on Monday, Ford opened its SYNC platform to developers in an open program that features Jacobs Media's jacAPPS as a preferred development partner, and what that means is that, effectively, anyone can create apps for Ford's dashboard. GM's program is opening up, too, and, ultimately, it means that any station -- Greater Media's on board in the Ford/jacAPPS program, and iHeartRadio and TuneIn are already there -- can gain access to the dashboard, anywhere.
But, wait, you say, AM and FM stations already have access to the dashboard. And, yes, they do, but I spoke to several representatives of the automotive and aftermarket car stereo industries who see the future belonging to dashboard apps. That's likely what those screens in new cars will be showing first, not a dial or a frequency readout but apps. That's why these announcements were big: It means anyone can get on the dashboard and position themselves right up front, accessible with the touch of the screen or a click of a steering wheel button or by voice command. The day is here.
And let's consider that "anyone" part. I thought a lot about this, too, because it does for radio something that the Internet and on-demand services have done for television: disintermediation. As TV viewers under the age of, say, 30 can't even tell you what network their favorite TV shows are on because they don't necessarily watch TV shows when they originally air in-pattern. That's disintermediation: taking the middleman - the station, the channel, the distributor - out of the picture. That, I thought, is an interesting scenario for the kind of high-profile programming that talk radio offers. Does a talk show need to go through a station app or even the biggest aggregators to reach people? It doesn't hurt to be there, but the show could do its own app and just be right up front, 24/7, always on demand. The app could stream the show live and delayed and on demand with additional content and not need to be identified with the station. It may still be a little early for that, because most cars still don't have that kind of open connected system, but if you're a host or producer, it's something to keep on the radar. The day when more than just the highest-profile personalities can get access to the car stereo without needing to be on a station is coming soon, and when SYNC and MyStar and the others reach critical mass -- it might be 10 years, maybe sooner, but the bottom line is that the dashboard of the (near-) future will be open and democratic, and whether you're a station or a show or an individual, you'd better be ready with apps for all those systems and content worth hearing through them.
Other than that, CES was another parade of stuff the consumer electronics industry wants you to buy, which translates into 4K Ultra HD TVs, OLED displays, tablets galore, and a fork that vibrates when you're eating too fast. And iPhone cases, lots of iPhone cases. I can't stress that enough. They won't rest until there's a Hello Kitty case on every single iPhone. Maybe they can use those 3D printers to make more.
So, okay, I'm back, and next week I'll be on a more regular schedule for updating All Access News-Talk-Sports' show prep pile-of-stuff-to-talk-about Talk Topics, but there's plenty there now, and you can read it all by clicking here for the full column or going to Twitter at @talktopics, where you'll find every story linked to the appropriate item. And while you're there, don't miss "10 Questions With..." A Martinez, who's all over the news in L.A. with his show "Take Two" on KPCC and talking about the Lakers on ESPN LA 710 AM. It's a good one.
You can also follow my personal Twitter account at @pmsimon, and find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pmsimon. And as for my other job, I edit and write for the Nerdist.com website, so if you're into pop culture -- movies, comics, TV, "genre" stuff -- come on by.
I'd wrap it up with a pithy observation or quick joke, but a week in Vegas and the long drive back through the frigid High Desert took it all out of me. I'll probably think of something after I send this out. Timing is everything.