Ford exec pens open letter to broadcasters


Ford is very committed to digital entertainment in the car via its Sync system and they work very closely with all technologies that they’re going to put in the car. In this vein, Jim Buczkowski, Ford’s Director, Electrical and Electronic Systems Research and Innovation, is very focused on what that experience looks like to consumers that are in their vehicles. So much so that he’s written an open letter to broadcasters regarding HD Radio.

Ford advocates to the industries they’re involved with how the technologies should be presented in their vehicles. In the letter, Jim almost implies that the entitled position that AM and FM have always enjoyed in the dashboard is no longer an entitlement. It’s competitive for that center stack. There are a lot of opportunities for consumers – streaming, iPods, radio, satellite radio, etc. The consumer has now come to expect a certain type of experience. Anything they listen to or look at these days has album covers, song and artist info. You can tag songs and transact with the media and so forth.

Jim also notes that the broadcast industry has a wonderful opportunity to engage consumers in this fashion using HD Radio technology and Ford is very committed to it. But he says you have to deliver great content and associated data and imagery.

As well, if there’s great content and associated data and images onto a radio display and it converges with a backchannel–like a cellphone or internet access– the value of the advertising you can sell increases. It’s more interactive advertising, click to call, visuals are combined, etc. This hopefully would serve to increase CPMs.

And without further adieu, the letter:

Catch Up to the Digital Age with Digital Broadcasting and All It has to Offer”

By Jim Buczkowski
Henry Ford Technical Fellow and Director,
Electrical and Electronic Systems
Research and Innovation
Ford Motor Company

If you haven’t purchased a new car in the past few years or aren’t involved with the auto industry, you might not have noticed how quickly yesterday’s car radio has been transformed into today’s mobile digital infotainment platform.  Today’s listeners have more choices than ever before and at Ford we have led the way creating a platform for delivering high value customer experiences.   The digital experience offers choice, variety and high quality sound.  AM/FM broadcasters have the opportunity to embrace the Digital Age with HD Radio technology and offer the same improvements in choice, variety and quality, plus the only source of “local” news and broadcast personalities customers know and love.

Back in the day, drivers were happy to just be able to tune into their favorite radio station while on their daily commute or while taking a trip with the family. Car infotainment options were confined to local AM/FM stations. Factory installed and aftermarket eight track, cassette and eventually CD players changed the paradigm from passive, limited choice listening to one of active, personalized choice from a wide array of alternatives, with the consumer being in control of audio quality that rivals the best home A/V systems. That trend has intensified in recent years with a dizzying array of information and entertainment choices including hundreds of channels of satellite radio available to drivers.

Ford has been in the forefront of these changes with our SYNC infotainment system. We constantly strive to give our customers the greatest ability to choose and manage all aspects of their mobile listening environment in the safest and least distracting way.

Ford SYNC integrates all the digital systems our customers want in one place. SYNC allows consumers to control their smartphones, entertainment choices and information services via voice commands or through a simple, intuitive set of button or touch screen commands.  SYNC can connect to many popular digital music sources via Bluetooth or USB connections. Users can browse through their music collections by genre, album, artist, and song title using simple voice commands.

Today, virtually all car makers have embraced the integrated digital media platform. AM/FM  now competes with crystal clear music and talk radio sources in the car like  Pandora, Spotify, Music Unlimited, Slacker, Stitcher, iHeartRadio and other audio streams.  Many of these new offerings are being driven by the popularity and pervasiveness of “apps” which are accelerating the pace of change and the pace that new forms of entertainment are brought to customers.

Satellite radio boasts commercial free music and exclusive access to highly desirable talk show, news and sports entertainment.  iPods, media players and Bluetooth streaming allows customers to create and listen to their own “Top Forty”, on demand. All these digital sources offer high quality sound and extensive choice. But it’s still the content that listeners seek, and AM/FM offers the best local experience.  An upgrade to digital quality sound and reception plus the ability to offer more choice already exists through HD Radio. HD Radio technology puts AM/FM broadcasts on par with today’s digital media sources.

But it’s not just the experience created by great sound and reception.  Consumers have come to expect the same consistent “look and feel” from their in-car media experience as they experience with their iPods, smartphones, internet radio and other digital technology.  HD Radio technology can provide this look and feel as well but analog radio cannot.

Drivers are looking for the seamless integration of all these sources delivered with a common look and feel so that changing sources is like pushing the preset on the classic AM/FM radio from years ago.

At Ford, we’ve also learned that our customers love SYNC because there is no additional monthly subscription fee, unlike some of our competitors. The advantage that AM/FM broadcasters have is that they are also delivering a great “free” service, but the opportunity is there to enhance it even further by going digital.

An upgrade to HD Radio technology will provide your listening audience with digital sound quality, the added display of track and artist names, iTunes Song Tagging, the potential for album art or other graphics plus the promise of creating additional channels.

At Ford, we are pleased to offer HD Radio and look forward to working together with technology partners and broadcasters to create even more great experiences for our customers.  Working together is a foundational element of our strategy to deliver high quality and high value entertainment and information to our customers.

RBR-TVBR observation: Yes, Ford wants a fairly seamless look to all things digital that Sync has to offer and Buczkowski is prompting broadcasters to upgrade to HD Radio’s technologies that include Artist Experience, iTunes Tagging and more. In the meantime, HD Radio on the broadcast side has stalled a bit, with multicast formats dropping off in quality in markets and not generating revenue. Bottom line, we think Buczkowski has a point, but local radio is a business and if HD Radio hasn’t helped them generate more revenue with all of its bells and whistles, they will move on to other things. As more automakers offer the full scope of HD Radio offerings in-dash, we may see a renaissance, but no guarantees.