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GM first to offer in-car purchases via Marketplace app.
GM first to offer in-car purchases via Marketplace app.
( Source: General Motors)

in-car purchases The impact of the future of mobility on the media landscape

| Author / Editor: Seth Lambert / Erika Granath

Drivers turned passengers riding in autonomous vehicles can look forward to an array of entertainment choices: personalized video, gaming, and more. The development suggests both big opportunities for media companies in the coming years—and a slew of hurdles to overcome.

Hard as it may be to believe, for the bulk of automotive passengers, entertainment in vehicles hasn't changed too much since the first AM radio was installed in a car in 1930; music is still the dominant media format that preoccupies drivers and passengers alike.

However, as cars begin to become autonomous and shared (with mobility being offered as a service [MaaS]), opportunities to entertain people in groups—as well as individually—will increase. Furthermore, the development will gain impetus as transport becomes more ubiquitous, convenient and able to accommodate additional passengers—and as drivers become passengers themselves.

As of 2015, mobile Americans spent an average of 47 minutes per person daily (seven days per week) going from one location to another—some 160 million hours collectively each day. According to some estimates, by the year 2030, private vehicle passengers will have 52 billion hours available for media consumption, while public transit passengers will be allotted an additional 23 billion hours. By 2040, these numbers are expected to increase to 95 billion hours and 25 billion hours, respectively. Simultaneously, consumption of media, in general, is projected to grow in the coming decades above and beyond these numbers (i.e., these figures don't represent a cannibalization of such an increase).

Going beyond mobile devices

Some industry observers may speculate that in the future, scant opportunities will exist to add to what smartphones already provide entertainment-wise (some vehicles may merely allow passengers to dock or wirelessly connect their phones to larger screens).

But the extra surface area afforded by vehicles' glass windows (which could become opaque at the touch of a button) and/or other vehicular surfaces may present extra space for still larger or even multiple displays. These could potentially engage multiple passengers simultaneously in a 360-degree immersive manner. New content built around such circumferential entertainment options would need to be created.

While shared vehicles may offer new opportunities for media consumption, personal entertainment preferences (subscriptions, playlists, libraries, bookmarks) may still be tied to smartphones or even to specific apps (YouTube or Spotify, for instance). Other vendors in the entertainment space (automakers, media companies, content studios and/or gaming companies) may struggle to access or leverage this all-important usage data. Certainly, preferred choices related to driving, in-vehicle habits and trip destinations could be managed by telematics systems, but the acquisition of media-specific data may prove more elusive.

One potential way for content companies or automakers to arrange access to individual user data might be for these firms to strike exclusive deals to bring specific content to certain vehicles or ride-sharing fleets as a way to differentiate their offerings. After all, if driving is no longer a necessary activity, idle time spent in a vehicle will become more pronounced. Short-form versus long-form entertainment offerings could be determined and/or informed by journey length. Subscription-based streaming services such as Netflix could be tied to MaaS subscriptions and included within bills for such services.

Media informed by journeys

Targeted advertising (possibly also informed by journey length, destinations and/or vehicle types) will almost certainly be inevitable in the future (a long drive to Disneyworld could feature Disney content about the theme park destination, for example).

Passing billboards and other outdoor advertising could be enhanced (or digitally swapped out) using vehicle-based augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) displays tied to passenger preference and identity data.

AR/VR gaming could allow for interaction with outdoor objects and/or scenery; education and learning applications could also be tied to specific journeys and destinations.

The ability for business people to be productive amidst entertainment being played or interacted with by other passengers via headphones, highly directional speakers, ultra-narrow-viewing-angle displays, etc. will certainly also be of value.

Because all the enhanced features of autonomous vehicles will allow for richer, more immersive media entertainment, simple music could become "crowded out" by video, gaming, AR and VR experiences. At the same time, music streaming services may gain opportunities to customize passenger playlists based on trip lengths and/or destinations.

Potential hurdles

Privacy, regulatory and technical challenges will likely pose hurdles for companies looking to take advantage of new mobility entertainment opportunities.

Firms already playing well in the mobile device space will likely have an advantage over those which aren't. Individual vehicle passengers may be far less likely to hand over media consumption data to automakers or entertainment device manufacturers than to what are perceived to be merely "app" companies or "movie websites."

Regulatory authorities also may be more likely to see vehicles as physical locations (i.e., "places")—despite the fact that they're mobile—versus as a medium, like smartphones or tablets (even in cases when the latter devices are connected to in-car displays). This may have profound pricing implications for digital rights and/or content licensing.

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