Picture: Volvo

In-Car Entertainment in the flux

Car radio? Old-fashioned. Many different kinds of future in-car entertainment are competing for passengers’ attention. The new technical possibilities are spawning a field of intense competition.

Battle for attention

The seats hum quietly as they glide backward. They merge into a leather-covered rear wall to form a relaxing lounge that turns the driver into a passenger. The navigation displays also change their position and show apps or films – whatever passengers decide. Mobile Utopia? In the near future, passenger cars will become another focal point in our lives, alongside the office and the home. If people in self-driving cars no longer have to concentrate on the traffic, they will turn their attention to other things. What will persuade them to buy to lease a car? Not the exterior trim or the engine capacity, but in particular the information and entertainment available inside the car.

The burning question is whether the auto makers themselves will mature into content providers. After all, the contest for controlling what will be offered to the potential target group of around 1.3 billion passengers did not begin yesterday. Third-party providers in the internet, entertainment and advertising industries are jostling for position on the dashboards of the next generation of cars. And with good reason. When it comes to marketing, the vehicle is basically a data-generating touchpoint and thus a continuation of the famous customer journey. If the car keeps the promise of new living space, the customers will give it their undivided attention.

No more isolation

The days are gone when communication with drivers ended as they closed the car door, the only contact being one-way messages on roadside billboards or on the car’s radio. The occupants became part of the real and digital world long ago. Connecting with the internet makes it significantly easier to send and receive information. The passengers are really full of expectation and open to anything that offers them entertainment on the way to their destination. This has been evident for a long time – as shown by the entertainment systems in the back of the cars in all series.

Yet these systems have not shaken off the image of being there only to keep the peace on the back seat after the third “Are we there yet?” – a “technical valium” to combat boredom and the children’s urgent need for a toilet. In general, the trend among the major manufacturers and suppliers is the continual optimization of technological gimmicks for bringing the internet into the car’s interior as an unending source of audio, video, etc. Today’s occupants can already read their personal newsfeeds and other smartphone material on Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, using it for e-mail and apps. This is becoming more convenient all the time owing to ever larger displays with voice and gesture control.

The “car channel”

When it comes to content, many media and internet companies are rising to the occasion. The audience is longing more and more for “bread and circuses” – for accessible content providing temporary escapism – in the subway, on the sofa at home, or on the back seat of the car. The huge importance of content is shown by the stiff competition between providers such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, Disney+ and Sky with their on-demand services. Their recipe for success is to produce their own content of the highest quality, coupled with smart rights deals. To this end, they cooperate worldwide with well-known film studios and directors. A representative study by Bitkom reports that these services are gaining popularity all the time.

As mobile communications standards develop toward 5G, streaming services are also about to be launched for vehicles. Will there be a great battle for the “car channel”? Corporate takeovers? During the last five years hi-tech firms have invested over 100 billion US dollars in future automotive solutions. Or why not build your own cars? A company in Asia has done just that. LeEco became the first internet and technology company to become a car manufacturer. The Chinese group developed its own futuristic electric car LeSEE. It was intended to become a mobile movie theater, of course with exclusive access to the firm’s own series, films and music channels in the entertainment sector. This was an exciting venture – but one that failed. The company had simply tried to do too much.

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Ericsson and Volvo display their concept for sufficient bandwidth for streaming

The age of cooperation

In any case, the tectonic upheavals in the automotive sector have generated new business models, fresh combinations and previously inconceivable partnerships. Volvo and Ericsson have together developed a bandwidth solution for uninterrupted in-car streaming services in HD quality. The solution takes account of the planned route and the network conditions along the way. Based on this information, the streaming content is tailored and buffered to provide high-quality, interruption-free viewing. This kind of cooperation at an altitude of 10,000 meters is already as normal as the autopilot. The US airline jetBlue, for example, has entered into a cooperative arrangement with Amazon Prime. Passengers can watch whatever films and series they want on their personal monitor with free internet access. And of course those who have not yet taken out a subscription can do so with just a click. The result is an exclusive choice for maximum relaxation. What the airlines can already do today should be possible for the cars of tomorrow – and maybe they will do it even better.