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A fresh challenge for publishers - driverless cars

Henry Ford famously said that if he had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses’. There’s an eerie resemblance between the American industrialist’s maxim and the way many legacy publishers responded to the arrival of the internet. As driverless cars debut on our roads, publishers dare not make the same mistake again.

 

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Henry Ford did not invent the car. He merely transformed it from an expensive novelty reserved for the privileged few to an everyday form of transport for the masses. It revolutionised the way we travel. Driverless cars will do even more. The question is whether publishers today are ready to take advantage of this revolution? 

Amber Case, an Oregon-born Cyborg anthropologist who studies the interaction between humans and technology, believes the difference between work and play will blur in a driverless world. She envisages dramatic changes starting with in-car entertainment where every occupant will be spending (even) more time online. 

“As there’s no need to keep your eyes on the road, we’ll have more time to read the news, browse content, binge watch television…”

She predicts there will also be an exponential rise in the amount of advertising we see, between 30 and 40 per cent more. “In a sense, we will be ‘working’ more for other companies by delivering them more revenue than they could access prior to a world of autonomous vehicles.” 

In a world where an autonomous vehicle will resemble a moving living room (or even a mobile media theatre), expect information projected onto the windscreens highlighting points of interest, travel information and options for making a stop en route or changing travel plans to make the most of a shopping special. 

All of this means less static content and content that becomes more about ‘where am I and what should I be doing next?’ says Case. “This will no doubt have a knock-on impact on advertisers and local businesses, opening up a whole new platform to offer deals, advertise and target key consumer markets via self-driving automobiles.”

 

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Audience growth

With the advent of driverless cars, experts predict, we will all be spending a lot more time in vehicles. Stephen Rice, Professor of Human Factors, and Scott Winter, Assistant Professor of Graduate Studies, both at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, comment in a recent article for The Conversation that driverless cars will even disrupt the airline industry. Their research indicates that people will opt for a 10-hour journey by driverless car rather than flying. “They could leave whenever they want, and pack whatever they want – including liquids and pocket knives – with no (security) searches or scans. Passengers could eat, drink, work and sleep during the 10-hour drive.” The authors could have added ‘read, view, listen and play’ to their list of activities. The challenge for publishers will be to fully understand how people will be utilising the additional time in vehicles. If they can do this successfully, it will equate to the largest captive audience growth since the smartphone.

A 2017 report by Forrester, an American market research company, entitled ‘Autonomous Vehicles Will Reshape the Global Economy’ predicts cars will become "yet another ‘screen" where publishers and advertisers compete for your attention. 

To envisage a future in which publishers can take full advantage of autonomous vehicles as an entertainment space, publishers need to realise that they do not have a lot of time to prepare for this future. Many vehicle manufacturers are targeting autonomous vehicles to be ready and completed safe for driving on the highway by 2020/21 and urban driving by 2030. These vehicles will either be 'highly automated’ (level 4) or 'fully automated' (level 5) in terms of the definitions accepted by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. While some of the vehicles might be restricted to certain geographical areas and other considerations such as safety and regulatory developments may stem their imminent arrival, even skeptics agree that it is highly likely that people living in a major city will be able to hail some form of automatic car ride in less than a decade.

Some commentators suggest publishers should take a look at other modes of transportation such as trains, buses and airplanes for clues on how to take advantage of this imminent opportunity. Suggestions linger around location based apps for mobile ('there’s a special on beer around the next corner'), screens similar to inflight entertainment monitors and investing in podcasts. This approach is not adequate because the opportunities created by driverless car data goes far beyond the opportunities available on public transport. 

 

Data generated by its vehicles

One estimate by worldwide management consulting firm, McKinsey & Company, is that connected vehicles garner up to 25GB of data per hour. It consists of first-party data, which is of greater value than existing data in the media space. 

Motor manufacturers are acutely aware of this fact and some are already looking at ways to monetise it. Earlier this year Digiday reported that carmaker Bentley is looking at ways to “ethically” monetise data generated by its vehicles. Quoting Bentley’s director of digital, internet of things and smart mobility, Hamid Qureshi, streaming, 5G, geo-location and ecommerce in-car opportunities are all being considered. “The idea of turning our cars into media platforms is something we talk about internally, but it’s very early days… Once more data points emerge around the car and the ways of interpreting them all are easier, particularly in the context of autonomous driving, then the connected car could become a media entity. 

“As developments in autonomous driving continue we are looking ahead at how a future customer driving experience will be underpinned by relevant and targeted content. We see this content as improving driver safety, delivering an intelligent, exhilarating driving experience and enhancing the lifestyle of our customers via convenience and entertainment,” said Qureshi. 

Both Nissan and Honda are also exploring routes to new business models around advertising and retail. The early warning for publishers is that for them to be part of this future and to be able to gain access to the data, they will need to partner with carmakers. Once these partnerships have been established, the strategies and modes of communication with the autonomous car audience rises exponentially.

 

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Holographic technology

Traditional modes of communication with passengers grew from radio to podcasts to video, online news and magazines to OTT video and multimedia storytelling via handheld devices. The driverless car will offer much more. Expect them to be equipped with futuristic communication tools such as multiple touch screens, smart speakers, sound-blocking headphones to enhance individual experiences, as well as VR goggles and tools similar to the Google Lens launched last year – creating the option to ‘search what you see’. For those driving in a country with a foreign language, the on-board translation service will be handy as well. Do not rule out gesture based interfaces such as the holographic technology seen in Tom Cruise’s futuristic movie Minority Report and other immersive technologies. 

For now at least, voice user interfaces could dominate the in-car experience. The Drum reports that beyond home-based and mobile voice assistants, there's “a brave new world of commuter commerce” emerging. More than half of current drivers (53.3 per cent) engage with voice assistants while driving. The majority uses assistants built into the vehicle’s dashboard. This reality will place more pressure on publishers who are already battling to understand how to monetise from the smart speaker market.

While some publishers may find all of this daunting, there is no escaping the future.

“As cars become a place to be lived in, versus a space that’s merely tolerated between point A and B, a lifestyle and culture will grow around them,” predicts Case in a more recent article for readwrite.com. She warns that her forecasts “only touch the surface of the controversies we’ll soon face” over issues over privacy, safety, and hacking. And while it’s not yet known how different our driverless future will ultimately be, it’s certain we’re not yet prepared to deal with it.”

Publishers can only hope she is wrong in her prediction. After all, they have been warned. 

Disclosure: The quotes by Amber Case, unless otherwise specified, are from an interview the author originally conducted with her for a feature about the future of mobility published in a German inflight magazine.

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