Stories

What happens to billboards and radio when cars drive themselves

Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Billboards have long been fixtures on the sides of highways and the radio dial has been a permanent staple of the automobile dashboard to cater to the most captive audience in cars — the driver. But those advertising avenues are going to shift as new forms of media compete for the attention of drivers who will no longer need to keep their eyes on the road.

The future of in-vehicle media: Media companies are already looking for ways to take over devices, surfaces and airtime in self-driving cars as human behavior on the road changes. "How cars are presently advertised to will have to change dramatically," said Dan Jaffe of the Association of National Advertisers. "No longer will these ads be able to focus primarily on the drivers' perspective."

How things will change

Billboards: The billboard industry says self-driving vehicles will only make their billboard ads more valuable.

  • "If drivers become passengers, they would still be aware of the roadside signage. Maybe more so," said Andy Sriubus, Chief Commercial Officer at Outfront Media U.S., which is a major provider of billboards. "In fact, we would be able to add better engaged creative to boards which would normally require more of a person's attention than a driver could spare."
  • Billboards with connected geo-fences and mobile-integrated campaigns could be more effective at sending a message than the current static views that can be seen while driving at 60 mph, he added.

Radio: Broadcasters are working with automakers and the designers of internal dashboard technologies in Silicon Valley, Detroit and abroad to make sure the radio dial doesn't get lost in a sea of apps and touch-screens. They want to ensure they can take advantage of the new mobile connectivity in cars to enhance listener engagement with radio. Radio is also an important way of communicating public safety information to mass audiences.

  • The National Association of Broadcasters is trying to educate automakers about the reach of local radio stations, which have 265 million listeners every week with 93% of Americans listening at least once a week, according to Nielsen.
  • Auto execs are also making sure they are getting in front of broadcasters. Ford and Avis Budget Group (which recently signed a deal to manage Waymo's fleet) have given keynote addresses at recent NAB gatherings.

What's next

  • Radio platforms are banking on listeners tuning into their favorite on-air personalities and relying on stations for news and information, regardless of how that content is delivered.
  • "It doesn't really matter how it's delivered or in what environment, it's about what is being delivered to them — actual content," said Michele Laven, iHeart Media's President of Strategic Partnerships.
  • Still, questions remain about whether video ads create safety concerns, or if interactive ads raise privacy issues, ANA's Jaffe noted.