In-Car Streaming: Painful But Not Deadly

Posted on April 29, 2011


There is good news and bad news from a new study about in-car streaming habits.

The study was fielded by, a consumer research company focused on new media and technology. They did a number of personal interviews with streamers; people who had listened to at least 20 minutes of streaming audio in the last week.

Because participants weren’t required to have listened in their cars, the study nicely illustrates just how many people who listen to streaming audio have already started doing so in their cars and how many more would like to have the capability.

As it turns out, streaming in the car is more common than you may think. A majority of the respondents already listen to streamed audio in their cars through factory-installed plug-in options or with accessories they purchased that connect to their existing car stereo.

Others said they would stream in their cars if it were easier but that it’s currently too much headache, especially for short trips. There are also concerns about safety, because it can be difficult to change songs or channels on their phone while driving, as well as battery and data-usage worries.

So, now that the stage is set, here’s the good news: in-car streaming will not cause the death of terrestrial radio.


People who stream audio in their cars report still listening to terrestrial radio on a daily basis and generally report turning to an AM or FM station first when they get in the car.

Reasons for tuning in terrestrial radio included force-of-habit, ease of use and unique content like news, traffic, weather, sports and morning shows.

Now the bad news: on average most people will pick five main audio sources that will dominate their in-car listening.

That used to be five terrestrial radio stations. Now it’s five sources including Pandora, other streams and their phone.

Respondents were given a simulated car audio system with ten pre-sets. Their audio options included a dozen local radio stations, a continuous traffic channel, a continuous weather channel, their iPod or digital music library, Pandora, iHeart radio and a Facebook feed.

 Most respondents filled five out of the ten available slots choosing, in this order, their phone, an FM station, their personal music library, a second FM station and Pandora.

That’s not awful news. The majority of a station’s listening comes from their P1 fans so as long as their current first and second choice stations get a preset listening levels shouldn’t change that much.

However, it will be harder than ever to establish a new station or grow a station’s audience. Even when all of a driver’s pre-sets went to terrestrial radio stations it was hard for lower-rated stations to overtake more established ones as an in-car choice.

Now it will be even harder to get a pre-set in the car let alone overtake current highly rated stations. .

As in-car streaming grows, being one of the top five options in a consumer’s mind will become extremely important.

Now re-examine the reasons people say they tune to terrestrial radio first. There’s habit, which may change over time. Ease of use, which will no doubt level out over time. 

Then there’s content. The only thing that guarantees terrestrial radio a slot in the top five choices for the long-term is the same thing that drives ratings success right now: unique and compelling content.