Why Your Car Is the Next Media Frontier

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Data is the next Intel Inside.

- Tim O'Reilly

The highway and the information superhighway have literally merged and your car is becoming the center of your connected universe, churning out an amazing amount of big data (and media) at eye-popping speed. Like up to 1.3 gigs … every hour. In fact, the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the automotive industry will be the second largest generator of data by 2015. Gartner reports that, by 2018, one in five cars on the road will be "self-aware" and able to discern and share information on their mechanical health, their global position and status of their surroundings.

With a system of sensors, vehicle-to-vehicle communications and computing power, intelligent cars now interact with their owners. The number one question new car buyers are asking dealers about today: How does their car interact with smartphones and tablets?

Yep, cars are now media machines on wheels. This is especially true for music. Blasting your favorite tunes on your awesome car sound system is a given for today's driver. Small wonder then that Pandora is now available in nine of the top 10 best-selling cars, and Pandora already knows a lot about its customers, with over 76 million active listeners. The company has signed its first in-car radio ad deals with BP, Ford, State Farm and Taco Bell. Add one more window into the big data landscape, as advertisers glean more and more about their customers.

Other tactics brands and agencies are using around the plethora of in-vehicle data relates to geo-fencing. According to the Placecast Blog, they and Aha™ by HARMAN have begun testing new in-car advertising that delivers relevant, real-time promotional offers to consumers based on the vehicle's locations. Quiznos is the first brand to activate promotional offers using the new service. When your vehicle enters a geo-fenced area, a Quiznos audio ad is inserted into the stream. A tap on the interface emails a coupon to your mobile device for use in the store. Interesting, right?

The fact that your car is generating a ton of data is becoming a given. The question of where all this data goes and who 'owns' it is just being sorted out. We know that big data can be a big mess if not analyzed to produce meaningful and relevant insights. We also know that marketers want to use big data to optimize their digital advertising in ways that integrate seamlessly with people's busy lives. Clearly, it's intriguing to brands to want to insert messages based on 'personal' big data gleaned from the car directly into the car owner's social and mobile streams.

Navigating this will get tricky. In addition to sorting out who owns the data, another huge consideration is how much access advertisers will actually have to proprietary in-vehicle systems. Should auto manufacturers act as a gatekeeper, shielding their car's drivers from unwanted messages? Or should auto brands open-source their code for in-vehicle modules like the Ford Motor Company? Ford's strategy is to provide a link allowing apps on Android phones or iPhones to be controlled through the car's electronic units.

On the other hand, Volkswagen's head Martin Winterkorn warned against turning the car into yet another cookied browser . Earlier this year he told the audience at Cebit IT Expo in Hanover, Germany: "I clearly say yes to Big Data, yes to greater security and convenience, but no to paternalism and Big Brother. At this point, the entire industry is called upon. We need a voluntary commitment by the automobile industry."

2014 stands to be a breakthrough year in this exciting field. Big (car) data promises an improved driving experience and improved safety (integrated vehicle data could be available to emergency medical services, etc). Big data media experiences also open the door to "right message, right target, right time." How we navigate this new value chain directly to the consumer's social and mobile stream without being intrusive will be key.

Beverly Macy is author, educator, and thought leader in social and digital business and a frequent contributor to Say Daily. She is also the author of The Power of Real-Time Social Media Marketing and the host of Social Media Radio .