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What driverless cars mean to the future of news media consumption

By Chuck Blevins

Cox Media Group Newspapers

Atlanta, Georgia, USA


Many of you have seen Mary Meeker’s 2016 Internet Trends Report. If not, it’s an annual must-read for its scope and detail.

Altimeter’s Susan Etlinger summarised the report grandly: “We are at an inflection point, not only with regard to the economy but in the relationship between companies and customers, technology, and individuals.”

Mobile is not a technology, but an ecosystem.

This year's Internet Trends Report explores what the future of driverless cars, which could hold a wealth of potential for media companies.
This year's Internet Trends Report explores what the future of driverless cars, which could hold a wealth of potential for media companies.

Earlier, Benedict Evans stated that mobile is the universal technology product. “In fact, mobile — which encompasses everything from drones to cars — is everything,” he said. Mobile strategies are no longer about “mobile,” but about the product funnel within the ecosystem in which we’re playing (over-the-top streaming video platforms, smartphone apps, chat bots, etc.).

Meeker, Evans, and many others are pointedly stating that everything is about to change: The entire economy is about to be massively disrupted through mobile, data, and basic AI.

“I want a burger and Coke.”

Self-driving cars are seen as a solution to gridlock, lower accident rates, and dependence on fossil fuels. What are the disruptions when the car is an extension of a digital ecosystem — an ecosystem that is predicated on demand and predictive economics? A scenario:

Rider: “Car: I want a burger and Coke.”

Car responds based on user’s prior preferences.

Car: “OK. Ordering a Whopper with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, ketchup, and mustard, and a medium diet Coke.”

Car plots route to closest Burger King, electronically places the order through Burger King’s services, and provides arrival time.

Burger King acknowledges order, confirms arrival time, processes payment, and schedules the automated cooking and prep to optimise the entire pick-up schedule.

Car confirms receipt.

Car: “Total is US$6.49. Pick up in five minutes.”

Rider: “OK.”

Continues watching streaming video on tablet; message pops-up on tablet noting a US$6.49 charge from Burger King to rider’s credit/bank account.

Car and rider arrive within timeframe and pull up to window, where the rider takes the waiting food. Total wait time: None.

Car and rider drive back into commute.

What’s preventing this scenario from playing out now?

Only the lack of a fully autonomous car with pervasive Internet connection and a service like Siri/Cortana/Echo.

We now are able to order online using pre-saved preferences and payment. Restaurants can use our phones to track our distance from the store in order to plan cooking times (heck, Facebook is watching — as is Google — when you go inside stores to track advertising sales). Restaurants have also begun rolling out fully automated ordering and kitchens.

The impact on drive distances may also influence commute and living patterns as well as driving trips versus airlines, buses, or trains.

Let’s talk about us

Other than the nod to the rider watching video on their tablet, how does this relate to media mobile strategy? Plenty.

If driverless cars lead to purchasing booms or busts as a result of changed patterns (think Route 66), the local economic impact will have implications for advertising approaches and quantity of available local advertisers.

Just keeping up with changing media consumption patterns is important, too.

Traffic in major metro area can easily consume an hour or more in each direction. Even if autonomous cars cut that in half, that’s 30 minutes of free time to spend consuming apps or other online content to pass the time.

If commute times are even more radically reduced, making short hop travel easier, this may increase the likelihood and quantity of quick check-ins on the Internet (or more napping). Some other possibilities:

  • Unforeseen or new competition will pressure incumbents, just as with the advent of the Internet.

  • Terrestrial and satellite radio will compete more directly with other content providers. 

  • Advertising will continue to grow more contextually complex. Advertiser patterns may change and will be relative to in-car versus out-of-car contexts. Offered ad technology will need to stay cutting edge to compete, as will ad sales reps and packages.

  • There are experience and publication points: Will riders pass the time differently when they don’t have to focus on driving? What formats will best serve this experience? How will this impact publishing processes with our CMS.

  • Delivery times of physical newspapers (yes, this still matters). Press deadlines have been moved back in order to account for earlier commutes. Will this increase or decrease that pressure?

That’s just considering cars as mobile devices, and in a narrow scope at that. As we evolve into a continuously connected world, the supply chains of data will reveal new threats and opportunities. We need think like the technology firms we’re becoming and seek or create those markets.

It’s a magical world. Let’s go exploring. (With apologies to Watterson.)

About Chuck Blevins

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