In news that broke Monday, Ford (F) announced that it has inked a deal with Spotify to allow the audio entertainment giant to join the likes of Sirius XM (SIRI) and Pandora (P) in the dashboard of Ford cars equipped with SYNC. While the threat to either Pandora or Sirius XM is not imminent, this is an indication that auto companies will not necessarily play favorites when it comes to meeting consumer demand for audio entertainment, and rightly so.
Just a few years ago the dashboard seemed to be a pretty cool place for Sirius XM. The company has enjoyed an installation rate of between 60% and 70% for quite some time, and while the satellite service is popular, less than half (44%) of those that get a free trial actually convert to self paying status. This leaves a wide gap for the likes of Pandora, Aha radio, Slacker, and Spotify to fill.
The digital dashboard is upon us and it will offer consumers more choices than ever before. Thanks to 3G and 4G coverage cars can either themselves become hotspots or consumers can simply use their smartphone to connect.
I have long been of the opinion that the audio entertainment landscape has room for several players and that there will not be a "Pandora killer", "Sirius XM killer", or "Spotify killer" for the foreseeable future. In fact, in many ways these services are very complimentary to each other and actually cater to different audiences. Yes, there is crossover, but at this point we are looking at these companies stepping on each others' toes on occasion rather than tripping each other up. There will come a day when these companies do have a direct confrontation. In fact it is beginning to brew now with Slacker making claim that it is the "most complete service" on the market.
If you think that the competition issue is relegated to the world of software, apps, and programming think again. Aha Radio is an arm of OEM hardware supplier Harman (HAR). Aha is an aggregator of content and a platform creator. Aha has deals in place with a dozen automakers and brings a wealth of content including Slacker, NPR, etc. The Aha advantage is that through its parent company, it is already getting into the dashboard with ease, and is easy to use. Spotify and Slacker are software based, but carry direct deals with record labels making true and instant On Demand possible. In fact many of the apps on the Spotify platform are actually the creations of the record labels themselves.
The competition for ears is beginning to heat up. If you were of the opinion that the dashboard was AM, FM, and Satellite only, think again. At this point no one is going to bury the other. In fact, the audio entertainment landscape can and likely will remain a robust environment for quite some time to come. For investors where it gets tricky is in how these companies all impact the growth curve. That in and of itself is worth noting and watching.
Spotify in Fords is just the beginning. Look for Spotify to announce more deals as the year progresses. It is also a good idea to monitor in car hot spots such as the Dodge Dart. GM recently announced a deal with AT&T (T), switching from Verizon (VZ), relating to hotspots for 2015 model year vehicles.
The metrics for investors to watch: Subscriber growth, listener hour growth, churn, conversion rate, and ARPU.
Additional disclosure: I have no position in other equities mentioned.