Traffic is a little bit like the weather. Everybody complains about traffic, but it seems like nobody is able to do anything about it. That will change in 2012 which is shaping up as the year that broadcast television traffic information arrives as the essential fifth screen aided by new traffic animation products and providers.
All seems quiet on the last Friday before the end of 2011, but Monday will bring the birth of a new age of traffic information on television. The past year ended with Navteq divesting its broadcast media group (formerly known as Traffic.com), the assets of which were acquired by Matchbin and converted into Radiate Media. Radiate Media now owns the former Traffic.com radio and television group and its ad-supported traffic reporting capabilities.
Months before, ITIS Holdings was acquired by Inrix. ITIS has its own fledgling broadcast traffic animation product which Inrix will no doubt seek to deliver to broadcasters around the world. While Radiate may claim market leadership in the U.S., there is competition in the space notably from Metro Traffic and Triangle Software. Triangle Software is better known as Beatthetraffic. which is recognized for its 3D traffic rendering and its recent rapid gains in broadcaster customers.
Not to be outdone, Clear Channel acquired Westwood One’s Metro Traffic division with its radio, television, Internet and mobile products. Formerly owned by the Gores Group, Metro Traffic’s portfolio was enhanced by Gores’ acquisition of Sigalert – a traffic animation provider based in Southern California – and a year-long deal to use and resell traffic camera feeds from TrafficLand. (As part of its acquisition, Clear Channel resolved a patent infringement lawsuit brought against Westwood One by Triangle Software.)
Clear Channel added the TrafficLand relationship to its portfolio when it acquired Metro Traffic in April of 2011, but the Metro-TrafficLand deal expires at midnight, January 31, 2011. By Monday morning, the starter’s pistol will have fired launching a new stage in the integration of traffic video for broadcast television even as a battle is shaping up in the traffic animation arena.
Finally, Tango Traffic of Philadelphia launched a 24/7 traffic television station in January 2011 with plans to bring its vision to additional markets and multiple screens. The company has a close relationship with Trafficcast as a data provider and new strategic announcements regarding the company’s expansion plans are anticipated in Q1 2012.
Weather Central, which also competes in the broadcast television traffic business, is expected to follow suit with enhancements to its offerings. But no announcements or strategic moves have been made by the company. Another potential market participant yet to be heard from is TomTom.
In fact, it remains to be seen what kind of move TomTom or Garmin or even Google might make in 3D traffic rendering. With a new platform and new technology emerging new players can be anticipated.
These developments mean that more and more television viewers will be seeing 3D animated images of local traffic conditions along with the integration of live traffic camera feeds. TrafficLand is partnered with most of the players, but, with the passing of its Metro Traffic relationship, will be entering negotiations directly with broadcasters around the country to convince them to enhance their traffic broadcasts with TrafficLand traffic camera feeds. In addition to its feeds for broadcast telelvision, TrafficLand also has solutions for Internet, mobile and automotive platforms and is working on its own enhancements. TrafficLand's primary value add is simplifying the process of integrating maps and cameras for broadcasters.
The real advances will occur, however, when traffic information broadcasting finally takes on the trappings of weather forecasting. While 3D renderings and flyovers of real-time traffic information will be attractive and engaging to viewers and advertisers, the real interest will rise as providers solve the challenge of delivering a predictive traffic story in a video environment.
Viewers will tune in to get a traffic forecast of the impact of the big football game or a coming storm front. In fact, weather information broadcasters may be forced to cooperate even more directly with traffic information providers as consumers discover this new medium and message.
At the same time, the power of these new and more intensely engaging solutions for consumers will stimulate already strong interest in Web-based, mobile and automotive traffic information delivery systems. The arrival of high-quality, predictive and attractive traffic information services on television will provide the final impetus translating traffic information from a daily frustration to a manageable proposition.
Traffic has always been the single most important telematics application. Without reliable and predictive traffic information, navigation and routing are unreliable at best or entirely misleading at worst. And without reliable, predictive traffic information arrival times cannot be accurately calculated, nor can probable driving outcomes be determined.
With the onset of 3D renderings of real-time and predictive traffic information on television, consumers will finally have the tools they have long sought to cope with daily traffic challenges. The power of television – enabling the fifth content delivery platform – will enhance the collective value and awareness of all five traffic information platforms: Internet, mobile, radio, TV and car.
With higher quality and more attractive content, the opportunity to monetize traffic information services via sponsorships or subscriptions will improve. To play in this new market, providers will need flexible delivery platforms and robust back-end systems able to integrate multiple location-referenced data feeds in real time. The next 12 months will likely be an acid test for the current crop of contenders even as they find early success plucking the low-hanging fruit.
One potential dark cloud on the traffic horizon is the increasing inclination of local departments of transportation in the U.S. to seek to monetize their traffic information sources including cameras and sensors. Government coffers are running low and all assets are potential sources of emergency revenue.
Current partners have been quick to point out the limited value of traffic information in the current market, but increased attention may change that valuation - especially with Inrix, in particular, positioning itself for a public offering. And both Waze and Inrix secured substantial $30M+ equity investments in 2011. Hopefully, the U.S. market won't be snuffed out, even before it ignites, by needy traffic agency executives.