Automotive > Infotainment & Telematics Blog

The Fourth Element: Lawsuit Looms @ Crossroads of Broadcast, Mobile Traffic

by Roger Lanctot | 2月 16, 2011

Traffic data programs have long consisted of three elements: incident data, flow data and the behind-the-curtain algorithms that make all this information work smoothly together. With the emergence of multiple screen and multiple platform opportunities, though, has come the fourth element: video animation.

In the U.S., as in most markets, there is a limited supplier base for these information types. In the U.S., incident data is primarily available from a combination of public authorities and three radio broadcast organizations: ClearChannel, Westwood One and the Broadcast Traffic Consortium. Flow data is mainly sourced from Inrix, Traffic.com, TrafficCast, and AirSage. (Any organization, such as Google, is theoretically capable of creating flow data from GPS probe inputs from handsets or fleets.)

The companies with the data algorithms to process the incident and flow data into standard traffic information products are mainly limited to Inrix, Traffic.com and TrafficCast. Westwood One, which acquired Metro Traffic and Smart Route, has never created its own independent traffic data service, though it does produce and distribute traffic reports.

With the emergence of traffic video and multiple-screen traffic products and services has come the fourth element. Traffic animation is a valuable commodity in the traffic business. When it comes to monetizing traffic data, broadcast radio and television remain dominant. To better compete, suppliers of video have sought to extend their products and affiliated sponsorships to the Internet and mobile devices.

Live traffic feeds on television during rush hour are available throughout the U.S. and in most markets around the world. In the U.S., though, there are four sources of video traffic animation: Triangle Software/Beat the Traffic, The Weather Channel/WSI, Traffic.com and Westwood One/SigAlert.

Two companies are currently positioning themselves to lead the drive toward traffic-only cable channels: Triangle Software/Beat the Traffic and TangoTraffic, which uses Traffic.com animations and traffic data. Triangle Software/Beat the Traffic is in the process of suing Westwood One/SigAlert over the alleged infringement of multiple patents governing the representation of traffic data in three dimensions as well as routing and segment speed calculations – five patents in all. Also named in the lawsuit are TomTom, Volkswagen and Garmin.

Triangle/BTT, TangoTraffic and Westwood all have their sights set on three screen solutions – TV, Internet, phone – with Triangle the furthest along, followed by Tango and Westwood. The legal action, though, has both highlighted the importance of 3D traffic representations, while casting a shadow on Westwood’s prospects.

With the help of private equity group Gores Group LLC, Westwood has been assembling a traffic solution capable of serving as an alternative to dominant players ClearChannel, Inrix and Traffic.com. The company has cut distribution deals with TrafficLand (Dept. of Transportation traffic cameras) and AirSage (handset signaling data) and acquired SigAlert. In addition, the company is in the process of implementing Gewi’s traffic database system.

Westwood has been able to convert AirSage’s handset signaling information into flow data and has extended SigAlert’s reach beyond its original southern California territory. At the same time, Westwood has extended its products from television and the Internet to handsets. In spite of all this effort, Westwood is still confronting much larger and more entrenched competitors and now must contend with Triangle’s legal action.

The only good news emerging from the legal action is that it validates the value of the data processes behind traffic reporting and imaging. The bad news is it puts financial pressure on an industry still seeking to establish its validity with consumers. Sirius XM is learning the painful lesson that consumers have a limited interest in paying a monthly subscription for traffic data. The failure of the subscription model for traffic has served as a major impetus to pushing traffic into ad-sponsored monetization schemes driven by broadcast sources.

The emergence of traffic television channels, though, in the form of TangoTraffic (Comcast/Fios in the Philadelphia area) and Beat the Traffic (Time Warner in Southern California), may help to raise the profile of traffic information. With a higher profile and more revenue may come new solutions capable of delivering more timely and accurate reporting of traffic incidents on more platforms – maybe even in cars.

Conclusion:

The clash over video – both actual DOT video and animated “flyovers” – is an interesting one with significant implications for the automotive industry. Triangle Software’s video animations of traffic, which continue to see additional enhancements including 3D building representations resembling existing mobile and embedded navigation solutions, are changing the way people consume their traffic information. These images are redefining the value and usability of traffic information.

Car makers and their suppliers are still struggling to determine the most appropriate way to bring traffic video images into cars – either as still black and white images or color-coded 3D animations. At the same time, mobile device makers such as Route 66 and TomTom are making use of augmented reality to overlay traffic guidance on live video images of the road ahead or with enhanced junction views.

The resolution of Westwood’s, TomTom’s, Garmin’s and VW’s legal tussle with Triangle is less important than the business model implications of multi-screen traffic solutions and the emergence of new ways to visualize traffic information. Whatever the result it can’t help but be better than the old familiar and inferior red-green-yellow.

Further Insight:

- Next Gen Traffic, Navigation: Hyper Local, Global & Always On - Insight Report - Lanctot - Automotive Multimedia and Communications Service

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