Wisconsin Broadcasters Association

Last quarter we wrote about the newest hot gadget on the market – “smart speakers,” like Amazon’s Echo and Google Home. This space is heating up so quickly that we’re going to stay on this topic because of the impact and opportunity they present for radio and television stations. For example, in mid-June SiriusXM satellite radio announced that all of their channels are now available on Amazon’s Echo device. For a company that has built its distribution in automobiles, the shift into the home not only demonstrates how popular this space is becoming, but also shows how competitive the home is becoming for broadcasters. 

The Amazon Echo is (for now) the category leader, but Google Home is jockeying for position. But another big event took place this month with the recent announcement that Apple is set to enter the smart speaker sweepstakes later this year with HomePad. These events confirm these devices are winning “the next big thing honors,” and require the attention of content creators.

But the reality is that unlike the hype of other recent “next big things” like Google Glass and even the Apple Watch, smart speakers – especially the Echo – are having an immediate effect on media consumption. Our Techsurvey – conducted earlier this year – showed that more than one in ten consumers have already purchased one of these devices. As the space heats up and new players like Apple and SiriusXM get into the game, there’s no reason to believe that their act isn’t just beginning.

When you take a deeper dive into the demographics you learn these devices cut across all groups – gender, age, and ethnicity. The barrier to entry is low – most are well under $200 – and setup and usage are simple procedures.

So how can the average TV or radio station benefit from Alexa in people’s homes? For both TV and radio, smart speakers allow consumers to access content on-demand. In the case of television, the on-demand trend has swept over the medium; in radio, streaming as well as on-demand in the form of podcasts is still taking root, but growing every year.

These devices allow broadcasters to package audio content in an on-demand format driven by voice commands. This last point is an important one – over time, consumers are becoming more comfortable using devices they can control with their voice – in their cars, on their phones, and now by simply saying “Alexa,” followed by a simple order.

Initial research in the space indicates that people enjoy the convenience of using these devices. In many cases, they accelerate the use of audio in people’s homes. Whether you’re in television or radio, that’s a good thing.

Beyond audio, the next generation Echo will have a video screen, which is another reason why television stations need to get into this space.

In much the same way app stores grew and proliferated just a few years back, available content for smart speakers is exploding. All the big music services are connected – Spotify and Pandora – as well as streaming players like iHeartRadio and TuneIn.

National television brands have also jumped on board. Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show” was an early adopter, allowing Echo users to listen to the monologue, learn about upcoming guests, and access benchmark bits and features. “Jeopardy” provides daily questions as an extension of the television program. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and WTMJ-TV, for example, offer “flash briefings” – quick headlines that help users stay informed about local goings-on.

On the radio side, hundreds of stations across the country are rapidly diving into the space, working with developers to create “skills” for smart speakers. These enable users to access stations streams, as well as on-demand content reflective of the station brand and its personalities.

Smart speakers are a fast-moving trend – an opportunity for media outlets to connect with fans on a new gadget that is fun, convenient, and fresh.

Over the years, we’ve learned that technology brings both challenges and opportunities. In the case of smart speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home (and hopefully the Apple HomePad), it’s clearly the latter.

-Fred Jacobs

The WBA Digital Hotline is a free service for members of the WBA. For questions about mobile, social, streaming, web sites, content marketing, and more (including smart speakers, please contact Paul Jacobs at paul@jacobsmedia.com.

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