Wisconsin Broadcasters Association

Each year, it seems there’s a hot new thing designed to change the way people watch television or listen to radio.  Some, like the iPhone, become a permanent change agent and directly affect broadcasters for a long time. Others simply fade away, never to be heard from again.

In 2017, a true game-changer appeared and it’s clear viewers and listeners are flocking to voice-response devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home. And broadcasters need to be prepared.

This past November, Jacobs Media, jācapps and Sonic Ai together revealed the results of a new survey we conducted on the projected proliferation of voice-controlled smart speakers during the just-concluded holiday season. Backed by national TV campaigns touting their lowest prices ever, there’s considerable buzz being generated around these new devices, specifically the Alexa Echo, Echo Dot, and Show devices from Amazon, and Google’s Home and Home Mini.

Our national web survey was conducted right before Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and the results were eye opening. The study revealed that 18 percent of all online households already own at least one of these gadgets. That’s more than one in every six households already owning a smart speaker!

Further, 20 percent said they planned to purchase a smart speaker for themselves or as a gift this holiday season. And Millennials and Gen Z are the most likely to own a smart speaker as well as to say they plan to purchase their first (or second or third) one soon.  Holiday sales figures haven’t been released, but it’s clear what was under the trees of millions of Americans in December.

Amazon Alexa is the 500-pound gorilla in the space, with a substantial lead over Google, and since Apple’s HomePod high-end speaker is late to market (delayed until sometime in 2018), they will have a lot of catching up to do. Alexa can complete myriad useful tasks to help consumers in their everyday lives, from setting a cook timer to a doctor’s appointment reminder. But “she’s” also helping deliver digital media to consumers in our increasingly on-demand world of accessing what we want, when we want it. Given the erosion of AM/FM radios in homes and offices, these devices provide a new way to “listen to radio.”

Our study discovered that most people who already own an Amazon Alexa-enabled device have downloaded at least one “skill,” which is a good sign they’re armed with the know-how to access stations once the word is out and your station’s presence is known.

So how does a radio or TV station take advantage of phenomenon?

First, if you’re in radio and you haven’t enabled the Alexa skill that stakes claim to your station’s identity, you should do it now.         

In these early days, it’s key to establish your station’s brand on these devices. The keywords you define now to prompt Alexa to play your stream can help you stand out from the crowd. Get in early and be THE “Kiss 100” instead of “Kiss 100 Oshkosh” and take advantage of being first to market with your identifier to stand out against similarly named stations across America.

Then consider additional skills and interactivity you want to offer your audience beyond just your station’s stream. A radio station can present listeners with the ability to make song requests or to access podcast and on-demand audio from your morning show. And with Alexa’s recently acquired ability to be set as an alarm to wake up to your station, this presents another platform in which to be there to start your listeners’ day.

And with the Amazon Echo Show and its 7-inch video screen, voice commands can extend to video skills too. If you’re a TV station, consider packaging local news, weather, or traffic information to serve as bite-sized on-demand content.

On the TV side, there’s plenty of room to be involved in the smart speaker space. In fact, hundreds of television brands are developing skills to provide news “flash updates,” as well as other proprietary content.

Amazon allows you to use station voices – so, weather forecasts from your iconic meteorologist or sports scores from your local guru – to personalize your smart speaker content. And the ability to be able to create special information and feature packets (local trivia or high school sports scores) opens the door to developing habit-forming content.

Of course, none of these skills will be of much use if your potential smart speaker audience isn’t aware your station is ready and available to be served up by Alexa. Promoting your station’s Alexa skills is crucial to letting listeners and viewers know how to find you.

And lastly, again consider a key point from earlier that Millennials and Gen Y are buying smart speakers in droves, as these devices are very inexpensive – a fraction of what a great smartphone costs. 

At Jacobs Media, thinking long and hard about building a new, up and coming audience at a time when the world is flush with innovation is what keeps us awake at night. Broadcasters’ presence on smart speakers presents a way to keep an eye on your younger audience as demographic and cultural forces continue to shift.

While we don’t wish you sleepless nights, we do wish you a happy, healthy new year with lots of audience growth on-air, online, and on Alexa and Google Home.

-Jason Hollins, Research Director, Jacobs Media

The WBA Hotline is a free service of the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association.  If you have any questions pertaining to streaming, social media, mobile, or more, call Jacobs Media at 248-353-9030 or Paul Jacobs at paul@jacobsmedia.com.

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