In recent interviews, I have said many times that Amazon Echo is bringing radio back into the home. Over 10 million homes have introduced Amazon Echo and Google Home into their kitchens and living rooms. Another 20 million are expected to add these devices in 2017. Gartner estimates that 75% of U.S. households will have a smart speaker by 2020 according to Inside Radio.
Smart speakers make radio immediately accessible in the main living spaces again. James Derby from Federated Media put it this way:
“People don’t have tabletop radios in the home like they used to. The may have a clock radio in the bedroom and they have radio in the car. Amazon Echo is putting radio access right into the main living spaces of the home again – the kitchen and living room.”
Smart Speakers Need Great Audio Content
When you add an Amazon Echo to your home, you are adding a smart speaker. Many people focus on the “smart” part for good reason. It is a new capability. You can ask an Amazon Echo and the Alexa voice assistant to do things by simply speaking. Consumers ask the Echo to set timers, call up recipes and turn on the lights. However, the key use case for Amazon Echo is audio entertainment. Who knows more about filling speakers with great audio content than radio programmers?
An Experian study revealed that 82% of Echo owners had used the device to play a song. More often than not, they are using Amazon Music or Spotify because it’s so easy. These streaming services have Alexa skills that make it easy to call up their content on the Echo. Radio has an opportunity to be just as easy to access and become the prominent source of audio entertainment in the home that it once was. Alexa skills represent a new kind of preset radio button.
The Preset Radio Buttons of the Smart Speaker Era
Many of us remember radio buttons in the car. They made our favorite stations readily accessible at the push of one, single button. No more tuning the dial to find it. We could access the station in an instant no matter where else we were on the dial. These 5-6 stations commanded the listener’s attention. A key strategy for many broadcasters was to encourage listeners to set their buttons to their station because it was the equivalent of audience lock-in. Convenience wins.
The simplicity of radio buttons is lost in new cars that have so many listening options that it takes multiple touches to get to the content you want. It’s much harder to just play your favorite stations in new “connected” cars.
Amazon Echo is a smooth round cylinder without physical buttons for presets. You don’t need them, because the preset button equivalents can be called up anytime by voice. The question for radio stations is how to become a preset in the voice era. It starts with teaching Amazon’s voice assistant, Alexa, to recognize your stations name.
Radio on Amazon Echo Today
There are over 100,000 radio stations accessible through Amazon Echo today. Talk about an infinite dial of stations to choose from. Each station may have unique call letters, but is that how listeners know you? Many stations have local brand names indistinguishable from other stations throughout the country…or world. Before we started working with Federated Media, a listener asking Alexa to “play B100” would receive a pop station format simulcast on TuneIn and not the leading country music station in Northern Indiana.
By creating an Alexa skill for B100, XAPPmedia helped teach the Alexa voice assistant that a request for B100 meant Federate Media’s country station. Alexa could then start B100 on the Echo smart speaker and offer the user several listening choices for the station. The first step was to establish a distinct presence so B100 could be found. From that point forward, B100 had its voice radio button.
Offering More Than Simulcast, It’s Voice Interactive Radio
Convenience is just the beginning. The paradigm shift is the introduction of voice interactive radio. You can offer a more robust listener experience than a simple simulcast. For example, listeners calling up B100 on Echo are offered choices to listen live, access podcasts or request on-demand listening by genre such as Southern Rock or 90s Country. Think about that. Amazon Echo and other smart speakers enable broadcasters to feature their entire content catalog and cater to specific listener moods at any time. This levels the user experience playing field with streaming services.
Radio can also spotlight its key differentiator: personality. Show hosts offer an entertainment experience that streaming services cannot match. Content featuring show hosts can be more easily accessed through Echo at anytime by voice. You can also make the process interactive by running contests and back-and-forth exchanges between hosts and listeners through the platform. It won’t be long before listener call-ins are replaced by people simply speaking to their smart speakers. No separate phone dial-in needed. Voice interactive radio helps the industry’s unique differentiators shine.
It’s A Big Audience in The Car Too
There are many reasons for radio stations to care intently about the rise of smart speakers and I will add one more. Smart speaker voice assistants are also being integrated into automobiles. Fifteen million Ford vehicles will have Amazon Alexa skills available in 2017 and millions more will be introduced by other automakers. When broadcasters take the time to establish an Amazon Alexa presence, they aren’t just targeting the home. The car is in play too.
Recapturing Listening Time
Many radio stations lost audience listening time to streaming services with the rise of mobile devices. Smart speakers driven by voice assistants like Amazon Alexa have created a new avenue to recapture listening time and serve radio audiences better. However, it starts with creating the voice radio button for your station. If you would like to learn more about making your station readily available to listeners on Amazon Echo, XAPP is a recognized Amazon Alexa development partner and we would be happy to share what we have learned.
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Also, if you are attending NAB this year, we are hosting a roundtable in the Digital Strategies Exchange for Radio on Monday April 24th at 2:05 pm at the Las Vegas Convention Center, Room N257. I will represent XAPP along with Jeff Gibb, Manager, Business Development, Amazon Alexa and James Derby, Chief Strategy Officer/Dir. of Programming, Federated Media. Session details can be found here.
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