Are Smart Speakers the game changer radio needs?

Former Assistant Editor

While smart speakers have been available for a relatively short amount of time in Australia, there’s already plenty of buzz on whether the increasing saturation of Google Home, Amazon Alexa and more recently, Apple HomePod devices could have significant implications for radio.

Billboard reports that over 25 million smart speakers were sold in America in 2017, with 11 million of these in the holiday quarter alone.

The optimism swirling around the industry stems from the prolific influx of sales in the US, with broadcasters already excited about implications this smart speaker boom could have for bringing radio back into the home.

Smart speakers are even fresher in the Australian market, and despite there being limited sales figures to demonstrate a US-like influx of the devices, Southern Cross Austereo has already nailed down partnerships with multiple speaker manufacturers.

At Nashville’s Country Radio Seminar from Feb 5-7, multiple broadcaster reps spoke broadly about how music streaming through devices like smart speakers seriously impacts personal listening habits, and how radio could also take advantage of new opportunities provided by such devices.

Cumulus VP Programming Operations Greg Fey, who chaired the CRS agenda committee for Country Radio Broadcasters, spoke about the need for radio to continue to embrace the fact that people are only going to get more digital.

“So I think it’s all about realising where our listeners are at any given moment of the day and how we can extend our radio brand to reach them on the available platforms,” he stated.

Frey also highlighted the potential for the proliferation of smart speakers to be a “game changer” for radio.

“This is probably the event that I’m looking forward to most,” said Frey.

The smart speaker potentially is a true game-changer for radio – because it is getting radio back in the home, a space we haven’t owned in quite a while.

Smart speakers in the home certainly provide the opportunity for households to listen to more radio – but with the immediacy of content required through voice-activated digital technologies, it’s easier to see streaming services getting the nod ahead of radio.

Mark Ramsey’s analysis even found that there was a correlation between more smart speakers and more demand for the immediate news and immediate songs, as well as less demand for traditional radio.

In any case, the opportunity for radio to make inroads is clearly there, and in Australia, we’re already seeing instances of radio trying to own this new and uncertain space.

Recently SCA partnered with Amazon Alexa and Google Home, announcing that Triple M and Hit Network flash briefings are now available on these devices in metro markets.

A spokesperson for SCA told Radio Today that a big part of the decision to partner with these services was the existing relationship between the network and its listeners. 

Listeners trust our Triple M and Hit brands and know that the news coverage will be relevant for them. Making our news available on these devices was an obvious extension of our current activities so that listeners can get access to our news, sport and entertainment whenever they want.”

It’s not a case of blind optimism at SCA, closing their eyes to the challenges that they may face contesting for this space. Quite the opposite in fact, with the broadcaster determined to fill a pre-identified gap in local news on home devices.

“The smart speaker space has huge potential, but ultimately the platforms (Amazon, Google, Apple) will decide what’s possible and available on these devices and how quickly this will happen.,” the SCA spokesperson added.

“Each platform owns a subscription music service which no doubt they’ll want to promote. The challenge for broadcasters will be to understand how listener’s consumption on these devices differs from how they consume traditional broadcast radio and then align our strategy accordingly.”

“The key is to make sure that our audiences can get the content they’re looking for – in this case news. We saw a gap in local news on home devices, especially news being read by a human, and were more than happy to make our news available.”

But does the smart speaker revolution have the potential to truly be a ‘game changer’ for radio?

SCA are remaining positive, and are determined to stay ahead of the curve, whatever that may bring.

“There is considerable evidence that radio is very popular on smart speakers. And importantly home devices aren’t just a replacement for the Bluetooth speaker or kitchen radio as they put intelligent speakers in every room of the house and put the users’ favourite radio station only a short sentence away.  

“It’s a very exciting space, but we expect it to get crowded very quickly. We intend to stay ahead.”

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