A new era in the history of radio is beginning with the widespread adoption of smart speakers by American consumers. Smart speakers are opening market opportunities for radio, already an extremely powerful medium in its own right, to gain increasing traction in its digital reach.
What is a smart speaker?
A smart speaker is one of the newest additions to the ever increasing collection of traditional devices reimagined as internet connected interfaces. In the case of the smart speaker, you control the device with your voice, whether changing the volume, selecting songs, or playing a radio station. These devices tend to have very few physical buttons, and rely on cutting edge voice recognition technology.
The three leaders in smart speakers are Amazon, Google, and Apple, with each company offering its own artificial intelligence system: Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri respectively. The headline smart speakers for these three brands are Amazon Echo, Google Nest, and Apple Homepod. While each of these companies sells their own branded smart speakers, they also may allow their user interfaces to operate in smart speakers made by other brands. For example, the Sonos One comes equipped with Alexa, but users can choose to have it run Google’s or Amazon’s systems.
What opportunities do smart speakers offer to the radio industry?
1. Radio Digital Streaming
Approximately 35% of households in the U.S. have at least one smart speaker, according to Statista. This opens opportunities for radio to increase its share of listeners inside the home. Radio has long been dominant in the car and in workplaces. But the ubiquity of radio inside the home has been lost for many years. The smart speaker is changing that. Radio World reports that 9% of smart speaker owners listen to “a lot more radio since owning a smart speaker.”
In order for users to access a radio station, it must have an established digital feed for the station for users to stream it. Additionally, the station must create a skill for smart speakers to use to find your station. A skill is the specific voice command which the user will say to turn on your station. For instance, a user might say “Alexa, play Classic Hits 93.9” to listen to that station. It is essential for radio stations to promote their ‘skills’ on the air. According to Radio World, stations that promote their skills on the air register 50% of all smart speaker radio listening. Currently, AM/FM radio stations account for about 18% of all listening on smart speakers.
Another avenue of interest for radio stations is podcasting. While your station’s talent might release their regular aired shows as podcasts which can be streamed anytime, it's also possible to record special material for podcasts to make it a unique experience. By creating differentiated products between podcast and livestream, a station can offer advertisers more options to reach its target audience. Podcast listenership skews toward younger adult audiences.
3. Car Play
Given the previous attention in this blog to new radio opportunities in the home, it might be easy to overlook an area of traditional radio dominance: the car. Almost all car brands now offer user interfaces which connect with a smartphone and allows for voice control as well as touch screen control. For older vehicles, compatible aftermarket units are available from brands like Alpine, JVC, Sony, and more.
Apple’s CarPlay is specially designed to allow use of your iPhone’s apps through the touchscreen of the vehicle. Essentially, this allows for your car to become a smart speaker. With voice commands enabled, users can navigate to live digital radio streams, as well as podcasts. Although the ability to listen to local AM/FM stations the conventional way will continue to exist, as listeners become more accustomed to listening to audio through their connected smartphone, it will be important to meet audiences on their own terms, in the digital streaming space. Providing digital accessibility also allows dedicated listeners of local stations to continue listening while on trips outside the range of a conventional station.
Tools for the Future
As radio adapts to the increasingly digital world, new opportunities and audiences will open up. Throughout the entire history of radio, it has proved a flexible and relevant source of information and entertainment. The future of radio has never been brighter. Radio has always been the most personable type of media, with audiences connecting with their favorite station’s hosts. The move toward increasing user-friendliness and interactivity stands to make radio even more personal than it has been before. Smart speakers and CarPlay are just another chapter in the great history of radio.