Smart speakers and radio – the perfect combination

Finding your favourite radio station used to be about finding the right frequency on the dial, but voice activation technology is changing all that, while at the same time offering up a huge opportunity for clients, agencies and brands.

Customer relationships with brands will evolve as browsing via voice becomes more popular. It’s predicted that 30 percent of web browsing will be voice activated by 2020 (Gartner). As the technology improves, the most successful brands will be the ones that have an instantly recognisable and memorable voice and sonic identity.

Kate Burleigh, head of Alexa Skills, ANZ, believes the radio industry is in a box seat when it comes to voice skills for the cloud-based voice service that powers devices like Amazon Echo, Echo Show, Echo Plus, Echo Spot, Echo Dot, and more. 

“Radio producers have a talent for producing listening content, and on top of that they have access to brilliant voice talent,” she told StopPress. “When it comes to designing for Alexa the only thing the radio industry really needs to learn is how to develop for a voice user interface, but the big-ticket items of compelling content and access to voice artists is already solved.”

Smart speakers are designed to play in the background while users do other things, they also pair perfectly with radio’s hands-off, hassle-free approach to providing listeners a music or talk-based soundtrack with multiple advertising options. Voice-activated services are certainly getting smarter, both for features and for natural language understanding and accuracy. Alexa’s brains, for example, are in the AWS cloud, and she continually learns and adds more functionality, every hour, every day.

Both NZME and MediaWorks have built a number of Alexa skills for their listeners. Skills built by media outlets allow the customer to build a “Flash Briefing” – a personalised news feed: the customer chooses which skills they want in their Flash Briefing and asks for the news each morning.

At a worldwide level, some of the most advanced skills for news have been created by The Guardian, CNBC and Tagesshau. They allow customers to access the latest news on demand, by searching for a specific category or by asking for the latest piece of audio available.

There are strong predictions that 75 percent of American households will have a smart speaker by 2020 and New Zealanders are likely to take up the new technology at a similar pace. Google Home, Apple HomePod, Amazon Echo, Microsoft Envoke and other brands are about to flood the market.

“The vision for Alexa,” says Burleigh, “is to be available wherever customers want to interact with her – at home, at work, on the go, and everywhere in between. A future can be envisioned where customers can access Alexa and interact with her as an indispensable part of daily life.”

News, checking the weather and music are some of the many items accessed on smart speakers. In the recent Adobe voice report, 46 percent of smart speaker owners used voice to check the news (setting alarms and reminders also came in at 46 percent). What is even more interesting is that 77 percent of those users do so at least once a day.

Voice offers a very compelling growth opportunity for radio stations. A smart speaker consumer adoption report produced by Voicebot, a leading online publication focused on the voice and AI industries, shows radio listening via voice apps is high in both consumer trial and frequency of use. The data shows that users routinely access a mix of first-party skills and third-party voice apps.

“Few voice apps today are designed to drive frequent repeat usage,” says the report. “Developers have an opportunity to significantly grow their user base by attracting new users that historically haven’t tried third-party voice apps and then getting everyone to come back for more.”

James Cridland, managing director of Podnews, says: “Data from across the world shows that more and more people across the world are using smart speakers as a replacement for other radios in the home. That’s great news for radio and therefore great news for advertisers who use radio as a medium.”

Fortunately for local advertisers, all the data about how people are using radio connected to the internet shows the overwhelming amount of listening is to their own local radio stations.

Smart speakers bring radio to shared spaces throughout the home and to many places that haven’t previously had a radio. A directly connected device allows the broadcaster to know exactly where the listener is at any time. So, instead of having advertising that is covering a whole region, there is the potential to advertise places and brands of interest that are available within say a five km radius.

Certainly, the technology is available for advertisers to be far more targeted and tailored to individual listeners in the future. Because the broadcaster now has a direct connection with the listener, through the internet connected smart speakers, it means they can get varied and accurate metrics back from the streaming service.

Voice activation could mean a real change in the way brands use digital audio. This will be the new and exciting opportunity for personalised interactivity with radio and client brands over audio conversations. Brands will need to start having more audio conversations with their customers in the future.

Only a small proportion of radio listening in New Zealand is currently streamed. But, with faster broadband and 5G on the way in New Zealand next year, that proportion will grow. If, as is expected, most homes quickly become smart, one can expect voice-activated radio to grow alongside, helping radio to continue to be a successful medium.

  • This story is part of a content partnership with The Radio Bureau.

About Author

Graham Medcalf is a freelance writer and owner of Red Advertising.

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