In the current issue, and the next several issues of Radio Ink, we’ll spotlight companies that are generating real digital revenue for radio stations across the country. XAPPMedia is a technology company that focuses on interactive audio services, and one of the goals of the company is to help radio stations generate revenue in the voice space, which includes Alexa and Google Home. Pat Higbie is the CEO and co-founder of XAPPMedia.
RI: What is XAPPMedia doing to generate revenue for radio?
Higbie: We are helping primarily right now in the new voice space that’s been created by Amazon Alexa and Google Home. We see this as the dawn of a new era in technology — the voice era. Like with the Web and mobile eras, there’s going to be big winners and big losers. Voice will bring about profound improvements in listener convenience and content discovery, in addition to spontaneous connection with local talent. We think the radio stations and podcasters that deliver these improvements will be the winners. This is an enormous opportunity to bring radio back into the home. That’s where we see a fantastic opportunity for radio right now, and we are actively engaged in that space.
RI: What role do you see radio playing, and how are you going to get it there?
Higbie: We build and manage Alexa skills and Google conversation actions. They’re the same thing, so we can refer to them jointly as voice apps. In fact, we just released an Alexa skill for The Investing Podcast called “We Study Billionaires,” where we created some new features. One of the biggest problems with long-form audio content, like podcasts, is the ability to discover content while you’re listening. You typically have to discover what you want to listen to before you start listening, and then listen to it. We’ve created a scan feature so when you start this skill, it allows you to scan through the episodes by title and then jump into the one you want to listen to.
That’s just one example. Radio stations often have a series of podcasts, and the same feature enables users to scan through them to find the one they want, just like scanning for a radio station, and then they can jump into the one that interests them. We’re bringing a whole new user experience to podcasts that improves discovery, especially while people are busy doing other things.
The next step will be making podcast content more interactive. Just think of local talent being able to query people and having that direct back channel that radio has never had but has always wanted. It’s done now through texting and phone calls and all that stuff, but this is a convenient back channel that’s spontaneous and creates a lot of intimacy. These are the things that still draw people to radio, but with the mobile wave, I think radio was hamstrung a bit. And now with the voice era, radio has the ability to really take advantage of this new world.
RI: So if I have a radio station, how am I going to get involved in what you’re talking about and then generate revenue from that?
Higbie: We look at your content and help you build an Alexa skill or a Google action. For instance, if it was one of our local stations called WTOP, you would just say, “Open WTOP,” and now rather than just listening to the live stream, which you can do today through TuneIn, you’d be able to actually ask for weather, sports, money, news, and access the back catalog of content as well, all on demand.
Then we can provide advertising that users can respond to spontaneously by voice. Local radio has always been big on local direct-response advertising, but it’s obviously difficult to do that on terrestrial radio. It’s very natural in a voice environment to have a spontaneous connection with an advertisement. This is what we’ve been doing for four years with XAPP Ads. This new environment makes it perfect for the advertisers as well as for the radio stations.
RI: If I say to the Echo, “Alexa, open WTOP,” and I want to hear the local news, you’re creating the technology that makes that happen?
Higbie: Absolutely. We make it as natural as possible. You would just say, “Alexa, ask WTOP for local news,” and it would start playing instantly. If you said, “Ask WTOP for a traffic update,” it would play instantly. You don’t have to wait for “traffic on the 8s.” You get what you want instantly. If it’s longerform stuff — like lots of radio groups and stations have all kinds of podcasts and content that you can listen to in a time-shifted way — it might have been this morning’s show that you missed. But you don’t have to miss it anymore. You can listen to it whenever you want and ask for it by voice while you’re busy doing other things.
RI: Do you have stations that have already bought into this?
Higbie: We’re working with some radio groups right now, including Federated Media. We haven’t published their skills yet, but their chief strategy officer, James Derby, is a visionary and the whole firm is very forward-thinking. They love the prototypes we’ve built, and we’re busy creating skills with the benefit of their expert knowledge of what their listeners want. They’re extremely excited about what we’re doing.
RI: How do you envision the advertising working for the radio station?
Higbie: If it’s live-stream content, you could pre-roll an ad prior to the content starting. If it’s on-demand content, there’s all kind of ways to do it. It’s not just pre-roll. They can be embedded within the content anywhere. Now, obviously there are advertisers that are great for any particular type of content that will align well with the content. We saw this four years ago when we started XAPPmedia to bring XAPP Ads to mobile, but there are a variety of barriers in the mobile world that really don’t exist for radio in the voice world.
I think radio got hurt a lot by the streaming services, primarily because of the user experience that especially young people preferred. Now, if you make your radio content available on these new devices, and make it easy to find and interactive, so you’re engaging with the talent that you have sort of a warmth for anyway, then radio is the new thing again. Then you can take it a step further to where the talent can engage listeners spontaneously by voice, and then that talent can promote an advertiser or provide an opportunity to get a discount or whatever.
It’s a whole new world of user experience, and it is, I believe, a fantastic opportunity for radio. The simplest way to put it is this is an opportunity to bring radio back into the home.
RI: So, you’re making a bet that these devices like Amazon Echo and the Google Home are going to be mass-market devices? Everyone is going to have one?
Higbie: Oh, there’s no question about that. That’s my bet. I’m betting on that. You might’ve seen the news recently that every Wynn hotel room is going to have an Alexa in the room. This Alexa device essentially took competitors by surprise, and now Google has jumped into the game and has their device out. Then Samsung bought a company called Viv that was started by the same people that created Siri. So they’re jumping into the game.
Apple has already said they’re getting in the game and Microsoft is in the game, but starting with PCs. Yes, that’s my bet. And you can quote me on that. And the surge in the sale of these devices over the holidays is creating demand for great content, and that content will in turn create demand for more devices. We’ve seen this all before with the Web and mobile, but voice is so natural that it’s even more inclusive. For instance, seniors that would never touch a keyboard are embracing these devices.
Reach out to Pat at XAPP by e-mail at [email protected]