(By Peter Smyth) When you need help, who do you call for? Alexa, Cortana, or Siri? Or maybe you just yell for Google. Voice assistants have become mainstream in a big way. The latest number from Edison’s Infinite Dial research says that almost 80% of us are aware of “smart” assistants or speakers, and an estimated 65 million (23%) of us have one or more at home.
Surprised by those percentages? You shouldn’t be. Ever since our smartphones started talking to us, we’ve been in the voice assistant (r)evolution. Of the various assistants on the market today, Alexa is the frontrunner with a substantial lead. Voice control has rapidly evolved to be more accurate and intuitive and may eventually become the standard interface between man and machine.
What got my attention was a PWC study from last year that ranked how we use smart speakers. The top response was “ask a question,” followed closely by “listen to a streaming music service,” which almost 42% of the sample did daily. “Listening to radio” was down the list in fifth place with 26% daily usage.
That gap is significant and should be a call to action for radio stations — we are now competing on an easy-to-use, convenient delivery system with two of the biggest competitors for music services, Spotify and Pandora. We need to play a strong defense and make sure that our stations are equipped with Alexa skills, Siri integration with mobile apps and Car Play, and other innovations from Google and Apple as they refine their voice products.
Radio stations can creatively use the smart speaker platforms not only for our air product, but also for on-demand audio to highlight what makes our station special beyond music delivery. This can take a variety of forms like morning show excerpts, concert and music reviews, or interviews. It can be another platform to spotlight and promote the station personalities and programming.
I know that it is a constant headache to find dollars and man-hours to address the endlessly changeable world of digital delivery, but it is absolutely necessary if we are to maintain the loyalty and interest of our audiences. Each of these tech innovations takes another bite out of the reach and time spent listening to broadcast radio. We are still the dominant audio source in car, but at home listening needs help. Clock radios are non-existent and it’s just too easy to turn to a smart speaker or computer and order up a streaming playlist. It’s our challenge to give them a worthwhile reason to listen, at their fingertips.
Playing defense is not as exciting as a high-scoring rout, but it wins games. And we need to win this latest challenge to keep our medium a vital part of listeners’ daily habits. All we have to do is be there when they call for us.
Former Greater Media CEO Peter Smyth received Radio Ink‘s Lifetime Leadership Award at Forecast 2019 in New York. Smyth ran Greater Media from 2000 until it was sold to Beasley Media Group in 2016. During his career, Smyth served as Chairman of the RAB’s board, as President of the New England Media Association, and as an elected member of the board of the NAB.