The Hidden Dangers of Smart Speakers

One out of four Americans now own a smart speaker, according to new data reported in Techcrunch.

That means one out of every four of your listeners owns and probably uses a smart speaker.

Meanwhile “listening to music” is the #1 use for a smart speaker, according to most data. Not “listening to radio,” mind you, but “listening to music.” And therein lurks the hidden danger of the platform.

If you have one of these devices you know that you set it up to access a music platform right up front, usually Amazon Music or Spotify. And once you do that you never had to “twist the knob” again. Any and every time you ask to listen to any kind of song or music, that’s the well the platform goes to to find that music and play it for you.

In other words, if your appetite is for “music” specifically and not for any particular “radio station” particularly, you will not only be satisfied when the device delivers a playlist from Spotify (for example), you like probably be delighted. After all, you asked for “music,” not for “commercials” or “personalities” or “local news and traffic” or whatever else might be in the package of that device called “radio.” And you may well have asked for particular songs or artists, which you will absolutely have to wait around for if radio is your choice.

That is, the “radio” use case and the “music from my smart speaker” use case are completely different. I will CHOOSE radio for all the things that I can’t get from Spotify and vice versa. If I want a particular song or artist, then a smart speaker will deliver it to me much more effectively than if I asked it to “Play Z100.”

And since Spotify (or whatever other music streaming platform you have hooked into your smart speaker) is automatically used every time you ask for music, it is by definition EASIER to use than radio on these devices. And “ease of use” has always been one of the most important drivers that sustain radio usage even in an era of infinite choice.

Remove “ease of use” and you remove “convenience.” Remove “convenience” and you remove “habit.” Remove “habit” and you may remove “radio.”

Now I know you are reading all kinds of things encouraging broadcasters to go all in on Alexa skills, etc. – to dive in headfirst to the smart speaker ecosystem. And this advice is not wrong. It’s just that this advice is hopelessly naive. Diving into smart speakers for radio will, I predict, NOT protect your listening in the long run. It will only slow the decline, and not by very much.

Look at the statistics for yourself. Trace radio usage in your market (based on the AQH audience overall) across the same time frame associated with the rise of smart speakers. Has radio listening been GROWING because of more audio devices in more homes? No, it has not. It has been shrinking.

While you may be excited about the volume of your station’s streaming audience which is now delivered via smart speakers, what you’re overlooking is the corresponding decline in radio listening overall, mostly via PPM and traditional listening. And those losses will be one-way and costly.

So the real dangers lurking with smart speakers for broadcasters is the sense that by enabling skills you have “solved the problem.” You have not. Smart speakers are going to blossom and bloom in every home in America and, more importantly, in every American car. It can’t be stopped, nor should it.

So what should you do about all this? The short answer (and one I spent much more time on in the recent CMB Gold Member session in San Diego) is to double-down on your audience across platforms and not on audio per se, regardless of platform.

You are important to a lot of people because of what value you provide in their lives. Focus on that value. Bring it to life in more ways and in more places. It’s much more important than playing the right song in rotation or even having the right talent between songs.


Mark Ramsey is president of Mark Ramsey Media, strategic research provider to many Christian music stations including K-LOVE, AIR1, KLTY/Dallas, WPOZ/Orlando, KTIS/Minneapolis, and many others. More information about his services is at http://mrmchristian.com. Sign up for FAITHBRIGHT, his weekly email of smart and actionable ideas for Christian broadcasters here: https://goo.gl/2hJMCG. Reach him at 858-485-6372 or mramsey@markramseymedia.com.

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