One in five Americans (21%) now owns a smart speaker, or around 53 million consumers 18+, according to the Spring 2019 edition of The Smart Audio Report from Edison Research and NPR. Favorite functions are playing music, getting weather, answering general questions and setting an alarm. Listening to podcasts, however, “lags,” says Edison Research Senior VP Tom Webster.
Results from the latest research were shared Tuesday in a comprehensive webinar led by Edison and NPR. It was during the Q&A portion of the presentation that the podcasting conundrum was addressed, when the question was raised: “How many use smart speakers for podcasts?” That, in fact, is not among the top 10 smart speaker requests.
Webster’s response: “Not as many as could and perhaps should.” Saying that the profile of those who own smart speakers and those who access podcasts are similar, he noted, “They certainly appeal to a very similar type of human. But podcasting lags a little bit on smart speakers.”
Joel Sucherman, VP, New Platform Partnerships at the public radio network—which has partnered with Edison on the Smart Audio report since its June 2017 inception—added that one reason for a lack of podcasting listening on smart speakers may have to do with the “experience” itself. He said, “In many cases the podcast listening experience is a very intimate, personal one and sometimes the smart speaker device is in a communal place in the house.” He also admitted that the report’s podcasting numbers “are a little bit artificially low,” partially because they are not able to track listening to podcasts as smart speaker listening when people bluetooth a podcast from smartphones. “There’s probably more that's actually happening, but we’re not able to track it as listening via voice assistants.”
The number of smart speakers in use in the U.S. rose to an estimated 118.5 million in December 2018, a 78% spike from 66.7 million in December 2017. That’s due in large part to people owning more than one. “If you own a smart speaker, chances are you own at least two of them,” Webster said. And that has placed the voice-activated devices in multiple rooms in the household.
With their growing ubiquity, Webster added that smart speakers have emerged as “a true companion device” that enables multitasking. Nearly three in four (74%) use them in a typical week while doing household chores, 66% while cooking and 59% while getting ready for the day. But the devices are also in use while entertaining (56%), browsing the web (44%), working out (42%), getting ready for bed (32%) and even watching TV (31%).
In many respects, smart speakers have become a utility device for such activities as playing music (77% of device owners), getting the weather (75%), answering a general question (74%), setting an alarm (53%) and getting the news (42%). Broadcasters see the devices as a modern day equivalent of the clock radio; the new data shows nearly four in 10 owners (37%) use their device weekly to listen to AM/FM radio station streams. Significantly for broadcasters, 55% agree they are listening to more audio since getting a smart speaker.
Among those who haven’t taken the plunge, interest in owning a smart speaker is highest in radio’s prime demo of 35-54 where 29% say they are interested in acquiring one. Millennials aged 18-34 are close behind at 26%.
Seven in 10 (69%) use the device daily and 44% say they are using it more often than in the first month they bought it, compared to 35% who indicate about the same amount and 21% less often. But as these devices become more prevalent in people’s lives, they’re using them for fewer things. Those who have had one for three months or less say they used an average of 11.7 skills in the past week. The number drops to 10.2 for three months to less than six months, 9.5 for six months to a year and 7.0 for two years or more. But generally speaking, the longer the ownership period, the more likely owners are to agree with the statement, “You wouldn’t want to go back to life without your smart speaker.”