Smart Speakers 1

One promise of what’s being called the voice revolution for radio is making the medium more easily available again in the home. But just because your linear broadcast stream is accessible on smart speakers – through your own station skill or one of the online audio aggregators – doesn’t mean a win in the battle for Americans’ ears in the home. Educating the audience about how to access your content via voice commands and taking advantage of the technology’s inherently interactive nature are crucial next steps.

“Systemically, radio has a challenge in the home and just because these speakers are in the home doesn’t mean the problem is resolved,” says Amplifi Media president Steve Goldstein, who advises broadcasters on smart speaker and podcast strategies. “In fact, it could be the opposite, because those speakers can access the major streaming services, 120,000 radio stations via TuneIn and 800,000 podcasts. The audio choices increase exponentially.”

Some broadcasters aggressively educate their audiences on how to listen to their programming on smart speakers – iHeartMedia and NPR in particular. Syndicated host Dave Ramsey has devoted a how-to web page to this topic and NPR created a brief, concise video explaining how to ask your smart speaker to “play NPR.” “You look at this black cylinder on your kitchen counter and it’s like, I don’t know what to say,” offers Tamar Charney, Managing Director, Personalization and Curation, NPR. “One of the big challenges is helping people know what they can ask the smart speaker to do.”

To entice the tens of thousands of Americans who will get their first voice device this holiday season, the advice from experts is keep it simple – both in instructions for how to access your content and the specific invocation that will summons it. “Getting the right memorable invocation makes a huge difference. Anything that’s too clever often doesn’t end up being recalled,” Goldstein warns.

Beyond making your broadcast stream available and educating listeners on how to access it, the next step is getting the things your brand is best known for onto voice platforms in easily accessible ways. That could involve making your entire morning show available on demand – or bite-sized pieces of it. “Your best morning show listeners miss 80% of the content,” Goldstein says, due to being unavailable to listen in real time. Radio can swipe a page from the late night TV show playbook and make its best morning show bits available on demand on smart speakers. “Staying in the pop culture zeitgeist is possible by putting your content on other platforms,” Goldstein adds.

Making Radio More Interactive

Figuring out ways to take advantage of the interactive capabilities of voice-activated devices is a critical component of NPR’s smart speaker strategy. To that end, members stations have made their local version of signature show “Morning Edition” available for time-shifted on demand listening. Going a step further, NPR has leveraged the technology and algorithms behind its NPR One smartphone app to create local and national blends of content for smart speakers that allow listeners to pause stories and skip ones they don't want to hear. “It’s a flow of content that almost feels like radio but you can skip, back-up and you get local and national mixed together,” Charney explains. “And because you're using the algorithm, it can also start to personalize, particularly when it comes to podcasts.”

Perhaps the best NPR use of interactivity to date is the interactive quiz it built for popular weekend show “Wait Wait…Don't Tell Me!" that challenges listeners’ knowledge of news and quirky headlines. And now, as more smart speakers come equipped with a screen, the network is working to bring visual elements to its content. In morning drive, NPR produces an edited visual version of its newscast that adds video clips and still images to provide a pictorial treatment of the stories.

As the industry begins to experiment with innovative ways to adapt its content for new platforms, there is a fundamental re-thinking of what is possible with “radio.” “If you look at the future of broadcasting, you have a generation that’s growing up expecting a give and take in audio,” Charney says. “What does that mean for the content that we produce? That’s what we’re all thinking about.” Adds Goldstein: “It’s early days. We don’t know where all of this going to end up.” – Paul Heine