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Five Things to Radio Needs to Know About Smart Speakers

Voice-activated speakers, including Alexa and Google Home, are now mainstream, but security concerns and more selective use of the devices is clouding future growth. Voice tech remains promising and primed for innovation, but media companies and brands need to focus on building trust and delivering utility.

Ownership of devices like Alexa and Google Home are surging -- up 78% in just a year -- according to the latest installment of Edison Research and NPR’s Spring 2019 Smart Audio. From December 2017 to December 2018, with the number of devices sold swelled from about 68 million to about 118 million. About one-third of speaker owners own three or more devices, stationing them throughout their homes.

Many radio stations have launched voice integrations with live streams and on-demand content, and stations are promoting these offerings on-air and online. But there is still work to be done. Here are five insights from the SmartAudio report that can help local radio harness the potential of smart speakers. 

More speakers, fewer skills

As smart speakers proliferate within American homes, it creates opportunities to speak to different family members, and during various dayparts and activities. However, as consumers get more comfortable with speakers, they’re trimming down the skills they access on a regular basis. According to the Smart Audio report, speaker owners who have had their devices for less than three months use an average about 12 skills, while consumers who have had devices for two years or longer only access an average of 7 skills.

While it might sound like the shine is wearing off the speakers, leaving them to collect dust, researchers say that’s not the case. In fact, 44% of speaker owners say they use their devices more than they did in the first month. And rather than disconnecting their speakers, longtime users are more likely to have found skills they like and use them regularly. For publishers, the challenge is to be one of those sticky skills.

Audio is a top activity

At a time when radios have vanished from kitchens and nightstands, smart speakers have helped bring audio back into the home. In fact, 55% of users saying they listen to more audio since purchasing their devices. Among speaker owners, playing music ranks as the most popular use, with 77% of users asking their devices to play music in the last week. The second most popular activity is asking for the weather, followed by answering a question, and setting alarms and timers. Getting the news and sports scores are also popular requests. In a boon for radio listening, one-third of users listen to AM/FM radio through their speakers. The everyday nature of many of these requests underscores how speakers are becoming ingrained in the operations of American homes.

Privacy and security cloud speakers  

While smart speakers stand at the ready to fulfill commands, some consumers worry about their safety and security. About 60% of speaker owners worry that hackers could access their personal or household data through the devices. Privacy is another major concern with 51% of speaker owners saying they fret the devices are always listening, and 49% expressing concern the government could be listening to their conversations via the speakers.  Among consumers who do not own a smart speaker, safety and privacy were among the top reasons they’re holding out.

Smart speakers create new listening (and viewing) opportunities

For consumers who have welcomed a smart speaker (or three or four) into their homes, they’re using them during a wide-variety of activities, including household chores, working out, getting ready in the morning and winding down for the night. For local radio, this creates unique opportunities to deliver timely and relevant information to these consumers, including weather and traffic updates, on-demand content and even sponsored content.

As some new speakers come with integrated screens, like the Echo Show and Google Home Hub, about one-quarter of speaker owners say they have a screen and a screen-free device. Radio stations can attach images and video to their skills, as well as for advertisers. This adds a new layer of possibility to speakers, but also can require more planning.

Discovery is hindering smart speaker usage

It is hard to get users to ask for your skill if they don’t know it exists. Radio stations are getting better at promoting their voice skills on-air and online, but discovery remains an obstacle for all publishers. About half of smart speaker owners say they get most of their recommendations from family and friends, and one-third say they learn about content from email marketing from device manufacturers, including Amazon, Google and Apple. Media companies, including radio stations, and brands alike need to do more to educate consumers and entice them to try skills. It simply isn’t enough to think if you build it, they will come. Radio stations are masters at promotion and need to put more of that expertise to work.


Savvy broadcasters, including many of our Federated Media stations, offer rich voice experiences that allow listeners to interact deeply with our radio content and personalities. This is extending our brands and creating new listening opportunities. As speaker technology and user behaviors are changing quickly, and radio broadcasters need to stay on top to deliver the most effective voice content.

Written by Paul Altman