Earlier this week, Inside Radio reported that smart speakers now outnumber radios in the home in the 14-54 age group — and that more people have been buying them since the COVID-19 pandemic kicked off.
It’s not just that more people have smart speakers — it’s that they’re using their devices to access more news, music, and other radio content than ever before.
April’s National Public Media/Edison Smart Audio Report showed that “77% of U.S. adults have had a change in their typical routine due to the outbreak of COVID-19, and voice-assistant usage has expanded during these disruptions… New research shows how smart speakers and voice assistants are increasingly becoming a part of their everyday lives.”
NPR/Edison found that 35% of American adult smart speaker owners have been listening to more news since the COVID-19 outbreak — including 50% of users in the 18-35 age bracket.
“With tens of millions of Americans no longer commuting, smart speakers are becoming even more important as a conduit for news and information,” Edison Research SVP Tom Webster told NPR.org. “And this increased usage and facility with voice assistants will likely increase demand for this technology in vehicles once our commutes resume.”
iHeartMedia’s President of Programming Operations Jon Zellner tells Inside Radio that smart speakers are helping boost listenership for both live streams and podcasts. “Using smart speakers and other smart devices… has never been more evident,” he says. “Smart speaker listening has increased 11% and we’re seeing a 37% increase in smart TV listeners. This is proof that if ever there was a time that listeners need companionship and human connection, it’s now — and people want to find us everywhere they are.”
NPR found a crossover between the use of smart speakers and other technologies with voice-command capabilities, like mobile phones. Forty-six percent of smart speaker owners reported using their smartphone’s voice assistant more often since getting a smart speaker. Among people who don’t own a smart speaker but do use voice commands on other devices, 52% said they’re “likely or very likely to buy a smart speaker in the next six months.” Overall, 34% of smart speaker non-owners surveyed by NPR/Edison said they were likely or very likely to buy a device in the next six months.
This is all potentially good news for radio outlets — but only if they make it easy for listeners to find their content. According to Federated Media, “Users ask their smart speakers to play their favorite local stations, with radio listening cited as the second most popular usage for speakers.” But getting them to listen to your station requires planning and consistent messaging. “Just locking up your invocation name and launching a skill doesn’t mean the audience can find you.”
In 2019 NuVoodoo reported that 46% of users surveyed said they had trouble getting the smart speaker to find the station they wanted. Federated says the failure to connect is on the outlet, and not the smart speaker developers. “Educate your audience about voice skills and remind them regularly how to find you on Alexa and Google Home. Also, tell listeners what these skills can do. Federated Media’s radio stations, for instance, promote their skills on-air, online and on social media.”