Smart Speakers Can Bring Radio Deep Into On-Demand Revolution.
By Steve Goldstein
Originally published at Inside Radio
Among the most exciting opportunities that the smart speaker revolution brings to radio is the potential to become an on-demand content provider. As technology evolves, radio should be everywhere its audience is and for a growing number that’s smart speakers. One of AM/FM’s strengths is being live; with smart speakers, that advantage is available on anyone’s schedule.
Consumers have grown accustomed to the on-demand lifestyle courtesy of video content. Amazon Echo, Google Home and the fast-selling category could offer a frictionless way for listeners to access radio’s growing menu of podcasts and other on-demand offerings.
Accessing a podcast frequently takes serious effort, as listeners typically must search and then download and then play. Smart speakers, instead, for the first time, provide potential for radio stations to repurpose over-the-air content that is exclusive to the growing millions of users of Alexa, Google Home and their fledgling competitors simply by asking for it.
“I love the idea that after 95 years of broadcasting in linear fashion and knowing that whatever you put out over the air has no retention strategy, now you have podcasting and you have smart speakers,” says Steve Goldstein, founder of radio consultancy Amplifi Media and partner with Jacobs Media for SonicAI, which is one among several companies providing solutions for radio stations to develop Amazon Echo skills. Goldstein points to research that says the audience typically misses as much as 80% of a top-performing radio morning show’s content. “Time-shifting top content is a natural fit.”
“Clearly, the ability to play out on-demand, time-shifted catch-up content is an important category for radio,” adds John Rosso president of Market Development for Triton Digital. “Repurposing existing content and the creation of new content for Alexa and Google Home are providing a brand new distribution channel for radio.”
Custom content is truly king in this new world. Says Beasley Media Group’s executive VP of programming Justin Chase—whose company is among the “first responders” in recognizing the revolution—“Our industry is filled with audio experts. This is something we are really good at. So feature your station’s best audio: podcasts, morning show bits, daily news updates, sports scores, concert or event updates. We have so many opportunities to get creative. These types of content pieces will create a richer experience in your skill and will increase the chances of your listeners creating a habit of using your skill daily.”
Beasley’s rock WMMR (93.3) Philadelphia, which worked with SonicAi, offers Echo users a live stream, but there’s already much more. For Amazon Echo users who have enabled the station’s skill, when they say “Alexa, open ‘MMR”—which, importantly, bypasses streaming via Tunein and/or iHeartRadio and connects directly to the station’s content—MMR’s “Preston and Steve” morning show welcomes the user—with their own familiar voices. Then they’re offered three options: the outlet’s live stream, the “Preston and Steve” podcast or a recap of its popular “Daily Rush.” And when the user signs off from its time with WMMR, there’s even a custom outro, “Keep rockin’ with MMR.”
“So now if you miss that content over the air, on any day, it’s available here. What a tremendous retention strategy that is,” SonicAi’s Goldstein tells Inside Radio. During a panel at the Radio Show in Austin last month, Chase noted, “It’s a great way to get people coming back, to get the audience to create the habit of using our products in the home again. Why not create a special experience over and above your stream?”
Another early innovator is Entercom Communications rock KISW (99.9) Seattle, which also worked with SonicAi to launch its voice-enabled skill, ‘Open 999 KISW.’ “Once you start fiddling around with the device, you realize how many opportunities radio has for original content and features,” says VP of programming and operations Dave Richards.
That includes the opportunity to access KISW’s weekly podcast from popular morning show “BJ and Migs,” alongside short-form repeats from each shift. The station has since added customized bites of content from “The Mens Room,” which airs weekdays 2pm-6pm. “Right now, we’re getting the audience used to the technology and terminology. Over time we’ll go deeper,” Richards says. “We’re already setting up a timeline of events and content for the next year.”
Seizing the Potential To Repurpose Content
The potential certainly abounds. “There are so many things you can do to repurpose existing content that doesn’t involve a ton of effort. It’s really more about technology,” Rosso says. “What if a radio station were able to offer a wake-up skill, with local news, weather and traffic, all while the user is making coffee in the morning. An Alexa ‘flash briefing’ tailored to a radio station skill could do just that. And start thinking about daypart skills that fit into listeners’ lives throughout the day.”
Goldstein tosses out another get for sports stations: “If you interviewed the coach, put up 90 seconds or 2 minutes of that interview and cross-promote over the air, that’s an Alex-only feature.”
Rosso is on the same page. He describes what is being implemented for ClipInteractive and Triton client Entercom’s sports WEEI-FM (93.7) Boston. He says, “When people are listening live, there’s stuff they love and stuff they don’t necessarily want to hear. Some listeners are Patriots or Celtics or Brewers fans. On-air, you expose your listeners to a variety of content….but now there is the opportunity with smart speakers to take advantage of specialized on-demand content.”
Looking ahead, as the relationship between Amazon and Google continues to expand with broadcasters, two-way communication seems within the realm of possibility. “Imagine that this weekend is your Oktoberfest event. You tell listeners to respond via Alexa and enter to buy tickets or enter to win,” says Bill Freund, an advisor with ClipInteractive.
There is much ahead as the possibilities unfold. In addition to interactive station and listener communication, smart speakers may soon offer radio the ability to collect valuable listener data. When a listener engages with a station promotion via voice command, “Amazon has your user registration information that it can pass back,” Freund notes. “That can be further used for a station’s promotions, contests and events.” And there’s more waiting in the wings: “Imagine enabling that for advertisers. That presents a brand new opportunity that remains, so far, untapped.”
As stations begin to recognize the golden opportunity to bring listeners repurposed “best of” content and custom content via smart speakers, Goldstein offers some tips. “In these early days of development, we are already seeing that on-demand content can outperform the stream. Of course you want the stream, and beyond that we recommend only one or two significant elements from your personalities…audio that’s worthy of listening to at a later time.” That content should be “short, bite-size content for the Alexa device. That doesn’t mean they aren’t listening to full podcasts, but we think this fits radio stations best.”
At Townsquare, which has also been an early adopter of smart speaker integration, executive VP and chief content & digital officer Bill Wilson tells Inside Radio, “It all comes down to having engaging live and local talent on strong brands that consumers want to seek out, regardless of the platform their content is being distributed on.”
He adds, “The heartbeat of Townsquare is our local radio station brands; their strength has spawned an even larger audience via their online sites, which in turn have spawned a social platform of millions of consumers and a video platform of millions of consumers. Next up: a smart speaker audience of millions engaging our brands.”