Smart speakers, Audio AI, and what it ultimately means for news consumption: 3 key takeaways

Chartbeat publishers are constantly experimenting with new channels and emerging technology platforms to reach new and wider audiences. More of our customers are experimenting with audio, particularly with the increasing adoption of Smart Speakers (e.g., Google Home, Amazon Echo).  

In 2017, only 7% of Americans owned smart speakers. Today, that figure is over 20%.

news consumption and smart speakers Chartbeat

As Google and Amazon continue to dominate the smart speaker market, publishers see a thoughtful and untapped opportunity to build new loyal audiences.

At this month’s GENsummit in Athens, I sat on a panel to discuss the growing influence of smart speakers on news consumption.

Some takeaways:

1. Smart devices are just part of the daily environment for young consumers

Each morning, my 4-year-old daughter, Lucie, asks “Alexa” to play “Yellow Submarine by the Beatles. We’re experiencing a generational shift. At 42, I see smart speakers as “clock radios for the digital age.” For Lucie, it’s her environment. It is the primary way in which she receives all audio content. For all of the things that I used my radio to do, Lucie will use a smart speaker. Smart speakers are radically different than radios — they are pull, not push, they are active, not passive.

Media companies need to start thinking about the place in our lives that smart speakers will inhabit in 2030, not today. My bet is that they will be the single most ubiquitous amplified audio product in the world.

2. Without a smart device strategy, publishers give away content for free

In the rush to embrace smart speaker platforms, publishers need to tie their storytelling ambitions to their business model. There is no question that smart speakers mean more users, — they are growing 40% year over year and are now in over 70 million homes. According to Adobe data, news and information makes up 46% of smart speaker usage in America. However, when someone says, “Alexa play the news,” it’s highly likely that information is being given out for free. 

As a counter example, when Lucie asks for Yellow Submarine, she’s setting off a chain reaction that results in revenue for Spotify, Sony/ATV (McCartney/Lennon’s Music Publisher), Universal Music Group (the successor to the Beatles’ label, Capitol Records) and countless others.

News publishers are way behind the music industry in thinking about how smart speakers fit into their overall business model. When I ask for a news briefing, the odds are that I’m getting something that is far more expensive to produce than an incremental copy of Yellow Submarine, but generates far less revenue.

Publishers need to match their business goals with the business model of Smart Speakers. Otherwise, they risk reliving the print to digital mistakes of the past—giving away content for free, spending several years constructing new models to drive reader revenue, and ceding power to tech platforms.

(Related: We spent more than 400 hours analyzing subscription models—here’s what we’ve found)

3. Broadcasters need to ask who is sitting in the publisher’s seat

One of the best parts of being on the panel was spending time with Lucas Menget, deputy director of FranceInfo. He explained to the audience that in France, there’s a greater chance a newly-purchased audio device will be a smart speaker rather than a traditional radio. In many cases, users receive smart speakers for free with purchases from retailers who have partnered with platforms like Google and Amazon. 

Adapting to this new norm required developing two new skills: first, retaining and growing brand recognition in an era of smart devices and second, as these platforms demand more content, ensuring editorial independence. 

From the content side, the challenges appear more apparent. Smart speaker platforms are asking more of publishers, such as video news briefings to complement audio broadcasts, as new multimedia devices like the Echo Show and the Nest Hub are rolling out. A more concerning trend, as Menget noted, is that publishers are also being asked to cut those news briefings into smaller segments for specific audiences—allowing platforms to cobble together summaries on one topic from multiple news sources. 

Therein lies the tricky part—how does a publisher take advantage of the new distribution without losing editorial context, especially if briefings contain multiple stories, associated with the brand,  and are not intended to be consumed in isolation? 

What next: Begin talks on Smart Speakers, Audio AI

Here at Chartbeat, we work with publishers on the best ways to build and measure the impact of their content every day. Right now, we recommend that publishers be very deliberate about determining the costs and benefits of placing content on a platform that caters to growing consumer demand, but doesn’t provide a clear path to revenue

As Menget noted, the other key factor for publishers is to retain the quality and “honor” of the news they provide. If not, we could create another “duopoly” as we have in advertising and in mobile — whether creators like it or not.  

For even more on the relationship of smart devices to news consumption, see the full panel discussion below.

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