The Radio Room

Alexa versus Radio. Who’s winning?

We welcomed a new addition to the family this Christmas. She’s pretty, low maintenance, no night-feeds and she doesn’t answer back. Okay, so she does answer back but with less ‘lip’ than a toddler. Everyone… meet Alexa!

I’m a little late to the party with a smart audio device in the house but eventually got there. I felt like I was doing the dirt on Robert (my old reliable radio)… I still kind of do. I walk to the kitchen in the mornings and I want to hit the button on my radio. I’m torn! It’s like turning your back on your first-born.. but you can’t have a favourite, right? 

So what’s the big attraction with in-home audio devices? 

Amazon Echo (Alexa), Google Home and the many other audio devices offer fast, hands-free access to music, news, information, weather, and the rest. You simply call its name, tell it what you want and your pretty robot friend will deliver. It feels strange at first. Like you’re talking to yourself. Or an attractive-looking air freshener. And yes, you feel like a right twat when you’re on the phone and you have to interrupt your pal calling from New Zealand to tell Alexa to keep it down. It’s like having another child to shout at. Doh.

You can also use your little virtual friend to connect to other in-home devices. Provided they’re compatible, you can do everything from change a radio station to turn your heating on, dim the lights and so on. It’s pretty magic actually. Although I’m still at a basic level, the possibilities are endless.

 

43 million Americans own a smart speaker like Amazon Alexa or Google Home. This is 18% of the adult population, in just 2+ years of existence.

Judging by these mammoth figures, it is without a doubt changing the way we consume audio; and the questions about the word ‘Radio’ disappearing don’t seem completely unrealistic when we look a decade or two down the road. However, every country consumes radio and audio differently and although it’s important to keep on eye on trends, we must not get so bogged down looking into the virtual crystal ball that we take the focus of what works for us here and now. If the industry fails at this, there will be fast, pointless plunges in commercial revenues.

ARE YOUNG PEOPLE DRIVING THIS SMART SPEAKER REVOLUTION?

Not at all! Surprisingly, the age group engaging most with Alexa and Google Home is 45 – 54!

ARE PODCASTS THROUGH OUR SMART SPEAKERS CAUSING A PROBLEM FOR RADIO?

They are definitely adding another choice to listeners; but no way are they a problem. In fact, podcasting is offering HUGE opportunities to Radio stations to partner on. Irish Radio stations are creating more and more podcasts; and so they should! Irish people love podcasts. Ireland listens to more podcasts per head of capita than the UK, US and Australia! Only countries in Asia are ahead. There is little research to show that they are using this ‘listening time’ to replace radio listening; but it would be naive to think that it is not going to present some form of distraction from radio as it grows.

Journalist Eamon Dunphy and presenter of podcast ‘The Stand’ spoke really positively about audio content at a recent Podcast conference in Dublin. He believes if the audio is right, they’ll listen. Young or old. Podcast listeners also really listen. They find it because they want to listen. They listen mostly on headphones; and mostly from beginning to end. Some podcasts are 1-2 hours long; that’s commercial gold people!

If you’re a brand, radio is still where you need to be RIGHT NOW… but Podcasting is growing in Ireland at a rapid rate and with that, monetising will come. The good news is that with any ‘new’ media that has not been commercialised before, it will be fantastic value until the market can back it up with proper measurement levels. The smart thing to do is upweight radio with Podcasting for a minimal spend; and time placement across personalities/ content/ so that they hear your brand on PJ Gallagher on Classic Hits for example; and again when they tune into PJ’s podcast ‘Dubland’. Wise brands are always looking to ‘follow’ personalities and content. Monetising Podcast activity in Ireland is still slow. Engagement levels are rapidly growing though and the ability to build commercials into podcasts is possible. You’re not missing the boat just yet, but we reckon this time next year, it will be a very strong addition to a marketing plan.

AUDIO WILL SIT IN THE BOSS CHAIR FOR DECADES TO COME; AND RADIO WILL PLAY A HUGE PART OF THAT.

In the few years that in-home devices have been on the market, there’s quite a bit of research on them. One observer’s findings from The Smart Audio Report in 2019 was that a high level of VISUAL consumers are moving to audio.

“Smart speaker owners are turning off their TVs and closing down their laptops to spend more time listening to news, music, podcasts and books — fueling the demand for more  audio content.”

Source: The Smart Audio Report by Edison Research, 2018

SURELY LOTS OF LISTENERS ARE LEAVING RADIO TO STREAM THEIR OWN MUSIC?

Yes and no. Music lovers are streaming more of their own music preferences; but they still go to radio for content, news and variety of music.

So far, streaming has not overtaken radio as a primary engagement platform, nor is it likely to in the near future; particularly in radio-loving Ireland. (That’s a fact; not a cliché or a sales pitch!)
20 years ago, radio was the main decider on a song or artist making it or not. More recently, it’s the other way round. Digital services in America pay royalties to record labels for the use of master recordings. After that, people can stream a song as many times as they like, without affecting royalties to the artists. The data on streaming goes to the Billboard Hot 100 chart (still the primary chart in the US) and the most popular tracks are charted. Because radio is not the only chef in the kitchen any more, “programmers must work hard on content creation to ensure that what they produce cannot be replicated by any of the music streaming services that are pumped out through our in-home devices”.                                                                                                     Dave Hammond, Brainfood Blog at resultantz.com

AM/ FM Radio -V- DIGITAL?

Put your hands together! AM/ FM radio is without doubt facing distruption from the digital age. To survive, it must innovate, learn from other media and take control in order to hold its unique position with advertisers and audiences. AM/ FM radio will eventually not exist. How far down the line is anyone’s guess; but all radio stations are moving to digital platforms; and this is without a doubt the right thing to do if radio is going to continue to engage audiences and remain a powerful commercial offering for clients.

WHAT ABOUT WHEN WE MOVE OUTSIDE OUR HOMES?

Apple, Spotify and many global tech giants are getting into our ears while we’re on the road. Radio owned this space for the 60 years or so but that’s changing. While the choice of what you can listen to in your car is rapidly widening, there is huge work going on behind the scenes.

Motor brand Audi are actively committed to holding the ‘radio’ button in their vehicles; something some motor brands feel could be dropped. Audi however are listening to their customers – 84% of drivers recently surveyed said they “always” or “mostly” listen to radio in their cars.

So be cool and current and drop it; or leave it and don’t piss off most of your customers. Tough call! Not.

SHOULD RADIO BE TAKING A FRESH LOOK AT ITS MUSIC APPROACH TO COMPETE WITH SMART SPEAKER DEVICES?

Streaming services are making and breaking hits every day. There’s plenty of room for Radio to make hits but it’s about striking the right balance of music and content that will hold listeners for as long as possible. Irish people listen to radio for longer than any country in Europe so we are not facing the challenges that our neighbours are… not yet anyway.

Music discovery is moving towards YouTube, Spotify and Pandora. 20 years ago when Today FM launched in Ireland, The Head of Music had a line he sometimes used:  “We don’t break the hits, we play them”. Seems that he may have been ahead of his time with radio’s role on music policy (even though record label execs and new bands trying to get airtime shuddered at this.. in his defence, he broke many a hit and artist so it wasn’t a strict rule he lived by!) Radio’s power to break new music might have weakened a little, but the role of radio is undisputed: Play the hits, and wrap them with relevant, engaging content. Then roll that content out digitally; playback, podcasts, as far and wide as you can go. A simple formula that will hold strong with Irish Radio.

One final thought from one Smart speaker novice to any others reading this: These beauties are there to compliment and enhance our radio experience – not to replace it. (plus the quality coming out of those speakers is stunning – HD for radio if you will!)

Don’t be afraid of them. Sure, they’ll bowl you over with the scale of what they can do… but they’re not just a fad. They’re going nowhere and we’ll only learn to love them more as we get to know them. So take them in. Use them to play your favourite radio station. Enjoy the personalised extras and don’t sweat the bigger picture until you’re comfortable to take more on.  

Onwards and upwards we go. Alexa, you’re great. Robert, you and I have a very strong bond… we go back such a long way. But Alexa I love you too.. I love both my children the same, right?!

Until next time…

Siobhan

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