Is voice-control part of radio’s future? | radioinfo

Is voice-control part of radio’s future?

Sunday 04 June, 2017
Image: Amazon UK

Radio Tomorrow with James Cridland

In households across the world, a not-so-quiet revolution is going on. People are talking to their houses, and their houses are talking back. Well, not their houses exactly, but a little piece of plastic in their houses - an Amazon Echo or a Google Home.

In countries where these voice assistants are available, these are rather taking off. In the US, Jacobs Media’s TechSurvey, which questioned radio listeners recruited from station websites, discovered that they’re in 11% of respondents’ households. 

In the UK, take-up has been faster still. The Amazon Echo was launched in September 2016, and already, according to a radio-funded study, you’ll find them in 9% of British homes.

This is all good news for radio: because the Amazon Echo and the Google Home devices are both bringing audio into peoples’ living rooms again.

For most people, the Amazon Echo comes with free on-demand songs courtesy of Amazon Prime Music, and the device works well with Spotify, the market-leading music service, and with podcasts. However, the UK study reports that 72% of all audio entertainment time is spent with radio. Hurray for us!

This high radio time is probably aided by Radioplayer, UK radio’s collaborative product, who have a “skill” - Amazon Echo's equivalent of an app - for radio listening. They have spent considerable time working with the device to ensure that it understands station nicknames and plays British radio stations, rather than random stations in Trinidad.

The UK study is worth reading in full.

Some devices play the latest NPR or BBC news bulletin, too, if you ask them nicely enough.

Things are heating up in this space - in the US, Jacobs Media and Amplifi Media recently launched a new joint venture, SONICAi, specifically to develop skills for voice assistants.

Meanwhile the Google Assistant - the brains behind Google Home - is now available on the iPhone as well as most Android phones. Microsoft promise a Cortana speaker from a few different companies in September; Apple’s Siri is doubtlessly going to get beefed-up to compete.

Where voice control really shines is in radio’s heartland - the car. I use the Android Auto app in mine, and find it pretty good to be able to send text messages, and get navigation to a destination. However, to effectively use voice control, you need to… turn the radio off: otherwise, you don’t hear the device telling you that it didn’t understand what you just told it.

So voice assistants can mean many benefits for radio, as well as inevitable risks. While we might be used to occasionally shouting at the radio, we might be doing it much more in future.

About The Author

James Cridland is a radio futurologist: a writer, speaker and consultant on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business across the world.

A former radio presenter, James has worked for stations and companies across the world, including the original Virgin Radio in London, the BBC, Futuri Media, Imagination Technologies and Seven Network. He has judged many industry awards, including the CBAA, ABC Local Radio, RAIN and the UK's ARIAS.

He writes for publications across the world, and runs the worldwide media information website. He also runs a free weekly newsletter with news of radio's future.  

British by birth, James lives in Brisbane, QLD and is a fan of craft beer.


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