Alexa and other home smart speakers are changing the way Americans access media, but could they actually save radio news? With an estimated 15% (and growing) of Americans using these voice-activated technologies in the home, we’re already changing the way we listen to music, news and other media. It’s yet another big behavioral and technological shift, following the move from radio air waves to the internet, through podcasts and other forms of on-line listening.
Whereas some predict doom-and-gloom for NPR-type news in this new hyperactive technology environment, radio journalists Gabriel Spitzer and Brian Edwards-Tiekert make the case that radio news could fit neatly into the way people use these devices:
Listeners are (still) busy and distracted. The most common location for an Amazon Echo is in the kitchen, suggesting the use case for smart speakers is the same as for radio: It’s a good way to get information when you need your hands and eyes free for other tasks (e.g., cooking).
Dominant use: morning routine. In our discussions with early adopters of both Google Home and Amazon Echo, the most common use time was in the morning, as part of a daily routine. The platforms design for this: Ask Google Home to tell you about your day, and it gives you the time, the local weather, traffic conditions on your commute, upcoming appointments from your calendar, and then plays news headlines. Expect news products that are updated daily (or more frequently) to perform better in this context than less-frequent long-form products.
Radio leaders will clearly have to adjust to these new technologies, as the traditional habits of turning on a radio for news are clearly diminishing, especially for the younger, tech-savvy generations. But while adaptation will be necessary, perhaps the upside is more than just avoiding extinction but actually finding a path to thrive and survive. Let’s hope so, as NPR-style radio provides critical information, particularly in an era when facts appear up for grabs among an increasingly cynical and distrustful public.