Study Uncovers Need To Educate Audience On Smart Speaker Skills.

Country radio listeners are enthusiastic about smart speakers and more likely to listen to AM/FM radio on the hot-selling new devices than the general population. But awareness of radio station skills is relatively low among this group, underscoring the need for country broadcasters to educate their audience about how to use the burgeoning technology to access their favorite stations.

This is according to a new Edison Research study presented Tuesday at Country Radio Seminar in Nashville.

“Country Radio: At Home with Smart Speakers” found country music fans are more likely to call on Alexa to listen to the radio than fans of other kinds of music – and they listen longer. Nearly half (48%) of country fans who are smart speaker owners used them to listen to the radio in the week before they were surveyed vs. 43% among all respondents. That’s consistent with the tradition of country listeners showing greater loyalty to radio in their digital behaviors.

But while numerous broadcasters have invested considerable time and resources into developing smart speaker skills for their stations, giving rise to an entire cottage industry of skill developers, only 25% of country smart speaker owners were aware of an AM/FM radio station that offers a smart speaker skill.

“Yes, the adoption of these devices into homes is a huge opportunity for radio,” said Edison president Larry Rosin, who co-presented the findings with Edison VP Megan Lazovick. “But don’t be complacent on smart speakers. You are competing on the ‘Infinite Dial,’ where all audio is available. Listening to your station is highly unlikely to be the first thing a smart speaker user will seek out. It is up to you to remind them.”

Music Is Top Smart Speaker Use

Music is the primary motivating reason for country radio listeners to buy devices like Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Google Home – 96% say listening to music was a reason for wanting the device, far and away the leading answer. But the popular devices are also being used to help with everyday tasks, such as asking questions without needing to type (cited by 80% of respondents), making everyday tasks simpler (72%) and using them as a personal assistant (68%). However, seven of the top 20 reasons for wanting one are audio-based, including to listen to news and information (72%), to listen to a favorite AM/FM station (68%), to discover new songs (61%), to listen to talk radio/sports hosts (54%), to replace an old radio (33%) and to listen to podcasts (33%).

More than eight in 10 survey participants (81%) said they used the device to play music in the previous week, and 72% said they used it to play country music. But the research revealed that these listeners are also heavy users of Amazon Music and Pandora.

Country listeners who own smart speakers say they listen to more music than overall respondents—6 hours and 11 minutes a week, roughly an hour more than others. And while country listeners once lagged the general population in their adoption of digital audio, today they exhibit greater enthusiasm about smart speakers than the total population – 37% of country smart speaker owners agree they purchased the device “because all your friends and family members have one” vs. 26% overall. And four out of five country smart speaker owners think the device was easy to set up.

Far from a novelty, 57% of country smart speaker owners say they are using the device more often compared to the first month of ownership, 30% say about the same and 13% less often.

Radio’s Interactive Opportunity

The rapid rise of smart speakers offers an opportunity to put radio back in the home at a time when more American no longer have an AM/FM receiver in their residence. More than one in five (21%) American ages 12+ say they have zero radios in the home, up from just 4% in 2008. The number with one to three receivers has remained relatively flat at 63% while those with four or more has been halved from 31% in 2008 to 16% in 2016, per the Edison-Triton Digital Infinite Dial 2016 study. AM/FM receiver penetration is lower among younger demos – nearly one third (32%) of 18-34 year-olds report having no radio in the home.

Many broadcasters have been on a tear to develop skills for their local radio stations. Ethnographic videos showed during the Edison CRS presentation show those efforts are paying off. One video showed a female nurse in South Bend, IN instructing her Alexa to “open B100,” Federated Media’s country WBYT South Bend, IN. The station’s Alexa skill enables users to access its live-stream, on-demand and podcast content and custom music channels that are curated and allow users to skip songs. In the video, the nurse says she was surprised to learn she could connect with local businesses on Alexa, thinking it was more intended to deliver national content. As a result, she will probably listen to the station more at home now, she added.

In the video, Sam Tongue, director of digital content for B100 owner Federated Media, said it’s important to recognize that products like Amazon Alexa are interactive. “If you’re providing a non-interactive experience on an interactive device, you’re completely missing a huge opportunity that we haven’t had before,” he said. “You’re tying one hand behind your back.”

The Edison survey came up with a long list of functions and features country smart speaker owners would like a radio station skill to provide. Many were service elements with weather topping the list, cited by 49%, followed by local news (42%), contests/games (31%), traffic (28%) and local concert info (28%). After that it was weather-related closings (26%), trivia questions (24%), news about country artists (22%), celebrity news (21%), community event info (18%) and interaction with DJS (18%).

Tongue and Federated Media VP of strategy James Derby discussed the importance – and challenge – of educating listeners on how to add the B100 skill to their device. The station has posted videos on social media to show how it’s done. “There is no manual. That’s the biggest challenge,” Tongue said in the video.

Despite low awareness for radio station skills, already more than one third (36%) of country smart speaker owners agree they are listening more to AM/FM radio since they got the device. Yet more than double that amount (76%) says they are listening more to audio, reinforcing the need for broadcasters to educate their audience. And only 11% of time listening to audio on a smart speaker is spent with AM/FM radio, per Edison.

Looking ahead to the future, 71% of country smart speaker owners are interested in having smart speaker technology in the car.

The Edison survey included 810 smart speaker owners, one-third of which are country radio listeners. Edison also conducted in-home interviews with smart speaker owners and skill developers.

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