I’m late to Alexa. (Nobody ever accused me of being on the bleeding edge of technology.) I usually don’t buy new gadgets right away. I wait for reviews and word of mouth before I decide if I really need something and then jump on the bandwagon.
So a couple of weeks ago I bought an Echo dot, and it only took another week before I ordered another. My main motivation for the first purchase was to experience CNN’s skills and try to get familiar with how audio is served up on Echo. (I got the second one for the living room stereo and music streaming.)
Flash Briefings vs Breaking News vs Podcasts… frankly I’m still learning the differences and the lingo.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss?
What I find most interesting about Alexa (Echo’s version of Siri) and Google Home (which I don’t have) is the contrasting idea that (A.) this is so new, and we have so much to learn and experiment with… Vs. (B.) No… serving up audio to listeners is really, really old. This is just a new device through which to do that.
Think about it. Just because I’m listening to the latest NPR news update through an Echo isn’t all THAT different from turning on the radio. Is it? What are the real differences?
- It’s on-demand. I can get the news update when I ask for it.
- It starts by voice command rather than me turning a knob, or tapping an app.
That’s it. Those are the main differences between the radio and Alexa. But podcasts are on-demand already, so what’s the difference between Alexa and using a podcast app?
- It starts by voice command rather than me tapping an app.
So Google Home and Echo have made it easier to get the content into the air and my ears, and that’s great. People (not me) have often complained getting podcasts is too hard. Now, just say “Alexa play The Axe Files Podcast” and Alexa will go get it from TuneIn Radio.
Here’s where I think there is some learning, for me at least. I don’t listen to podcasts while doing the dishes or whatever else at home. For me podcast listening is at the gym, or commuting, or before bed (in place of a book.)
But from audience survey’s I know a lot of people listen to podcasts at home, not just during commutes. So we’ll see… maybe these devices will be a primary means of access. They sure are convenient.
They don’t solve the discovery problem of podcasts. I have to know what to ask Alexa to play. For that, I guess I can look at the Echo app on my phone but it’s not too easy. And, that’s no different from looking at the Apple Podcasts app, Overcast, Downcast, etc.
Who is king, content or distribution?
A-ha! It all gets back to this conversation, which is an old one. I think I’d rather not go down this path too far. We all know that better distribution (think smart phone and native iOS podcast app) is a good thing, but distribution without content is empty. And, good content without smooth, seamless, ubiquitous and easy distribution doesn’t mean anything either.
So you must have both. Distribution and Content. I guess they’re King and Queen and you can decide which is which, but to me they always go together.
So these in-home voice activated devices will battle with smartphones, radios, and other streaming devices to be the king of audio distribution. Will they win? Could they usurp iTunes as the dominant podcast* platform? Maybe. I don’t know. But I’m not sure how much that matters all that much if you’re not also thinking about the content.
*in most cases when I say “podcast” I mean audio on demand, no matter how you are accessing it. When you listen to on demand news & talk audio content on Echo/Google Home – you’re podcasting.
What kind of content will win?
What kind of content will people want from these devices?
Should it be short form? How short?
Should it be long form? How long?
Should a computer read the news, or a real person?
Should it be an article, or a script?
Should it be custom produced, or re-purposed from another place?
The answer to all of these questions is “yes.” The radio & podcasting community already have years of experience in serving up content (both good and bad) to listeners and know what works and what doesn’t. I don’t think these new forms of distribution radically change what a good listening experience is.
How aggressively you and your team attack this new audio opportunity depends on your strengths, your existing resources, and your willingness to invest in audio.
Imagine NPR didn’t already have a team of people creating hourly updates 24/7. Imagine they only provided shows like Morning Edition and All Things Considered and the top of the hour news just wasn’t a thing. Would they hire 30 or 40 people just to do an update for Amazon & Google? What about ABC & CBS? Same thing…. if they didn’t already do radio news, would they make the investment just for these new distribution outlets?
Which is it?
This is the part of my article where I hedge my bets and give you a mixed conclusion.
Are we going to learn new things from Echo and Google Home? Yeah, sure… we’ll learn some things about what people want on them. Maybe short form will be more popular on these devices than long form. Over at Hot Pod News, Nick Quah said earlier this year he expects “flash briefing usage to grow in accordance with Echo’s intall base.”
Maybe the ad models that are established in podcasting will change slightly. Length of ad, type of ad, metrics… they will all be familiar discussions.
Will the basics of good audio storytelling be overturned? No.
What did I miss? What did I get wrong? Leave your comments below, or find me on social channels.
Photo from Kris Smith, Palegroove