Why Podcasts Aren't Doing Well on Smart Speakers

Podcasts have a problem on smart speakers.  In spite of compelling research from multiple sources pointing to the popularity of podcast listening on smart speakers, the actual listening data is, and pardon me for going technical here, teeny weeny.  Based on consumption data from several sources, less than 1% of podcast listening occurs on smart speakers.  

Why the huge disconnect when the home is the primary listening location for podcasts and two of five Americans have smart speakers in their homes?

(L-R) Will Mayo, James Derby, Rachel Batish, Bret Kinsella, Steve Goldstein

(L-R) Will Mayo, James Derby, Rachel Batish, Bret Kinsella, Steve Goldstein

We assembled an expert group at last week’s Broadcasters Meet Podcasters series put on by Jacobs Media during Podcast Movement, to discuss how podcasters can increase listening on smart speakers. 

Our panelists were Will Mayo founder of Spoken Layer which creates briefings for large publishers including McClatchy, Tribune and Conde Nast; Bret Kinsella, Founder of Voicebot.Ai which produces original research and an excellent and well-followed newsletter; James Derby, Chief Strategy Officer for Federated Media which was the first radio group to produce Alexa skills; and Rachel Batish, VP of Product at Audioburst, a startup capturing audio from thousands of audio sources. 

Bret Kinsella set the stage with data from a recent Voicebot.Ai study

Bret Kinsella set the stage with data from a recent Voicebot.Ai study

The group offered some key observations regarding the impediments and opportunity.

  • Smart speakers are not ideal for product discovery– “It can be hard to surface a favorite podcast” Kinsella told the group. Find-ability is a top issue suggesting that podcast listening on smart speakers should be geared at current podcast listeners.

  • You can listen to podcasts on smart speakers? - All of the panelists noted that they rarely hear podcasters talking about their podcast being accessible on smart speakers. Education is a critical first step. Derby counseled that repetition is key.

    “At the end of the day users don’t care, they just want their content” - Mayo

  • Most podcast listeners curate their listening on an app – This may be one of the largest issues facing podcast listening on smart speakers. People curate their personal podcast choices on their smart phone app. The group noted that coordinating smart speaker listening with an app would be ideal, much in the way Audible tracks a listener’s progress of a book on multiple platforms. 

  • Skills and actions must be simple– Complexity is the enemy of voice commands.  Federated Media stations were the first in the country to debut smart speaker skills with eight tasks and layers including custom music choice and on-demand audio.  Now their skills are more streamlined and easier to follow.  Mayo: “At the end of the day users don’t care, they just want their content.” The panelists reinforced the need for simplicity; too many menus and choices result in abandonment of a skill.

  • Invocations must be memorable – Tricky and clever names and invocations make memorization and recall more challenging. Even action words such as “play’ and “open” can confuse.

    “It can be hard to surface a favorite podcast through voice assistants” - Kinsella

  • TuneIn is the default engine for podcasts - Test and make sure your podcast is listed properly and easily found.

  • Short audio is having a moment– Google recently announced they will surface individual podcast episodes in search. Finding a podcast discussing BBQ just became easier and Batish’s firm can highlight a key segment for use on smart speakers and other platforms. She also urged Google and Amazon to focus more on podcasts as they fine-tune the technology.

  • Podcast tools could be better - Currently the native podcast listening tools are inferior to most apps. For example, it is difficult to skip ahead 15 seconds.

  • Build a skill - There are about 1,000 podcast related skills, but 700,000 podcasts. The panelists felt this was an opportunity to educate their current audience and improve find-ability

  • Google or Alexa? - Asked which one will dominate, Mayo pointed out that Google is more about search while Alexa leans more toward commerce. The group felt there is room for more than one.

All of this is evolving especially as content providers such has Pandora and Spotify become more native on smart speakers.

Thanks to a great group of panelists for sharing their insights.

Steven GoldsteinComment