When podcasts first appeared, recording and distribution was far more challenging. Incredible improvements to mobile apps, streaming audio, and social media have made audio content worlds easier to consume. Distribution used to mean a handful of outlets on dedicated devices, but today every phone is a production studio, distribution platform, and listening device.
One other critical area that has changed is how content, in all forms, must compete for time and attention. Audio has a distinct advantage. AND.
Audio content allows us to engage with the content AND… listen to a morning briefing on Alexa AND make our kids’ lunches. We can listen to a podcast AND run on the treadmill. We can listen to a TED Talk AND drive to the office. In short, we can economize our attention and available time on a whole new level.
Why AND Is In Demand
Podcasting and audio content was the fastest growing content channel in 2017. According to an Edison Research study, 24% of Americans over 12 years old have listened to a podcast in the last month. This is up over 20% between 2016 and 2017 alone. Why is voice and podcasting so critical now? Time.
Time is the commodity in infinite supply that we have the least available. We fight for it. We compete for others’ supply of it. As marketers, it is a commodity that is more valuable than gold. How we devote our time is what we recognize as giving something our attention. Time and attention go hand-in-hand as the two greatest pillars of our world.
Time and attention is where video faces challenges. Video content requires the content consumer to devote a larger portion of their attention to viewing and listening. It is challenging (for most of us) to catch an insightful vlog AND do dishes. We recommend against watching a YouTube video AND driving to work. Demands on our time force us to split our attention. As content producers, we should be making it as easy as possible to work with the time and attention we’ve got.
Users have returned to audio content in massive numbers. The previously mentioned Edison Research study indicated 2017 saw the average online weekly listening time was over 14.5 hours up from just over 12 hours in 2016. Over 100 million Americans listen to podcasts with over 60 million tuning in on a regular basis. This is double the 2012 numbers.
Agree or disagree with the content – political talk radio has proven our ability to multi-task while engaging with content-dense audio since the late 1980’s.
Enter the renaissance of audio. Since the rise of politically charged AM talk radio in the 1990s, content-laden audio has demonstrated our ability to intensely listen or engage AND perform other tasks. Podcasts faded when YouTube made the production and distribution of video a button-push away. Podcasting has quickly caught up with the simplicity of production, distribution with tools like Anchor (https://anchor.fm/), and the inexpensive cost of streaming audio to mobile devices.
UPDATE: 2018 Infinite Dial Study Show Smart Speakers Growing at Faster Adoption Rate Than Smartphones
Smart speakers are being defined as wireless speakers connected with wifi or Bluetooth to stream audio from the Internet. Typically, these speakers are further enhanced with a digital assistant platform such as Amazon Alexa or Google Home. While Amazon Alexa currently holds the most significant market share (72%), two other factors show how quickly this technology is being adopted: 1) the number of smart speakers per home is rising rapidly and 2) the number of households with at least one device doubled since 2017.
One of the most telling metrics from the recent report is that the “share of ear” is becoming even more competitive. In-home and in-vehicle competition between platforms is heating up and will become even more competitive as automakers begin integrating this into vehicle platforms.
2021: How Could Audio and Voice Carry Forward?
Allow me to paint a picture of what this could mean in the very near future — Bob and Beth are working parents on the way home from work. Both are listening to their evening briefings via mobile devices. Both voice search and digital assistants will only have had modest advancements from today, but see how they fit into an everyday situation.
Beth is listening to Cooks Illustrated 30-minute meal podcast about a beef stir fry.
“Pause,” Beth says, “Alexa, order the items for this recipe. Have them ready for pickup at our locker in the Whole Foods on Peach Street.”
“The total is $32.07. Which payment method?” Alexa asks.
“My debit card ending in 0x7c.”
“Please speak your purchase voicecode.”
“Buttercream frosting,” Beth replies.
“Voicecode accepted. Payment accepted,” Alexa chirps, “your order will be ready for pickup at Locker 293 in 18 minutes. Do you require directions to the Whole Foods at 9347 Peach Street?”
“No.” Beth answers. “Call, Bob. Mobile.”
“This will be a great trade for the Braves…” ESPN’s sportscaster says, her voice trailing off.
“Incoming call from Beth. Mobile,” says Siri.
“Connect,” replies Bob. “Hey, Honey. What’s up?”
“Can you swing by Whole Foods and pick up the groceries?” asks Beth. “They’ll be ready in 20 minutes.”
“Sure, I can stop by Whole Foods,” answers Bob. “Want to take the girls to a game on Saturday?”
“Emma wanted to catch the EA tournament,” Beth reminds Bob.
“But the esports tournament doesn’t stream until 8:00,” says Bob. “The game should be done by 7:00. She can start streaming it from the van.”
“I’m fine with that,” Beth replies. “Don’t forget the groceries.”
“See you at home,” Bob says. “Disconnect.”
The ESPN voice fades back in, “they’ve needed a closer for the last two seasons.”
“Siri?” Bob asks, “I’d like to order four tickets to the Braves and Nationals game on Saturday.”
“Checking availability,” Siri answers. “There are six seating locations available.”
“Any on the first base side?” asks Bob.
“You must take the Peach Street exit in 0.5 miles for Whole Foods.”
Could this be done today? Absolutely, but the amount of fumbling and the number of apps involved would make these efforts extraordinarily dangerous while driving. The time saved and the attention kept on the road makes the “AND” commodity even more evident. All of the tools are already in place, and as the demand for our attention continues to skyrocket, methods of economizing will drive commerce to a new height. How could your business feed content into the audio and voice medium? It may be easier and more cost effective than you think.