Part 2, Smart Speakers; The Trojan Horse of Audio
Last week, we looked at the backstory behind The Internet of Voice. In this second installment of our 4-part series, Oxford Road Founder and CEO Dan Granger breaks down how smart speakers are setting the stage for a full-on revolution in audio. If you thought the meteoric rise of Podcast was exciting, get ready for what smart speakers are about to do.
If you missed part one of this article, click HERE.
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If there were a prom for the telecommunications industry in 2019, Podcast would be the belle of the ball. Podcast has become the most adored, talked about, and self-congratulated medium in the last 50 years. As a commercial industry, however, it still hasn’t cleared the $500 Million mark. Podcast is not even 4% of the terrestrial radio business, or 10% of the Satellite radio business, or one-third of Pandora. This isn’t even Roku money—though rampant enthusiasts are quick to point out that meaningful capital is beginning to flood the space. The prestige has undoubtedly risen with the entrance of Blue Chip Advertisers, seven-figure-per-season production budgets, and nine-figure publisher valuations and purchase prices. One-third of Americans allegedly listen monthly, although a cohesive measurement approach remains a leading challenge. Indeed, we are a few short years from being considered a Billion Dollar Industry, which means it will finally get close to the value of the free advertising received from fawning trade publications which talk of little else. But then what? It will still be less than 1% of digital revenue.
Deservedly, Podcast has been a rising star for the past five years, much-pronounced since the launch of the pervasively popular Serial. So much so, that your dedicated author was able to build a leading advertising agency for direct to consumer brands with podcast placement at the center. But what has podcast achieved technologically? It’s offered portability and has made a treasure trove of pirate radio stars—over 700,000 of them—more accessible. But ultimately, it’s just a better version of the walkman. Because of the depth of access to content that was easy to create, Podcast scratched an itch that mainstream media could not and has afforded us a renaissance in programming quality not seen since the advent of radio itself. Podcast is not going anywhere soon, but it is better thought of as an on-demand version of radio, or “streaming audio” if you prefer. In light of the changes occurring beneath the crust of the telecommunications industry, Podcast is more like a Red Dwarf. A tour de force, definitely, but a first act to the oncoming fundamental disestablishment of everything we’ve understood about the transmission of audio and how it impacts our lives. Make no mistake, it is the coming capabilities exploding from our smart speakers that best deserve our focus.
Do you hear what I hear? In less than five years, Amazon, Google, and Apple (Market Cap north of $2.5 Trillion at time of writing) have put smart speakers into the hands and homes of more than 50 million Americans—with half of those owning two or more. The smart speaker, virtual assistant, or home automation device (as it is sometimes called) is “an Internet-enabled speaker that is controlled by spoken commands and capable of streaming audio content, relaying information, and communicating with other devices.”
Though championed by titans and heading toward inevitable ubiquity, the current capabilities of the smart speaker are almost laughable. Modern usage is not much further advanced or reliable than a clock radio with a thermometer, mixed with audio’s version of AskJeeves. In theory, it is a personal shopper if you’ve ordered the product before or Amazon wants you to buy it. It’s a whole-house remote control for your mouth if all your smart devices have developed seamless integration. An audiobook library as well as a researcher. It’s your secretary. It’s a food delivery service. It’s a game. It’s someone to keep you company. Many worry it’s a spy. It’s Google. But not really. Not yet.
“Alexa, tell me when you’ve worked out the kinks” may be well and good for consumers who have not yet seen the capabilities and convenience prove more valuable than the intrusiveness, limitations, and loss of privacy. Working professionals and industry cannot afford to take this approach. By looking at the history of telecommunications, we get a glimpse of what lies ahead.
Consider the telegraph. These text messages of yesteryear hit their stride in 1837. But the telephone and phonograph lagged until the 1870s, while the radio was nothing until the turn of the century. Audio technology may advance slower than visual communications, but when it catches up everything changes.
To use a more recent metaphor, smart speaker technology today is more like the days of dial-up internet access. When broadband stepped onto the scene around 2003, things got interesting. Entertainment, commerce, information storage and mobility were all radically transformed in the decade that followed. Google, Apple, or Amazon, your smart speaker may be acting like America Online at this moment. However, 5G is going to help it catch up in short order. In simple terms, that means digital information is about to be processed between 10-100 times faster than it is today and should be available from coast to coast in the next 12-24 months. Now consider that, in 2019, smart speakers are expected to grow faster than any other IoT device category.
It is said we are entering the post-smartphone era. We will not use this venue to explore the privacy implications or Muskian concerns of cyborg wars nor robot dictators. These topics have their place, but our immediate aim is to side-step them. Our chief goal, dear reader, is to help you stay employed and thriving as these technological advancements march forward, with the wind at your back rather than blowing against you.