Survey finds listening to news an ‘important driver’ for use of smart speakers

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A new survey from Edison Research and NPR finds that owners of smart speakers are using the devices for a significant amount of audio listening.

For the 2018 Smart Audio Report, Edison conducted an online survey of 909 Americans over 18 who own smart speakers. The research looked at how habits differed among “early adopters” — users who have owned a smart speaker for more than a year — and “early mainstream” users — those who had bought a device within the last year.

The survey found that owning a smart speaker leads to more listening to audio. Among early mainstream users, 70 percent said they have listened to audio content more often since purchasing a smart speaker, compared to 63 percent of early adopters.

Edison also found that respondents who have had smart speakers for at least a year said the devices were their preferred way to consume audio over platforms such as radio and smartphones. Smart-speaker listening is also cutting into consumption of other media, with radio losing the most time among smart-speaker users.

A large majority in both groups said they had listened to news on their smart speakers at least once. Thirty-seven percent of respondents who had listened to news in the week before taking the survey said they had listened to at least two hours of news.

“News turns out to be a very important driver of audio on smart speakers,” said Tom Webster, SVP of Edison Research, during a webinar Wednesday about survey results.

Listening to music is the most popular use of the devices among all users surveyed, based on use of the devices in the week prior to answering the survey

Listening to a podcast was one of the least common uses of the smart speakers over the previous week. Only 20 percent of early adopters and 28 percent of early mainstream users said they had listened to a podcast on the device during that time.

As smart speakers become more and more popular, the voice-assistance technology powering them could be “increasingly just how we get media,” Webster said. Forty-four percent of early adopters and 56 percent of early mainstream users said they had used voice assistance on their smartphones more after buying a smart speaker. Voice assistance on smartphones is “a much larger potential channel,” Webster said.

Smart speakers have become “kind of a Trojan horse to train people to talk to their computers,” Webster said. “Soon we’ll be talking to them in our car, soon we’ll be talking to appliances. Maybe they’ll talk back to us.”

Public radio stations and networks have been adding branded skills and features to smart speakers and experimenting with fundraising. Listening to NPR member stations’ live streams on Amazon Echo devices more than quadrupled from November 2017 to March 2018, according to NPR.

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