Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Google Home are helping usher in a new golden age of audio by encouraging more audio listening and changing the ways Americans consume it. Seven in ten of those who own a smart speaker say they listen to more audio at home since acquiring it. The speakers are also helping put radio back in American living rooms.
These are among the findings of a major new study conducted by Edison Research and funded by NPR, presented Wednesday at the RAIN Podcast Business Summit in New York.
More than half of respondents (52%) to the online survey said their family room, living room or den was where their primary smart speaker is located, while one in four (24%) said their kitchen was the location, with 12% saying their master bedroom. “The devices are in places where people live and interact,” Edison VP of marketing and strategy Tom Webster said.
More than just shiny new gadgets, Alexa and Google Home are changing audio consumption behavior. Nearly one in five owners (18%) say smart speakers are the way that they most often listen to audio, just behind AM/FM radio (20%) and smartphone/tablet (28%). In some cases, the devices are also making radio listening more of a social activity as shown in ethnographic research conducted by Edison. In a video shot in a family’s home and shown at the RAIN summit, a family is listening together to radio on their smart speaker. “This is a family gathering socially around the radio,” Webster said. “Companionship, friendship and a social aspect to audio isn’t something we’ve seen in the audience [during the earbud era],” Webster noted. In fact 61% of people who own a smart speaker say it’s like having someone to talk to, the survey found.
The Smart Audio study demonstrates the appeal of the speakers to moms and dads who may be putting their kids in front of Alexa rather than the TV as the so-called virtual babysitter. Eight in ten parents say these devices have made it easier to entertain their children, and nearly 90% say their children enjoy smart speakers. In fact, 57% of owners with children at home say that entertaining children was a reason for wanting the speaker to begin with.
Many of the reasons why Americans are snapping up the devices play in radio’s favor. Among those who own one, 90% said they wanted it to listen to music, 77% to listen to news and information and 44% to listen to talk radio/sports talk. But these devices also help enable radio’s competitors with 62% saying they wanted one to “hear better music than on AM/FM radio.”
Smart speakers make it easier to tune in favorite stations or find certain songs, as shown in a video of a Millennial using his Alexa to tune to “97.5 The Fanatic” WPEN Philadelphia. In another video, a Millennial male who said he didn’t listen to AM/FM radio before says he now uses Alexa to listen to news/talk radio. “That’s because the device makes it easy but it also makes audio listening fun,” Webster pointed out.
The speakers’ ease-of-use is helping drive increased audio consumption. Nearly two-thirds (65%) say they are listening to more music since they got their smart speaker and 28% say they listen to more news/talk, while 20% listen to more podcasts and 18% say they consume more audiobooks. Those who use them to listen to music say they’re listening to four hours, 15 minutes of music in a typical week on their smart speakers. For people who listen to news on their smart speaker, they’re listening to one hour, 15 minutes of news per week on that device.
Americans are so enamored with the speakers that they’re buying more than one—42% who own the device have at least two. And nearly half of owners say they’re using them more often compared to their first month; only 17% say less often.
Not a device that’s bought, used for a short while and then shoved in a drawer, smart speakers are playing a significant role in the lives of many owners. More than four in ten (42%) say they are essential to their everyday lives and 56% of owners say they don’t want to go back to life without one.
Activities run a wide gamut from playing music to ordering groceries, to getting stock prices. But significantly, they are encouraging more radio listening in the home, a place where many Millennials don’t have an AM/FM, receiver. Nearly four in ten owners say they regularly use their smart speaker to listen to AM/FM music radio, 32% to listen to AM/FM news/talk and 22% for AM/FM sports radio. “Without a doubt audio is the primary reason why people bought these devices,” Webster said.
They’re also helping accelerate podcast listening—70% of owners listen to podcasts compared to 45% of non-owners. And among these people, not only are more of them regularly using their smart speaker to listen to podcasts (24%) but the percentages that regularly use them to listen to radio also rises.
While only 7% of Americans aged 12 and older (about 20 million people) own a smart speaker, those numbers will almost assuredly grow. Among non-owners, 13% say they’re very likely to buy a smart speaker in the next six months and 41% indicate they are somewhat likely.
The study is based on a national online survey of 1,620 Americans ages 18 and older. The device owner data was weighted to nationally representative figures on smart speaker users from Edison’s 2017 Infinite Dial study.