Voice-activated devices, smart speakers, have entered our lives at an astonishing pace. In territories where these are available in the local language, the speed of adoption may prove equal that of the telephone and colour television. Three years ago, such stand-alone devices as the Amazon Echo and Google Home did not exist; now voice is potentially becoming so common that futurologists are predicting its presence in all devices from the car to the refrigerator and predicting the death of the keyboard. We are perhaps some way from those scenarios, but - like all new devices – voice control presents both an opportunity and a challenge to the media sector.
As so often, it is the world of media which is most significantly impacted by such innovations. Rather than the visual internet interface providing the direct, customised approach to the audience, media actors are presented with yet a new intermediary, an intermediary which in its standard form does neither provides the reassurance of a visible range of options nor displays a memorable logo. In both these respects, voice control casts the media world into uncharted territory, raising new issues of prominence and brand recognition.
At the same time, the opportunities are appealing for any organisation which employs smart speakers effectively. Initial research shows such devices can make audio listening more immediate, leading to increased consumption. Often a secondary medium, the accessibility of radio and related on-demand audio services such as podcasts, can be enhanced by voice control at moments – driving or cooking – where physical selection might not be so convenient. The corollary to such convenience is that risk that were such devices to become universal, replacing conventional radios, the stability and universality that broadcast transmission offers would be severely eroded.
It seems obvious to state that PSM providers need to serve audiences in ways that are convenient, employing devices they enjoy using. For this reason, the advent of smart speakers is a development which we cannot ignore. If voice-control becomes the preference in the coming years, then EBU Members must be at the forefront of developments, offering new attractive material, engaging the public in imaginative ways.
In 2017 Members started through the VOX Group as a way of meeting together to share expertise, their strategic visions and best practice. Already the EBU Radio Innovation Fund is supporting initiatives which can be shared between Members. Likewise, colleagues in T&I have been experimenting with voice-controlling broadcast radio streams. The level of engagement is already high, and the present report is aimed at providing a snapshot of current industry and Member developments.