Alexa, Let’s Go for a Ride

alex in a ford carRadio’s last bastion of domination is the automobile (aka SUV, pickup truck etc.). In the home, voice activated devices are replacing AM/FM radios. I own 3 Echos, and Alexa has become a real friend of the family.

So, when I saw this television ad for the new Fords and how the drivers went from talking to Alexa in their house to talking to Alexa in their car, while they were driving, I saw the future of AM/FM radio for America’s Road Warriors.

Watch the ad HERE

Voice Activated Christmas

The results are in and as of December 31, 2018, 66 million voice activated devices are now firmly entrenched in America’s homes. The big winner is Amazon’s Echo aka Alexa which has a 70% share of the market. Google’s Home has a 24% share and Apple’s HomePod is third with just 6% home penetration.

Ironically, in my own home, I quickly went from one Amazon Echo in 2017 to three in a matter of a couple of months. Virtually all of my internet connected electronics are Apple products, but Amazon is my go-to place to shop. The price of entry for my first Echo was under $30. By contrast expect to pay Apple $349 for their HomePod.

The latest research from the Consumer Intelligence Research Partners* (CIRP) also found that 35% of the owners of these voice activated devices own more than one. That’s about double from only a year ago, so it’s pretty clear that these devices are not collecting dust but are actively being used.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see where once the average American household had about 5 AM/FM radios in their home, the Echo or Home VAD is taking their place. (Today 21% of American households don’t have a single AM/FM radio in them. For households headed by 18-34 year old adults, that number without a single AM/FM radio rises to 32%.)

Alexa is The New Radio

I wasn’t surprised to read that iHeartMedia’s Bob Pittman was calling Amazon’s Echo the new radio. What I was surprised to learn, was Pittman saying that iHeart helped with the development of Alexa. I had never read or heard that before. Which begs the question, why isn’t more attention being paid to the streams of over-the-air (OTA) radio by the industry?

A better question might be, can the same programming techniques that have been used by OTA radio, simply be transferred to internet streams?

Marshall McLuhan

“The medium is the message,” was coined by Marshall McLuhan in 1964. What McLuhan postulated was that the form of a medium becomes part of the programming that is being transmitted. A symbiotic relationship is created by which the very medium that is conveying the program, influences how a person perceives it.

Another way of thinking about this might be, what a person’s expectations are for a particular media experience. We would not expect to see commercials laced through a movie being seen at a theater, but the same movie shown on commercial television laced with commercial interruptions, while maybe annoying, would not be unexpected or a surprise.

However, pay television like Netflix and Amazon Prime have changed the TV viewers expectations about watching television in two ways, no commercial interruptions, and a whole season of episodes released at once and not dribbled out a week at a time.

The internet likewise has changed audio listening expectations with Pandora, Spotify, RadioTunes, Apple Music and Amazon Music to name but a few streamers. Stream one of these and listener expectations of this internet delivered medium, are very few or with no commercial interruptions. Moreover, should you want to know the name of the song and artist, you simply ask while the song is playing, and are immediately given that information. OTA radio rarely tells you what the name of a song is, or who’s the artist.

In fact, the listener expectation using a voice activated device is that you can get anything immediately, simply by asking for it. Everything is at your command and delivered on demand.

For the audio listener, it’s like the difference between having air conditioning or not having air conditioning. Once you’ve enjoyed having central air, you won’t ever want to go back to not having it.

What’s the Listener’s Expectations?

The challenge for the radio industry is creating content that fits the listener’s expectations for the medium they are accessing the content on.

OTA radio is a one-to-many delivery system. Everyone is served the same thing at the same time.

The internet, streamed through a device like Amazon Echo, is a personalized listening experience. Everyone gets it served up the way they prefer it.

Trying to have a single source originating content for both OTA and online, compromises both.



*CIRP based its findings on a survey of 500 U.S. owners of Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod, surveyed from Jan. 1-11, 2019, who owned one of these devices as of Dec. 31, 2018.



Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

6 responses to “Alexa, Let’s Go for a Ride

  1. Commercial inventory has started to increase on pure plays. Subscriptions are increasing, but not enough to generate the revenue needed. Many in the generation who never owned physical media feel that they don’t need to pay for music and will not subscribe. That is the dilemma, how to generate revenue. Will the option for pureplays allow you to sample a playlist 10 minutes each day, or subscribe for full access (and that might be happening now, I don’t know the ins and outs of Pandora). I do know I heard a Pandora channel that some of my friends kids were listening to, and there was a long commercial after every two or three songs. They were not happy about it. Random thoughts: It would be interesting to see the viewer numbers on Youtube now that most videos start with a commercial, and Facebook throws a commercial break in some long form videos viewed. Has that impacted time spent watching. Sources like Pandora will need to change in order to generate the revenue needed in order to remain a viable business model. The new media world is definitely interesting. It is going to be a wild ride.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My 90-year old aunt who moved to SC from Michigan, recently is using the streaming app services on her IPhone to listen to those favorite stations she enjoyed while living her whole life until now in the Detroit area. With bluetooth she is listening on a great speaker system and finds it, as she says, “COOL.”

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Interesting read in today’s INSIDE RADIO about the penetration of voice command in the car. You can read that story here:


  4. Ken Dardis

    The biggest impact on voice in cars will come from something not mentioned in the Inside Radio article: “hand use of smartphones is illegal in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia (plus Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands) prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones. Add to this hundreds of municipalities in states not mentioned.

    It will take a decade of using smartphone Bluetooth connections prior to a majority of people having vehicles with installed voice systems.

    That said, will the radio industry respond to voice in the car in same way it did for RDS (Radio Data System)? To this day RDS is a communications element that has never been properly used by the vast majority of stations.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting observation Ken. In Virginia, you can’t text while driving or use a cell phone in any way IF you’re under the age of 18.

      Phone calls come in via my Garmin SmartDrive61 but if I wanted to send a text while driving, I simply say “Hey Siri” and dictate it to her to send. The Garmin voice command prompt is different that the iPhone, so you need to give the right command for the device you want to control first.

      I also have a bluetooth device that connects to my car’s AUX audio input and I can send anything from my phone into my car’s sound system. So, having a bluetooth equipped car is a very cheap and easy consumer add-on.

      Otherwise, the thing I see based on what you wrote is that the poorest people, with the oldest cars, will be the last ones depending on their car radio and that’s not a very sale-able demographic I’d think.

      Your comparison to the RDS implementation by OTA broadcasters does not forecast a bright outlook for implementing this sea change in communications.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and stimulating everyone’s thinking on the issue.


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