Sophie, you mentioned something in our podcast that I need to pursue a bit further. It’s to do with audience behaviour and how that’s driving the audio streaming market on the tech side. There are some clear and obvious trends - the proliferation of smart speakers, the opening up of the car as a streaming platform etc - which paint a picture of audio becoming more central to our day to day lives. From there it’s a short jump to seeing content publishers moving to meet the demand, whether that’s Times Radio or Spotify buying Joe Rogan at the top end, and a mass of niche podcasts at the bottom. And as the owner of a specialist podcast company, I’m invested in this being a long term trend rather than a blip. The part I need more detail on is where you see the tech platforms - Amazon, Google, Spotify - moving in the next few years.
It reminds me of being a blogger in 2006, before the walled gardens were constructed around us by the social and digital giants, using content to hoover up customer data.
What’s your view, will audio follow the same pattern?
I don’t think we can assume that every tech platform with an interest in voice has one shared goal when it comes to voice and audio. The organisations you mention have very different business models and potentially have different applications and goals for their use of the medium.
It's logical to assume that both Spotify and Google are in a similar place, both looking to harvest user data and providing highly focused advertising (or search results) to their audience whilst Amazon have always focused their attention on their global marketplace so it would be logical to assume that their use of the platform (and the content they create within it) will be used as a way to entice customers into their eco-system and drive e-commerce (much as they have done so with their recent Premier League coverage to boost Prime subscriptions).
There are probably two separate discussions here. One for the content providers and podcast platforms who do indeed seem to be making moves towards a "walled garden" approach. Enticing people to their individual platforms with brilliant content. This has worked with television subscription services such as Netflix and there is no reason why it couldn't work with audio - be it monetisation via subscription or advertising.
The other conversation is around the intention of the tech owners, those creating their own voice assistants (Alexa, Google, Bixby etc...). There I think it will be more about preferred platforms for users. Right now, Smart Assistants live in their associated device. Amazon devices carry Alexa, Samsung Phones carry Bixby and so on.
I see a future where a user has a preferred platform that follows their user journey between hardware and across multiple locations. So, the aim of the tech giants here is to make users as familiar as possible with the platform and gain market dominance.
To that end we are very unlikely to see any action taken here that would limit the technologies uptake. For the medium term at least these providers will focus attention on improving the user experience of their voice assistants and enticing people to their platforms in a free and easy way.
So from a sports rights holder perspective, where should they jump in first, given they have limited resources and this needs a plan of action to make it work properly? It feels like your point about ‘two separate discussions’ extends to how a Premier League team for example will come at this issue. There’s the content (Spotify) bit and the more transactional sales (Amazon) bit. In video content, the plan has been to work fans up and down the purchase funnel and so content and commercial are more obviously linked, because the content draws in the fan and then they can be sold to, via the club or their sponsors. But in audio it feels more siloed, and fans might just want one or the other, to get ‘the inside line’ on the club via the creative or just to buy merch and tickets via an Alexa voice action skill. Money usually drives these decisions, but what will unlock audio for sports rights holders?
I guess for rights holders it's about deciding on what their objective is and picking the right audio strategy to win that war.
Do they want to engage their fanbase? (That in itself has its own revenue impact as a more engaged audience is more likely to buy tickets, merchandise etc). If engagement is the key then there is no better way than podcasting. It's been proved time and time again that audio is not only the most effective way to deliver a message but it also creates more of an emotive response than, for example video. Sport is all about emotion and so using audio and podcasting to strengthen that emotional bond between sport and supporter (be it new or existing) is only going to pay dividends.
For a more direct approach to monetisation the e-commerce side of Voice-First is very much a growing industry.
Not every sales platform is ready to work with Alexa and co (yet) but steps are being made in that direction and consumers are gaining confidence all the time with voice-commerce (a recent study by Artefact UK showed that 60% of UK Smart Speaker users had purchased good and services via Voice). However it is not yet the behemoth that it will be in 2-3 years. A more direct approach to monetisation of these assets can be found by engaging existing sponsors with your content.
The other motivating factor from clubs/rights holders could end up being who is going to pay for it. Now more than ever, marketing budgets are being slashed within rights holders so it does make sense to almost follow the Tesla model whereby your initial product offering helps to finance the long term vision for what you want to create (in their example, the initial Tesla Roadster and Model S created the capital to build their more mass market offerings like the Model 3). In the initial stages, it may be prudent to create a content proposition that is suited to your sponsors/partners. Once you start to bring in revenue to help fund the content production and any back-end technical requirements, you can then have a little more flexibility/freedom in creating more editorial / marketing driven audio content.
Sophie Hind is Managing Director of Voiceworks. Hear our recent podcast on audio strategy here, or via your favourite podcast app.