Could Smart Speakers Give Us Podcasting’s Next Big Moment?

The renewed growth of podcast listening over the past few years can be attributed to two events. One was a content play — the popularity of Serial ushered in a whole new genre and format to podcasting. The other had to do with technology — as people spent more and more time with smartphones, podcasts offered engaging audio for those times when eyes were busy but minds were free.

Fast forward to 2019, and we move from smartphones to smart speakers. Depending on whose crystal ball you look into, close to half of U.S. households will have a smart speaker some time over the next few years. Smart speakers of all sizes and price points are finding their way on to holiday gift lists this year, so we will soon find out how close we are getting to that tipping point.

What can the podcast community expect from this kind of explosive growth?

We got a glimpse into what that future might look like with The Canadian Podcast Listener 2018, our second annual in-depth look at 1,500+ Canadian monthly podcast listeners. The benefit of working with such a big sample of podcast listeners is that it allows us to slice and dice the data in such a way that we are able to compare podcast listeners with smart speakers to the average monthly podcast listener.

Keep in mind that these are “first-in-line” smart speaker users who are still experimenting with how to use the technology. Also, while overall podcast listening levels are very similar between Canada and the U.S., there’s an important distinction when it comes to smart speakers. Unlike the U.S., Google Home dominates the smart speaker market in Canada, with twice the penetration of the Amazon Echo. And, coming as it does from the masters of search, Google Home tends to work better than the Echo at seamlessly reaching deep into the 100,000+ active podcast titles.

With all that in mind, we do get some early insights into where smart speakers may lead us.

Podcast listeners are setting the pace with the adoption of smart speakers.

As tech-forward consumers, podcast listeners are twice as likely as the average Canadian adult to have a smart speaker. Back when we were in field in June, 22% of podcast listeners reported having a smart speaker, compared to 11% of all Canadian adults.

Smart speakers may already be helping to fuel growth among listeners who are new to podcasts.

Smart speaker penetration rises to 27% among listeners who say they started listening regularly to podcasts in the past year, five points higher than among podcast listeners in general.

Most Canadian podcast listeners with smart speakers are listening on their speakers.

The Canadian Podcast Listener study shows that slightly more than six-in-ten (61%) podcast listeners who have smart speakers have incorporated them into their podcast habit. On average, podcast listeners with smart speakers report that 21% of their podcast listening is on smart speakers, ranking behind only mobile phones for usage.

Podcast listening is more of a social experience for listeners who have smart speakers.

Podcast listening continues to be largely a solo vs. shared activity, even for podcast listeners with smart speakers. But podcast listeners with smart speakers do spend more time listening with others. On average, they report that 22% of their podcast listening time is shared, compared with just 13% of podcast listeners in general.

This suggests new niche content opportunities as smart speaker adoption grows. Kids’ podcasts for example — there are more smart speakers in Canadian podcast households with children (31%) than there are in households without kids (18%).

OK. So, what does all this mean?

It’s still early days. Once smart speakers reach critical mass, we’ll get a much clearer idea of the impact that voice assistants will have on the home… and on podcasting.

Meanwhile, some trends to watch:

  • Keep an eye on whether frictionless access to podcasts via smart speakers will drive new listening to podcasts. Especially via Google Home. That could help to open the doors to the podcast club.
  • Make sure listeners can get your podcast on their smart speaker(s). Check to see if your podcast is listed on the default platforms that people access podcasts (for example, TuneIn for Alexa, Google Podcasts for Google Home).
  • Experiment with podcasts that might suit a shared listening experience. Not just kids’ podcasts, but other podcasts that could serve as the centre of attention for shared listening. Or podcasts that lend themselves to more of a background listening experience. For example, if rights issues ever get resolved, podcasts that integrate music and speech could be the next big content play.

The Canadian Podcast Listener 2018 is co-published by Audience Insights Inc. and Ulster Media, and supported by The Podcast Exchange (TPX). A total of 1,534 monthly podcast listeners aged 18+ answered an in-depth survey averaging 15 minutes. Email invites were sent to a nationally representative sample of online Canadians from Maru Voice Canada in June 2018.

The full in-depth report is available by subscription, with plans now underway for The Canadian Podcast Listener 2019 fielding in June. For more information, visit CanadianPodcastListener.ca.