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The Amazon Echo: A Game Changer for Podcasting?

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I bought an Amazon Echo in early October, right after it’s release, and I’ve been using it a LOT in the two months since. It’s changed my habits around audio and podcast listening in a big way. I’m starting to believe this could be a game-changer for our industry.

I’m not just referring to the Amazon Echo, of course, since Google and others are releasing their own versions. This applies to the growing trend around voice control of smart devices.

The thing is, voice control entirely changes the way you can access audio (or any media), in a really good way. Good for both listeners AND for producers. I want to talk about why that is, and what we should be doing about it. I think you need to be planning for devices like the Echo. And planning now!

Why I Bought An Echo

I bought an Echo because I was looking for a decent smart speaker. I’ve toyed with Sonos in the past, but found it way too restrictive in what you can consume and how you do it (no direct bluetooth!?). I just wanted something that could access Spotify for music, TuneIn for radio and, most importantly, connect via Bluetooth. Bluetooth is vital so that I can play Podcasts from my own choice of podcasting app.

The Echo ticked all of those boxes: a good quality speaker with online access, bluetooth and voice control thrown in as a gimmick. Or so I thought. I really didn’t expect the voice control to be that useful or effective. I’ve played with voice control on my phone before and found it cumbersome, tending to create more problems than it solves. It wasn’t a huge factor in buying the speaker at all. But it did make me curious…

Always-On Voice Control

What I’ve discovered, though, is that voice control is bloody amazing given one condition: that it’s always listening.

This is what makes Echo work, me. It’s always on, always paying attention.

I don’t have to pull out a device, unlock it, click through to the right screen, and then say ‘Ok Google’.

I don’t even have to hold down a button to get it’s attention like Siri.

The instant I think of something I want to do, I just speak. And Alexa responds.

How Voice Changes Listening Habits

Here’s how it has changed my listening habits, and why we need to start planning for it as podcasters.

I’m a geek. I’ve always had a lot of tech in my house. But, despite that, I often just can’t be bothered to get out my phone, turn on the bluetooth speaker, link ‘em up, deal with the 20% of times it inexplicably doesn’t link (despite the fact it worked perfectly 2 hours ago!), navigate to an app, find something to listen to and hit play. I know – first world problems – it’s not that onerous. But, it’s enough to put me off when I’ve just got 10 minutes pottering around the kitchen.

Now, though, when I reach the kitchen in the morning, I just speak. And it works.

Sometimes it’s: “Alexa, play Radio 2.” The dulcet tones of Chris Evans fire up in an instant.

Or it’s: “Alexa, play the Cnet Update.” The most excellent (now finished…!) Cnet Tech update podcast would kick in.

Or it’s: “Alexa, play the Daily Stoic.” I’ll get a 3 minute chapter from Ryan Holiday’s great day-by-day stoic book.

Or, if I’ve got more time, it might be: “Alexa, play the Tim Ferriss Podcast.”

Finally, it might just be music, particularly when I’m not alone in the room. I’ll call up a favourite band, or just ask for ‘Discover Weekly’ which is brilliant when you’re feeling lazy. It’s a Spotify-AI-built list based on my habits.

It’s just so easy. My kitchen is almost never without a soundtrack now.

Why Voice Control Will Help Podcasters

It’s the ease that matters here. Our biggest problem as podcasters is that listening still isn’t easy. Apps have come a long way in the past few years, but it’s still a process. That’s especially true if you’re not on iOS with the default Podcast app.

The simple fact is that the general public can’t be arsed to open up their phone, get hold of an app, search through podcasts, find a good one, and then play the episode. They’ll sometimes do it for Spotify – it’s mainstream, music is ubiquitous, so they’ll make the effort. They might even do it for Radio if they have an app for that. But, podcasting just isn’t a habit for most, and they don’t think of it.

Podcasting Alongside Music & Radio

But, the Echo and it’s kin suddenly put Podcasts in the same bucket as everything else.

Instead of having to find and learn a new app (and become familiar with a whole new medium!), it’s all in one place. The commands are the same:

“Alexa, play The Foo Fighters. Alexa, play Hardcore History. Alexa play Radio 6.”

Whatever you want to hear, it just works.

Podcasts become yet another type of audio. The barriers have crumbled.

Short Form Listening

The other really interesting thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve become a short-form listener.

Since listening is so much easier, I’ll stick something on even if I only have a few minutes.

The list above shows a few examples. The CNet update was brilliant because I would put it on as soon as I put the kettle on in the morning. I would get a three or four minute news update from the tech world while I made my coffee. Then the kids storm in and negate any chance of listening to anything. But, I’m happy, because I got a nice little nugget of information and entertainment in the short window of time that I had.

In the past, I wouldn’t bother in this time-frame because of the steps I need to take: phones, bluetooth, cables and apps. Now, it’s one simple voice request, and I’m listening in seconds.

I believe short podcasts, just minutes long, are going to be huge in the next year or two, because of this.

I know others do too, because money is going into it. Take the 60dB app, for example.

How You Can Take Advantage

Long-form is still important, don’t get me wrong. That’s where the engagement and the attention of podcasting really pays off in building your audience.

But plan to release much shorter, sharper episodes in future too, to match your listener’s habits.

This could be a summary of your main episodes to give them a taster. Maybe it would be quick takeaways from the main content, or updates on progress. It could even be quick news-bites from your industry, or personal updates that interest your audience. This might be where you put the time-sensitive content, leaving main episodes for the deep, evergreen, repurposable material.

The main thing is, short episodes should be something quick and easy to create, but which inform, inspire or entertain your listener. Imagine the effect when your fans can spend a few minutes each day with you, alongside that half hour every week. Engagement grows, conversion ramps, success accelerates.

I think we could make this sustainable. Picture a 20 minute recording session each week recording a set of 2 or 3 minute episodes. Preparation could be simplified by harvesting this from existing content (summaries/take-aways), your normal reading habits (news updates) or simple personal and business updates. It’s achievable. And imagine the value to your listeners.

Short-form hasn’t worked very well in the past, I think, because of the effort required to listen. I know, effort is a relative term: we’re not talking a 10-mile run here. But, it is the work of a few steps to find and play a podcast on your phone: anything from twenty seconds to a minute or so.

Try it right now. See how long it takes you to find and play the latest episode of Hardcore History from a locked phone, standing start. Your device might even be in the next room!

In contrast, voice speakers make it the work of a few seconds – I just did it to test. From first thought to hearing it play, it’s no more than a couple of heartbeats.

Ease of Listening = Growing (& Changing) Audience

I think this is going to change and grow the industry.

As voice controlled speakers and other voice controlled devices proliferate, more and more people are going to venture into podcast listening. It’ll be simple for them, un-segregated from their existing audio content.

Listenership will grow, and existing listeners will consume in different ways. We can prepare to take advantage of that. It’s coming whether we do or not.

Tell Me Your Experience of Voice Control

Maybe I’m way off here. I have been before! Let me know your experience with Amazon Echo and podcasting, or any of the other smart speakers on the market.

  • If you have a smart speaker, how has it changed your habits?
  • If you don’t have one, are you thinking about it?

Look forward to hearing about it!

Now, that I’ve finished writing, time for something fun: “Alexa, play Hello from the Magic Tavern.” I am USIDORE!! Wizard of the 12th Realm of……

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