Today is an exciting day for us here in Detroit. We get to start something brand new.
We have a little history in the “new new” space. Over the past couple of decades, we've launched our Techsurveys (now for commercial, public, and Christian radio), jācapps, the DASH Conference, and earlier this year, our CES/CEO Tour.
And so today is another standout because it marks a new startup for us – a joint venture between our mobile apps company, jācapps, and our friend Steve Goldstein, the guy who founded AmplifiMedia in 2016, the podcast company. I've known Steve since our early days at ABC Radio in a decade known as “the '70s.” Over the years, we worked closely throughout his long and successful tenure in programming at Saga Communications. This summer, we're collaborating at Podcast Movement in Anaheim.
Today marks the debut of SonicAi – a company that develops “skills” for voice command devices – or “smart speakers” as they're sometimes called. SonicAI – or as our friends call us, SAi – designs and creates spoken word software for hot new devices like the Amazon Echo – or “Alexa” – as well as Google Home, and others that will most surely follow over the next year and beyond.
As we discussed in a post last week, these gadgets are showing up in more and more homes, offices, and other spaces every week. In Techsurvey13, we are now tracking ownership of “smart speakers” at 11% (and that's already 60 days ago). And we've learned that listeners who love formats that range from Alternative to AC to Sports Talk are grabbing up these devices in near equal numbers, indicating that mass appeal is a strong possibility. In fact, Gartner predicts that 75% of U.S. homes will have one by 2020 (and one-fifth will have two).
Remember when it was radios that were in multiple rooms in most houses? Sadly, that percentage is shrinking. In fact, our new Techsurvey shows that among Millennials, only three-fourths have a radio where they live, a problem that slowly but surely creeps up higher every year.
The premise behind these devices is that our future is in spoken word. A great story in render last week by betaworks partner Matt Hartman makes the case that voice provides the lowest friction between consumers and them getting what they want. He reaffirms that this is the time when these devices will break out.
“If 2016 was the year where platforms opened up to chatbots, 2017 is the year where voice platforms are opening up to mainstream consumers.”
I can tell you anecdotally – and several owners of Amazon Echo devices have affirmed it – you listen to more radio when Alexa's in the house. Yes, we're talking streaming radio, so it's not a perfect solution for broadcasters.
But at the end of the day, continued and habitual consumption of radio brands is an imperative. On the home front, this is becoming mission critical. Having presence on devices from smartphones to these voice assistants is an edge for radio.
With SonicAi, we're not the first in this new space. But we're thinking there's something compelling about a team of strategic programmers tackling radio's opportunities to create “skills” that will drive ratings, revenue, and brands. That's what being on the Echo, Home, or other voice assistants is all about.
From time-shifted audio like podcasts to featuring key station content that can be easily accessed and shared, our vision is to use the power of spoken voice commands to enhance the radio experience.
Even though this is our official Opening Day, we've been at this for months. For jācapps, it started when one of our key developers, Ben Levy, brought “Alexa” into the office. And from there, the games began.
In many ways, this SonicAi initiative is what jācapps' App Everywhere℠ mantra is all about. No, “skills” aren't apps, but the idea of your station being everywhere your listeners are is precisely the point.
It was an exciting time when we first saw the WRIF app appear on our iPhones. And later, when the WMMR app showed up on the Apple CarPlay screen. Now it feels the same when we build “skills” for the Amazon Echo and we put Alexa to work for radio.
From being able to accurately access radio streams to getting those all-important “utterances” right to dreaming up programming and sales-smart applications, our team will bring the same spirit to SonicAi they've imbued in jācapps. And Steve's group has been similarly innovating in the space, making our collaboration more powerful.
Here's a video that describes what SonicAi – or SAi – is all about:
More info is here.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,200 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.