Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

TV is facing a voice revolution

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast November 28, 2018

Broadcasters must up their game as Alexa and co start to kill off the remote, says Kate Bulkley

Amazingly, the Amazon Echo speaker only became available in the UK in autumn 2016. Today, 10% of the UK population regularly use voice-activated speakers, according to a Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism report.

For heavy users, Alexa and her fellow voice assistants are fast replacing both the smartphone and, most certainly, the radio.

Here’s a prediction: the smart speaker will kill off the remote control. The reason is pretty simple: how many times have you lost the remote down the back of the sofa? How many minutes are spent scrolling through the EPG before you remember Bruce Springsteen was absolutely correct: there may be 57-plus channels to choose from, but there’s nothing on.

Actually, Springsteen isn’t completely correct – good programming is out there, but finding it isn’t for the faint-hearted. The remote control is a blunt instrument in a burgeoning sea of content – compare it with the ease of asking Alexa, Google Home or Siri to find something you like.

Today, the highest-use case for voice assistants is finding music: “Alexa, play Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks.” According to a YouGov study, a whopping 71% use their voice assistant to play music.

The next biggest categories are general questions like “who is Bob Dylan?” (58%) and setting alarms and reminders, like “buy the new Dylan album” (49%). Here’s the thing: music is always the pioneer in consumer consumption habits – think Spotify.

Meanwhile, the smart speaker is fast moving into the TV set itself. Not only are new sets integrating voice search and other screens, but pay-TV platforms such as Sky are building voice search into their next-gen set-top boxes. This will increase as huge battles develop over which voice assistant gets into which devices.

Mark Harrison, managing director of the Digital Production Partnership, told a tech conference last week in Germany that voice search will be the single most disruptive and important thing to happen in video in a decade or more.

“Ask Alexa for a comedy and which one do you think she will offer you – one that Amazon owns or one owned by Sky?”

Don’t underestimate the voice revolution. Not only will there be many rights issues over which assistant can serve what content to which device, there will also be a whole lot of jockeying about the programmes served up.

Will the winner be the highest bidder? Ask Alexa for a comedy and which one do you think she will offer you – one that Amazon owns or one owned by Sky? Or by the BBC?

For broadcasters, the challenges are about keeping up with the big Silicon Valley tech fi rms. To remain relevant to younger audiences, they need to be where the audiences are – that’s why Channel 4 partnered with Facebook to produce weekly news for Facebook Watch.

But perhaps the biggest potential threat is what the old EPG world called ‘due prominence’. Today, public service broadcasters get the top channel slots on a TV EPG, but what happens when the EPG isn’t the key to finding content?

The BBC, ITV and Channel 4 are demanding protection for the prominence of UK public service output in the new digital and on-demand TV landscape, and Ofcom is expected to deliver a report on prominence and discoverability in 2020.

But the pace of change is relentless and Silicon Valley platforms play the data acquisition game. They want to know more about us so they can serve us better and thereby build their businesses. The algorithms are relentless.

In this world, public service broadcasting can act as a counter-balance to fake news and the social media echo chambers only if people can find them.

What content will float to the top of the new voice EPG? Amazon, for example, says it will serve content based on the usage algorithm but is also allowing branded experiences, so if you ask specifically for Spotify, you’ll get it; if you don’t, you’ll get Amazon Music.

In this context, brand becomes even more crucial because if the consumer doesn’t know it, they can’t ask Alexa for it.

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