Anywhere from 8.2 million to 10 million Amazon Echo internet-connected smart speakers have been sold in the United States to date, according to various analyst sources. All of these smart speakers are controlled by voice commands, via their onboard Alexa voice recognition software.
Today, thanks to an Alexa “Skill” application developed by tech company XAPPmedia, all of these Echos can be voice-commanded to tune to Federated Media’s B100, WBYT(FM) in South Bend, Ind., simply by saying, “Alexa, enable B100.”
According to XAPPmedia CEO and co-founder Pat Higbie, this was the first instance in which Alexa could be commanded to find a radio station by its brand name, rather than its FCC-assigned station identification.
“Given the investment we have made in building the B100 brand in our market, this is huge,” said James Derby, Federated Media’s chief strategy officer this spring.
“XAPPmedia’s B100 Alexa Skill ensures that millions of Amazon Echo listeners will be able to find us using the brand name we’re known for, and stakes out this ‘smart speaker’ territory for us worldwide.”
HOW IT WORKS
The functionality of the B100 Alexa Skill is built upon two factors. The first is the ability of the Alexa voice recognition system to “learn” new voice commands by having these spoken words associated with specific applications such as B100 or features of those applications. In this instance, this means associating the words “Alexa, enable B100” with a request to access the B100 audio stream through an Amazon Echo, and to then voice-surf through that station’s various content options.
|A promotional image from XAPPmedia. The company’s message about smart speakers: “Amazon Echo is bringing back the preset radio buttons. Will your station be there?”
The second factor is XAPPmedia’s embedding of the necessary data entries within its B100 Alexa Skill; namely voice-activated access to the station’s RSS (Really Simple Syndication) data feeds, specific audio channels and podcast library. This large number of entries is required, because the B100 Alexa Skill allows the listener to choose from a range of online country music categories and podcasts by voice, vastly expanding the listener’s reasons to stay tuned to B100 online.
“As well as being able to scan through the music channels and podcasts by voice — with the B100 feed giving you tastes of what each one provides — you can skip through songs by voice command, and go to specific B100 programs by name,” said Higbie. “With the B100 Alexa Skill, you can do quite sophisticated content discovery and selection without literally ever having to raise a finger.”
WHY IT MATTERS
The B100 Alexa Skill gets high marks for its cool factor. But this isn’t why Federated Media was attracted to the application. The smart speaker market is exploding in 2017 through sales of Amazon Echo, Google Home and Microsoft’s expected Cortana smart speaker units, all of which connect to the internet. Apple introduced its HomePod in June.
“Up to 25 million Amazon Echos in the home, 15 million in new Fords and millions more in Volkswagens, Hyundais and BMWs are expected to be sold by year’s end,” said Higbie. Meanwhile, “The Infinite Dial 2017” report from Edison and Triton Digital stated that 63 percent of surveyed Americans 12+ were aware of Amazon Echo or Google Home smart speakers, while 7 percent own one or more voice-commanded smart speakers — 5 percent for Amazon Echo/Dot with Alexa; 2 percent for Google Home.
Today’s smart speakers can be voice-commanded to tune to any radio station stream, just by saying its station ID aloud.
“The trouble is, people know us as B100, not WBYT,” said Derby. “So telling Alexa to ‘enable B100’ before our B100 Alexa Skill was launched wouldn’t have worked. Those listeners who didn’t know our WBYT call sign would be lost to us.”
With the B100 Alexa Skill up and running, Federated Media has a direct route to its own smart speaker listeners, plus anyone else who might listen to another B100-branded worldwide. In an internet-connected world, this gives B100 a powerful presence, said Higbie, because no other radio stream is as easy to access using Alexa. Basically, B100 grabbed an unprecedented shortcut to its listeners.
“Understanding the B100 Alexa Skill’s edge can be explained by the six preset radio buttons on an old car radio,” said Higbie. “Just the act of presetting six stations from all the stations available gave those six a preferential edge in the listener’s car. Add the fact that most people only switch between two to three of their presets on a regular basis, and the advantage those radio stations had was profound. The limited selection offered by the convenience of presets gave them an advantage.
“The B100 Alexa Skill gives Federated Media a similar edge over the competition, if not more so,” Higbie continued. “The fact that there are 50,000 radio streams online is confusing to listeners. But being able to say, ‘Alexa, enable B100’? That’s so, so easy.”
The fact that the Amazon Echo is gaining such headway in U.S. homes also matters.
“Today, most homes don’t have dedicated tabletop radios that they use on a regular basis,” said Derby. “At most, they use clock radios in the bedroom, plus the radio in the car. Smart speakers are a golden opportunity for broadcast radio to regain its place throughout the home, and those stations that are the easiest to access by voice command stand to gain the most.”
It remains to be seen if B100’s Alexa Skill delivers on its profound promise. But Federated Media and XAPPmedia have no doubts. This is why Federated Media is working with XAPPmedia to develop Alexa Skills for its other radio stations. K105 WQHK(FM) in Fort Wayne, Ind., launched in May, so now you can also say, “Alexa, enable K105.” The developer says more are on the way. Meanwhile, the company is developing voice-commanded “Actions” to work on Google Home — it recently released an Action on Google for Progressive Insurance — and is actively developing “Skills” to work on Microsoft Cortana.
To see an online demo of the B100 Alexa Skill, go to https://xappmedia.com/video/alexa-demo-b100-radio/.