I attended the excellent INMA World Congress in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. As always, it was jam-packed with great speakers, great content, and great coverage of the latest media trends.

One such trend that caught my eye — I mean, my ear — was a session on what new tech in “mobile” we can expect to see in the near future.

During the INMA World Congress, Joel Sucherman touched on the role smart speakers could play in the media marketplace.
During the INMA World Congress, Joel Sucherman touched on the role smart speakers could play in the media marketplace.

Joel Sucherman, senior director of digital products at National Public Radio, pointed out that he sees radio possibly disappearing as a device, but says the radio experience has been reborn with the smart speaker (a la Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple HomePod).

More than 20% of homes in the United States alone now have smart speakers. Sucherman stated they are being adopted at a faster rate than smartphones, and people using them are changing behaviours and forming new habits. In addition to using the various built-in assistants to ask questions, playing music, looking for weather information, and listening to audio programmes are just some off the uses.

And podcasts could finally realise their potential for media companies. This technology many thought of as dead before it even got started is perfect for smart speakers and for getting content verticals out to potential readers. Everything has its time, I guess, and now might well be the time for the podcast.

This session in Washington dovetailed nicely into Reuters Institute’s Media Trends 2018 report. The report says publishers are eyeing new opportunities in audio content such as podcasts. It also notes more than half of publishers (58%) say they’ll be focussing on content for Artificial Intelligence, smart speakers, and intelligent agents compared with under one-third (28%) last year.

A quote from the report sums up the situation: “Artificial Intelligence and conversational computing are heading for the mainstream this year. They won’t replace smartphones but they will offer quicker ways to access certain types of information and help make audio and podcasts more discoverable.”

Reuters believes the voice-driven assistants are emerging as the next big disrupter in technology, with Amazon strengthening its hold in the home.

Good food for thought, but can we make money from smart speakers? We certainly can.

With the massive growth of the Internet of Things (IoT), and particularly these smart speakers, voice commands are becoming more and more powerful and pervasive. One area where this technology is quickly growing is in m/e-commerce, where the ability to make purchases and payments via “voice” dictates a significant step toward a truly frictionless consumer experience.

The future success of voice commerce depends largely on the ability of the digital assistants that power it. Amazon’s Alexa, the AI brain behind the Echo smart speaker and home hub, is already well-integrated into the company’s enormous retail ecosystem, giving Amazon a clear headstart when it comes to voice-command payments. (This backs up Reuters suggestion that Amazon is cementing its position as leaders.) Alexa now also offers the ability to pay credit card bills, send payments to other users, and manage select bank accounts.

Trust is a big issue in many people’s minds at present, but slowly and surely the technology is gaining ground. As it stands right now, voice shopping is largely preserved for early adopters. To push into the mainstream and enjoy wide adoption, there remain a number of issues to overcome.

The first issue is security, which may ultimately be resolved with biometrics or other advanced techs. The second issue is related to better integration with both payment methods and media/retailers, which will help remove some of the friction points currently in the payment process. Though some users make purchases via vocal commands purely due to the sheer novelty factor, voice commerce must prove itself to be more convenient and, crucially, seamless. That is, it must prove to be better than other methods in order to take over in the long term.

Mobile payments generally are already revolutionising the way we deal with transactions, and voice commands seem to be a natural progression of that area. There are still issues to be ironed out, but the holy grail promise of frictionless, hands-free payments is far too tempting to ignore.

Whether it’s through smart speakers or a proliferation of other IoT-enabled devices, voice commerce may well be a powerful way to drive content sales and create a better experience for consumers in the future.

Watch this space, as they say. I am … with keen interest.