Smart Speaker Growth and 2021 Audio Trends

By Laura DiCaprio

The topic of Smart Speakers came up in our team meeting this week – who has them, what do we use them for, and what platforms we use to access music and podcasts. Before the pandemic, I thought of them as an unnecessary commodity. I now have five spread out across my house so that I have access to Alexa whenever I might need her. I’m a total convert.

Looking at Smart Speaker growth in 2020 and projections into the near future, it’s clear that I’m not the only one who climbed on the bandwagon. Amazon projects by the year 2025, an estimated 130 million Amazon Echos will be sold globally:

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Let’s look at this trend from a media buyer’s perspective to predict how this growth will affect media plans in 2021, starting with music listenership. The majority of Smart Speaker owners report that playing music is the number one thing they do with their Smart Speakers:

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And as Smart Speaker sales increase, so will the overall audio listenership:

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With more Smart Speakers in homes and audio listenership increasing, there are more opportunities to connect with people via audio platforms. Pre-pandemic, many people reserved radio listening to their morning and afternoon commutes in their cars, and this was reflected in station ratings. Now, a year into the pandemic, we’re seeing an increase in daytime listenership as people listen to the radio while they work:

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Although AM and PM drive times reined for many years as the premium placements for radio buys, it’s important to take a close look at recent station ratings to ensure we are reaching people when they’re listening inside their homes.

Another Smart Speaker audio trend is the increase of streaming options that have become available over the past few years. According to Business Insider, the top five streaming services to subscribe to in 2021 are Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Amazon Music, and YouTube. Notice something missing?

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Pandora, one of the first free and paid streaming options to exist, has steadily decreased in popularity over the past year and is projected to fall through 2025. In fact, it’s no longer considered the number one streaming platform in the U.S. With the increase in Smart Speakers and Smart Phones, many other services have entered the streaming category, knocking it out of its number one spot. Spotify has taken Pandora’s place as the number one option and is projected to grow through 2023:

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Pandora and Spotify were the streaming mediums of choice for many years due to their targetability and scheduling flexibility, and they used to be the only streaming options available for smaller markets. Now, with so many other options available, media plans must account for the variety of platforms to ensure messages are reaching an optimal number of consumers.

The growth in Smart Speaker usage and ownership has sparked a shift in the way we’re planning our radio buys, but they’re accountable for other changes in the media world as well. For example, podcast listenership is steadily increasing, and search engine optimization (SEO) must be optimized for voice search. In my next blog post, I’ll explore these two areas and define ways to incorporate these trends into your communications plans.