I was joined by Jeff Gibb of Amazon and James Derby from Federated Media for a roundtable discussion on Voice Interactive Radio at the NAB show last week. There were several questions about how Amazon Alexa works and why radio stations should consider a custom Alexa skill as opposed to just using the live stream provided by TuneIn. However, the most common question was about how to get Alexa, the voice assistant on Amazon Echo, to recognize a station name.
Act Now if You Want Your Station’s Name Recognized by Amazon Alexa
Do you remember when everyone was looking to claim a website URL that matched their station or company name? Amazon Alexa has an audio equivalent called an invocation name. The invocation is what the listener says when asking Alexa to play a station. You may be okay if you have a truly unique station name that no one else in the world uses, but otherwise, it’s first come, first served.
I offered a simple example. There are several stations in the U.S. that go by the name B95. They are unique in their local markets so this doesn’t pose a significant problem most of the time. However, Jeff explained that Amazon Alexa doesn’t distinguish between geographical boundaries. Every user has access to every content source. The B95 country station in Eau Claire, Fresno’s hip hop B95 in Fresno and Albany’s B95 adult contemporary all want to be Alexa’s answer when a listener says, “Alexa, play B95.” But, only one station can have this invocation name.
This prompted a question: “What happens to the second station that tries to get B95?” Amazon’s Jeff Gibb responded that the second, third and fourth stations would likely need to add their location name to the invocation such as “Alexa, play B95 Albany.” This was a key concern of James Derby when Federated Media decided to launch the Alexa skill for B100. He wanted Alexa to return requests for “B100” to go to his top-rated country station in northern Indiana and not the Quad Cities pop station or Albany’s B100 which is also a country format.
Why You Can’t Simply Rely on TuneIn
Mr. Derby was also aware that TuneIn wasn’t helping listeners find his station on Amazon Echo. Before Federated Media’s B100 launched a custom Alexa skill, a request to play B100 on Echo delivered the Quad Cities pop station with the same name from TuneIn. His B100 country station is available on TuneIn through the mobile app and in theory it could also be accessed through TuneIn’s Alexa skill. However, the only way to get his B100 station to play on Echo through TuneiIn was to say “play WBYT”, and since most listeners don’t know the call sign, Alexa consistently started playing the Quad Cities B100 station. However, if you now ask her to “play B100,” you are taken directly to the Federated Media B100 custom Alexa skill.
User Experience and Monetization
Mr. Derby also answered a question about why radio stations should want to have custom skills on platforms like Amazon Echo and Google Home. He offered Federated Media’s rationale behind bringing 12 stations to the Alexa platform.
- Control the user experience
- Control the monetization
For user experience, Federated Media stations are able to promote their on-air talent directly in the Alexa skill, provide access to podcasts and on-demand listening all in addition to the live stream. And, the custom skills enable the stations to provide a real-time interactive experience with listeners for the first time. This offers value to listeners, maximizes the leverage of Federated’s audio content catalog and differentiates the station from its live stream-only competitors.
The monetization comment came back to TuneIn. Currently, as a station aggregator, TuneIn controls the monetization of advertising wrapped around listening sessions. A custom Alexa skill puts the station in control of its own monetization decisions and the proceeds.
User Experience Considerations and Getting Started
I also answered several questions about user experience best practices for radio stations moving to Amazon Alexa and other voice assistants. You can find out more about those by downloading our recently published report, 10 Best Practices for Radio on Alexa.
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You can see there are many reasons for radio to move to Alexa without delay. XAPPmedia was the first company to help radio stations develop a customized Alexa presence and we continue to be the leader in supporting radio on voice assistants by a large margin. To get your station on Alexa and claim your invocation name now, click the button above. We look forward to working with you. Amazon Echo is brining radio back into the home and XAPPmedia is bringing radio to Amazon Echo.
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