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Music still the top request for US smart-speaker owners, but…


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NPR and Edison Research have published their latest ‘Smart Audio Report’exploring how American owners of smart speakers are using these devices. It includes a new figure for that ownership: “21% of Americans 18+ own a smart speaker, or around 53 million people,” explains the report. That means 14 million Americans got their first smart speaker in 2018, according to NPR and Edison’s calculations.

How does this compare to other estimates? eMarketer predicted in December that 74.2 million Americans would use a smart speaker in 2019, up 15% on 2018 (thus: around 63 million that year) – although we’re wary of comparing figures on ‘ownership’ and ‘usage’ too directly. Meanwhile, Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP) claimed in February that there were 66m smart speakers in use in the US at the end of 2018 – but that’s units not owners (or users).

Anyway, there are more stats to digest from the NPR/Edison report, including an increase in multiple-speaker ownership. In December 2018, 22% of owners had two of these devices and 30% three – up from 21% and 17% respectively a year before. The report suggests that there were 118.5m smart speakers in US households at the end of 2018 – see how much larger that figure is than CIRP’s estimate above though, showing how much researchers can disagree over this particular market.

There’s some good and bad news when it comes to music. According to the new report, playing music still tops the list of weekly smart-speaker requests: 77% of owners are doing it, ahead of weather (75%); asking general questions (74%); and setting timers or alarms, or checking the time (both 53%). Meanwhile, 37% of owners are using their smart speakers to listen to AM/FM radio on a weekly basis.

The bad news? The music percentage appears to have fallen fairly sharply: in the corresponding report a year ago, when the data was presented slightly differently – dividing people into ‘first adopters’ and ‘early mainstream’ owners – 90% of the former and 89% of the latter reported playing music on their smart speaker in the last week. Still, 55% of owners say they’re listening to more audio since getting a smart speaker. But that apparent fall in music-listening deserves more attention.

Stuart Dredge

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