Radio Programmers, Pay Attention to the Cross-Device Experience

Seth Resler

By: Seth Resler,
Jacobs Media Strategies

Imagine this scenario: You’re driving home from work, listening to Terry Gross interview Conan O’Brien. You pull into your driveway and you need to get into the house to making dinner before the kids get home before the kids get home from baseball practice, but you don’t want to miss the end of the interview. What do you do?

In the past, radio broadcasters have called this a “driveway moment” — a situation in which a listener stays in their car to hear more of a broadcast. But in an on-demand world, who has time for that?

Fortunately, technology is making it possible for listeners to extend their listening across different physical locations. Last week, Amazon announced that, “Soon, Alexa will sync with your favorite podcast and on-demand audio apps–if you’ve started a podcast using the Spotify, SiriusXM, or iHeartRadio app on your phone, you’ll be able to pick up where you left off on your Alexa devices when you get home.” In other words, if you’ve got an Echo in the kitchen, there’s no longer a need to sit in the driveway; you can pre-heat the oven while Conan dishes about his post-Tonight Show therapy.

For a long time, it was a safe assumption that radio listeners could make the jump from a place like the car to a place the home without interrupting their listening because they were likely to have radios in both spots, and all listening was in real-time, not on demand. (In this year’s TechSurvey, 83% of radio listeners report having a working radio in the home.) But as the types of devices that people listen to audio on fragments, it’s becoming less and less safe to make this assumption. In this year’s TechSurvey, 27% of respondents said they own a smart speaker, but that number is growing rapidly, and in the coming years it might overtake radio ownership.

It’s not just the hardware — AM/FM radios, satellite radios, smartphones, smart speakers, smart TVs, tablets, computers, etc. — that might be different in different places; the apps used on those devices could also be different: individual radio station apps, Spotify, Pandora, iHeart Radio, Radio.com, TuneIn, etc. Suddenly, there are so many different combinations of audio delivery systems that ensuring a smooth transition as a person moves from one location to another is a challenge.

These challenges have real effects on the behavior of listeners. Years ago, I adopted Pocket Casts as my default podcast player specifically because of its ability to let me continue listening to a podcast from the same spot when switching devices. I ran into a similar issue recently when I bought an Echo Input to use with my backyard speakers. To date, I have been unable to include both devices in the same audio group, which means I can’t listen to the same thing inside that I am listening to outside. That’s annoying when you’re constantly running from the fridge to the grill and back, and these technological limitations have altered my listening behavior.

Radio broadcasters should pay special attention to what happens to when they move from one location to another, and what impact the hardware and software has on their own listening behaviors. Ask around the office to see what other people are listening to in different locations to see how their behavior changes. A person with a satellite radio in their car and no smart speaker at home may behave differently than a person who plugs their phone into the auxiliary input of their car radio and listens to a Google Home device in their living room. Amazon, Sirius, Spotify, and iHeartMedia have taken steps to make this transition smooth — and eliminate “driveway moments” in the process. Does your company need to do the same?

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