Voice Assistants Go Mainstream

Executive Summary:

  • Voice assistants and their devices are becoming more functional and booming in popularity
  • The opportunities to monetize their services are currently limited, but quickly growing
  • The voice assistant holy grail is locking users into set-top boxes and owning content discovery

What it Means:

  • Voice assistant will have huge influence on consumed content
  • Non-voice assistant media companies need to differentiate through indispensable content
  • It’s in the best interest of non-voice assistant media companies to conform to voice assistant winners to maximize content discoverability

Google’s premium Home Max smart speaker goes on sale

At $399, the Home Max is one of the priciest smart speakers to date…really, the Home Max and HomePod are speakers first, smart second. The speaker offers a feature that tunes audio based on the geometry of the room. The system also features dual-woofers and tweeters and connectivity with Google Play, Pandora and Spotify.


This news bite is just one of the everflowing voice assistants device developments that show how the technology is constantly fulfilling more use cases and thus, increasing its addressable market.

Another one: Amazon’s voice assistant, Alexa, now has 25K+ skills (TechCrunch)

How popular are voice assistants?

This year, 60.5 million Americans will use Siri, Cortana or another virtual assistant at least once a month. That equates to 27.5% of smartphone users, or nearly one-fifth of the population.


US Voice-Enabled Digital Assistant Users, by Generation, 2016-2019 (millions)


Where’s the money?

As voice assistant capabilities and creativity expand, new methods of monetization are surfacing:

However, current revenue from voice assistants is likely negligible for all tech companies, developers and publishers involved. Google is even cannibalizing core business revenues by facilitating its Google Assistant services and devices. They are not currently monetizing the 20% of mobile queries made through voice searches (SearchEngineLand).

What’s at stake?

For the big tech, voice assistant companies, I would argue the big prize is the same as for video devices and AR headsets. Voice is seen a significant user interface and a future gatekeeper to content. This dynamic can be seen playing out through recent developments making video content accessible through voice:

  • Amazon’s most recent Fire TV models are voice-enabled:


Dominant set-top boxes benefit in the following ways:

  1. Higher reach and conversion rates of video subscription services (Prime Video, YouTube TV)
  2. Nearly complete access to viewer behavior and preference data
  3. Affiliate revenue from other OTT services offered through the platform

But a voice-enabled set-top box injects the benefits of owning content discovery with steroids.

Just as when Alexa is told, “Alexa, play music”, a recommended Amazon Prime Music song is played, in the video above, the command, “Alexa, play a comedy” will play recommended comedy video content from Amazon Prime Video. The point is, this Fire TV owner becomes much more likely to watch their comedies on Amazon Prime Video rather than Facebook, YouTube, or Comedy Central.

Not to mention, the voice assistant captures a new data set frontier: content preferences demonstrated through voice commands.

What this means for media companies:

As voice assistants improve functionality and become more ubiquitous, the media companies that own them will gain significant influence over content discovery. All other media companies face significant risk in losing their relationship with content consumers.

As visualized in the smiling curve below, the best way to compete against content discovery gatekeepers is to own indispensable content.

The Smiling Curve for publishing

Ben Thompson Stratechery

The unfortunate next best action for most media companies is to conform to the demands and design of the voice assistant gatekeepers. Doing so will maximize the discoverability of their content on this future video content interface.

How can media companies become early voice adopters?

  • Create voice-enabled content such as flash briefings and podcasts
  • Strike partnerships with DMVPDs owned by major voice assistant players such as YouTube TV and Amazon Prime Video / Channels









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