The age of the new disruptors?
Anne Tucker uses new data from Mediatel's Connected Screens and Video and Voice tracking surveys to understand how voice assistants and virtual reality might impact the media and advertising markets
The media industry is always on the look out for the next big thing, the next big disruptor. Over the last decade there have been several false starts and non-starters, such as red button services, 3D TV, Google Glass or curved TV sets. The consumer will only adopt new technology en masse if that technology has a use and offers some improvement to their life - be that fun, efficiency, ease or clarity.
So what of the two latest contenders to the disruptor throne? Virtual reality and voice assistants?
Taking results from Mediatel's latest Connected Screens tracking study, as well as the brand new Video and Voice survey, run by YouGov exclusively for Mediatel, we begin to analyse how these two new technologies may be having an impact on the media and advertising market.
Thinking about those false-starters above, some technological advancements don't always make it to the mainstream - and based on our data the jury is still out on what impact virtual reality may have on mainstream entertainment.
We've been asking VR related questions on Mediatel's Connected Screens for two waves now and the results suggest that, although more people have tried both the games console VR kit as well as the cheaper smartphone equipment, the likelihood of buying in the next year has marginally dipped for both markets.
The experience of VR currently suits the gaming market more than the mass media market and as such we'd expect this to remain a niche for the time being.
As media commentator, Raymond Snoddy, puts it: "the arguments for the technology are eerily reminiscent of the enthusiasm for 3D TV nearly a decade ago." And we've already seen how the consumer has moved on from that.
However once immersed in the technology, it's clear that it can be quite all consuming...
Contestant number 3 may need a sit down after this (best enjoyed with sound) pic.twitter.com/OsHLJtN5iF
— Spencer Kelly (@spenley) September 19, 2017
I can see how the technology could become enormous in the future, with significant impact for entertainment, education, social and retail, amongst others, with the right developments.
Already there is investment occurring from major media players, e.g. Channel 4, Sky and Nokia.
Nokia for example have introduced a new 360 degree camera that will relay live concerts to VR headsets. This adds a new "front row" ticket concept of being at a concert without actually being at a concert. Meanwhile, similar developments are in place for football by Sky.
However, I think any mass market adoption may still be a long way off. In order for the consumer to adopt this en masse, and it to become as serious disruptor, it needs to tick some or all of the life improvements listed at the beginning of this article, and I'd question how much impact it has so far.
Voice Controlled Assistants
So how about voice controlled assistants, or smart assistants – the new hot topic? Are these going to be the game changer that the current hype and media column inches would suggest? How far have they come to date?
The first results from our brand new Video and Voice survey, run by YouGov, indicates that nearly a quarter of all respondents have ever used any voice assistant on their phone. However, nearly half of all respondents have never used any kind of voice assistant on any device as yet. So there is a distance to go for ubiquitous usage but, considering these didn't exist a short time ago, they are making significant inroads and fast.
Siri is the most used voice assistant currently – and it has been around for a while now on Apple iPhones. Meanwhile, Amazon's Alexa sits at 6%.
However the frequency of usage on these services tells a different story: although other voice assistants may have more actual usage, the frequency of usage amongst Alexa users is significantly higher, with 36% using every or most days.
In terms of the penetration of the physical units, the smart speakers themselves, both Amazon Echo and Google Home were reported at 4% on our last wave. So already we're starting to push towards one in ten homes despite the fact that Amazon Echo was only launched in the UK a year ago this week, whilst Google Home made it onto the market in April this year. Impressive figures, and it will be interesting to see what happens with Christmas sales, if they will be the gift of choice for 2017.
BTW does anyone else think the Google Home unit looks like it could be the latest air freshener model by Glade??
Of course two voice assistants don't have a 'home' or smart speaker at the moment; Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana. However Microsoft is launching Invoke with Harman Kardon, whilst Apple releases its Homepod, both due imminently. These shall be added to the next wave of Video and Voice fieldwork to ensure we shall be tracking them from the beginning.
But as Paul Mead, founder and chairman of VCCP Media, states: "It's important not to be distracted by the hardware. Echoes, Dots, AirPods, Home will all come and go. This is a race to be the operating system of the internet of things. Brands can't win here." And then things just get even more interesting.
For now, the main use of voice assistant units is for music. Barking an order at the black cylinder in the corner of the room to play your radio station or playlist of choice is extremely easy – if very impersonal, and distinctly lacking in manners – whatever happened to please and thank you?!
There are some interesting differences to note: Google Home is used more for traffic, news, fitness. Music particularly dominates for Echo, but less so for Google Home.
I'm a recent Amazon Echo convert; I like its ease of usage and am intrigued to see how this technology will develop and integrate going forward. However not everyone is quite as enamoured with these voice assistants – if you haven't read Richard Marks's break up letter to Alexa, I highly recommend you do.
But of course, the one thing you should always remember with Alexa - she will always search for whatever it is she thinks you've asked her for, so make sure you know your trigger words for stop..!
Anne Tucker is head of research and AV at Mediatel