My childhood home was filled with the voices of Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings. Like a scene reminiscent of an old black-and-white sitcom, nearly every night our family television was tuned to CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News or ABC World News, with each of us fixed in our favorite locations around the living room.
Today, the news remains cemented into my daily routine, but the voices have changed. And I don’t just mean the familiarity of the anchors. A large percentage of my daily news – perhaps the vast majority of it – is spoken to me.
These days, my morning starts with a simple phrase: “Okay, Google, give me my news for the day.” Google Home, the digital assistant perched on my dresser, then begins to recite the daily news in the order I preselected as I get ready for my day. Once I make my way to the kitchen, it’s Amazon Alexa’s turn to take over and tell me about everything from politics to sports. When I return home in the evening and prepare dinner, Alexa fills me in on any news I might have missed.
We have seen more progress in speech recognition over the last 30 months than we saw in the first 30 years. In just the last six months, the technology has lowered its error rate to the equivalent of humans transcribing spoken language and achieved what computer scientists deem human parity.
This shift to voice-recognition technology is the next step in a long transformation that will forever change the way we consume news at home. According to forthcoming CTA research, roughly 8% of households own a voice-activated digital assistant device – twice as many as the year before. In 2017, we expect digital assistant device sales in the U.S. to reach 10.9 million units – a 52% increase from last year – and a nearly $1.5 billion market.
We’ve seen transitions like this happen a few times already, but we always seem to miss the tea leaves until long after the shift has taken place. Early on, it was the transition from newspapers to network television, followed by the transition to cable networks. With each transition, viewership shifted widely.
In 1950, paid daily newspaper circulations outnumbered U.S. homes. This held true until the 1970s, when as many as three-quarters of all U.S. homes that watched television during the dinner hour tuned into one of just three nightly network newscasts. On June 1, 1980, Ted Turner launched CNN, the first 24-hour cable news operation, and the shift to cable news began
According to Nielsen’s Total Audience Report, we now spend a bit over four hours a day watching live television, and over six hours a day when DVR and time-shifted content are included. Both of these figures have declined slightly over the last two years. Nielsen’s report also makes clear that content consumption is shifting to new tech devices such as smartphones, where the minutes spent consuming content have more than doubled over the last 24 months. Reinforcing these trends, CTA research recently noted the number of streaming subscribers is now equal to the number of paid TV subscribers.
Platforms such as Alexa and Google Home will open the floodgates, as consumers rush toward the customization and simplicity digital assistants provide. Today, there are hundreds of specialized new sources available via these devices – a platform shift disrupting the hierarchy of mainstream media. For me, sources such as TechCrunch, Wired and NPR always lead the newscast. I give them the ‘primetime spot,’ the coveted top of my queue.
Gone forever are the days of rigid news schedules and the struggle of trying to stay awake long enough to get the weather forecast for the next day. When my kids want the weather or sports news, they simply ask, and it jumps to the front of the queue. Never has the news been so vast or so malleable.
The voice of news is changing. And the shift to yet another disruptive technology platform will affect everything about the news business. Never before have we had more say in the news we hear, and how we get it.