Voice tech is the future, but it faces challenges

Neil Sloan, Content Director at Voiceworks, discusses the growing trends towards voice technology and digital audio content…

Voice technology is going through an incredible growth phase. Alexa and Google Home are increasingly becoming everyday objects in our homes and offices, seemingly an addition or extension to the voice assistants which reside on the mobile phones in everyone’s pockets.

The BBC announced in August that it too will launch its own voice assistant – provisionally named Beeb – to help audiences navigate and discover content via its iPlayer and Sounds apps.

It is anticipated that by 2025, 63 per cent of UK households will own a voice-controlled home device, while a recent report by B2B analyst firm MarketsandMarkets forecast that the global smart speaker market will grow from $1.57 billion in 2017 to $11.79 billion by 2023.

Neil Sloan

While this exponential growth is impressive; to maintain this trajectory and become increasingly integral to consumers lives, the technology needs to offer more compelling skills (applications and content) and at the same time be more immersed in places, lives and availability. Consumers are buying into the smart speaker concept, but aren’t (yet) able to utilise the full potential of their technology investment. The growth in voice technology in some ways mirrors the development of the Web. Initially, there was a great deal of enthusiasm for what the Web could offer, yet its usefulness was limited by a lack of compelling content and capability. It took time for companies to understand its true potential and make the investments that would result in the advent of e-commerce and the transformation of news, entertainment and so much more, that has gone on to change the world.

A distinctive service developed by Voiceworks; Sport Social, utilises smart speaker platforms to offer football fans access to premium digital audio content specific to their favourite teams. Developed specifically for smart speakers by an in-house team of journalists and broadcasters, the content includes team news, post-match reviews for every Premier League game, daily podcasts, and covers all the latest news from the world’s most popular football league, which means fans can access news and updates wherever and whenever they need.

Voice technology will also grow in popularity the more it integrates seamlessly into our lives, in a similar way that radio currently does. Radio, as well as being available on DAB, FM, in-car, and in-home, is now available online, mobile, app and everywhere. Voice technology and voice assistants will surely follow a similar path by working alongside technologies both new and existing. In the near future voice technology is likely to be a much more central aspect of driving, for example Alexa Auto has integration deals with Audi and BMW. This too, will surely influence further innovation in voice technology.

To borrow an example from a visual medium, viewers don’t proselytise about the delivery (broadcast vs. streaming) of the latest ‘must watch’ show, but they do engage in terms of the quality of the content, how great it looks and sounds and the ease of accessing it. The distinction between television and streaming has now become somewhat blurred, especially with broadcasters offering streaming (BBC, Disney) and broadcasts of the same content. These examples have parallels for voice technology too, which like its competitors on radio, TV, streaming, gaming and everywhere else must deliver compelling content, alongside using the technology to deliver the best possible audio experience.

The key to the way Voiceworks plans all productions is flexibility and adaptability. We will assess whether a content piece is better recorded on location, in one of our studios or on the move. Mobile recording technology means we are able to create extremely high quality audio pieces anywhere, and often recording outside the traditional studio environment creates an audio soundscape that enhances the story we are telling. In particular, the Sport Social skill is unique, because it utilises a wide range of audio and is constantly being updated. We have created technology which allows us to upload new journalist voiced match reports for every Premier League game within an hour of the final whistle being blown, alongside also hosting our daily podcast and team updates.

By working so closely with Amazon to develop the Sport Social, we invested in longer-term, extensive beta testing to ensure that the navigation and user experience delivers the audience a frictionless audio journey and a satisfying finished product. Sport Social is a complex build that hosts a variety of audio, which engages audiences on new terms in a satisfying and accessible manner. Now is the moment for companies to further explore the opportunities that this emerging market offers more deeply – to develop the content, audio and voice strategies and make appropriate investments in this evolving audio technology.

Neil Sloan is content director at Voiceworks, a #VoiceFirst technology and marketing consultancy.