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  • Writer's pictureRon Jaworski

Audio is aiming for the video star

Updated: Nov 29, 2021

Sometimes it’s pure randomness that gives me an idea for a blog post. I was messing with Alexa on my home Echo and somehow wound up listening to this:

It’s a more punky, rock’n’roll version of the early 80’s hit that got me thinking about how times have changed. These days, the song’s sentiment is close(r) to being the other way around. The audio and voice industry is experiencing significant year-over-year growth and there’s no end in sight. In fact, it’s gotten so big that I believe video is next in line for a face-to-face duel. Heck, it might even be replaced as the star of the show, whether it’s an episode about content consumption, advertising, or else.

Just to make things clear: when I say audio, I mean both spoken word-type audio content such as podcasts, audio articles and ads, as well as products of its interface-like form such as voice queries, audio skills and actions, and such.

Reasons for my optimism

Why I believe audio content and voice technology will soon challenge video can be summed in the way people consume content. It has changed dramatically in the past few years thanks to technology in general, resulting in higher expectations and demand in terms of convenience. Many want their content to be on-demand and on the go, which is why audio as a format fits perfectly. It’s the obvious choice due to its unassuming and more personal nature.

There are plenty of numbers that highlight the growth of this “new” medium. When talking about this ongoing audio revolution, among the first things I like to point out are smart speakers as the face of audio. According to SAR Insight & Consulting, the smart speaker market will grow by 35% this year, with shipments reaching 92 million. The installed base of smart speakers will reach over 200 million in 2019, which is on par with some other estimates.

There’s bound to be a drop-off, right? In terms of audio – not really. While smart speaker growth will slow down eventually, other devices with voice assistants powering them will offset the decline. Advancements in voice technology have created (and will continue to create) numerous opportunities for other voice-enabled environments and applications.

Look no further than Amazon’s recent annual product launch event or to be more precise – voice-first hardware announcement. While having Alexa truly on the go with Echo Buds is great, I found Echo Loop to be the most interesting product out of the bunch. The way it combines touch and voice in terms of the user interface is super intriguing, even if there will likely be some tweaking.

A man with his daughter shopping groceries

It looks weird but we’ll manage.

We already have a full-on war for voice supremacy in vehicles. Industry experts and voice-first aficionados predict voice will have a huge role in spatial and ambient computing. I can’t think of any aspect of the smart home concept that hasn’t been smartified yet. It’s safe to say people will want more audio and voice access in the lives, but will increasingly get it from a variety of devices rather than smart speakers for the most part.

Businesses are catching on

Then, there’s the matter of brands and businesses following the path, however slow it may seem.

One Adobe survey showed 91% of brands plan to invest in voice this year, with almost all of them planning to increase investments next year. It’s a clear telling of future strategy but there’s a more important notion here. I think it was someone on Twitter (I can’t remember who it was or where exactly) that raised an interesting point: how often do we witness such a level of agreement? If this doesn’t show the transformative power of audio and voice, I don’t know what does.

What’s more, digital audio has opened up new audiences to advertisers, increasingly positioning it as crucial to their integrated media strategies. DAX’s The Rise of Digital Audio Advertising (which I’ll tackle in detail in a separate post very soon) offers some eye-opening numbers. For instance, 85% of media and ad agencies will increase spend in digital audio in the coming year.

Why? Simply put, the majority is attracted because of the contextual relevance digital audio provides. Reaching consumers on the go and in different situations is something no other format can do. That is why everyone from audio streaming platforms to small and large publishers are considerably investing resources in the medium. Audio, especially podcasts, offers a very engaging environment for advertisers, despite current tracking and targeting limitations.

The fact remains many companies are still in the exploration phase but more and more are increasingly realizing the importance of being wherever their customers are. Right now, it’s audio landscape.

What about video?

It’s only fair to mention how the other side is doing. In terms of digital video ad spend, a report from the IAB shows digital video revenue climbed from $11.9 billion in 2017 to $16.3 billion in 2018, marking a 37% increase and edging out all other formats. In the meantime, digital audio ad revenue grew to $2.3 billion, up 23% from 2017. Video will remain predictably strong and a safe bet for publishers and advertisers. At least that’s the sentiment I got from talking to them at this year’s DMEXCO.

However, audio has a lot going for it and both publishers and advertisers are starting to realize it. It’s the only medium that doesn’t require your eyes, a huge advantage as we move toward a future with fewer screens. Due to its “out of focus” modus operandi, audio can be everywhere with you anytime, from your work commute to bedtime – something video can’t.

Audio’s run for video’s money

There’s a profound confidence in digital audio, both as a content format and as an advertising tool. This is clearly a market with plenty of room to grow, especially the audio ad spend part which can only grow along with increased audio consumption and adoption. This is where I stop being a fanboy and wrap up. While all of these factors give me confidence that audio will challenge video’s rule in the near future, odds are largely in video’s favor. But one thing is for certain: there’s a new player in town and it’s aiming for the sheriff.

Make sure you’re following me on Twitter for ongoing updates, tips, and industry takeaways!

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