Tech company XAPPmedia sent us the very interesting news that it has developed an Alexa “skill” for a distinct B100 radio experience through Echo and Dot connected speakers. B100 is a country music station in South Bend, Indiana, owned by Federated Media.
Alexa, the brand name and personality name for Amazon’s Echo and Dot devices, operates with so-called skills, of which there are several thousand, with more being added every day. Each skill can be used by a listener to control a function or a specific app. In this case, the B100 skill unlocks an Alexa-specific experience of the radio station that is startling in scope and implication. We were given a preview of this skill last month, and were able to activate the public version last night.
When first activated with the command, “Alexa, open B100,” you get a greeting from the station with brief instructions about what you can do within the skill. There are three main functions:
- Listen to the station simulcast
- Select and listen to a station podcast
- Select and listen to one of the station’s ad-free music streams
The skill worked well for us, with the usual Alexa caveat that you must use correct wording. (An Alexa drawback, in the view of some, is that the user must learn many skills, as Alexa does not understand natural language well.)
The curated all-music streams represent the most eye-opening aspect of this. We chose “The Beach,” and enjoyed about 90 minutes of day-in-the-sun country tunes. This experience brings B100 within range of emulating a pureplay internet radio listening platform — not with Pandora’s interactive power, certainly, but not unlike a pureplay outlet that has a half-dozen niche stations. B100 offers six of these “on-demand streams” — that descriptor meaning that you demand the stream, but you don’t demand individual songs or bands.
There are also six podcasts that Alexa can guide you through and select.
“The Amazon Echo, with over ten million people in homes throughout the United States, provides a phenomenal platform for us to share our live radio stream, on-demand custom music channels and podcasts. XAPPmedia’s technology made this possible and easy for us to launch the skill.” That’s James Derby, Chief Strategy Officer at Federated Media.
XAPPmedia CEO Pat Higbie stated: “Alexa provides a new opportunity for broadcasters to bring radio back into the home and make radio an interactive listening experience for the first time. A few stations have created short Flash Briefings for the Amazon Echo, but Federated Media’s B100 is the first to provide a fully interactive radio experience that includes live stream, on-demand listening and podcasts.”
In our view, Higbie is spot-on about the opportunity for broadcasters. While streaming music is difficult for broadcast to compete with for economic and technology reasons, and while commercial U.S. radio has not plumbed the possibilities of podcasting as public radio has, the sudden rise of voice-controlled speakers like Alexa gives radio an opportunity to fashion a unique experience on the digital side.
And though we have no inside information on this, we wouldn’t be surprised if XAPPmedia (and competitors) dive into “skill development” in much the same way that an industry of mobile app development sprang up years ago.
CLICK HERE for XAPP’s video demo of the B100 skill.