16% of Americans own a smart speaker: post-holiday results of groundbreaking NPR/Edison research

NPR has updated its Smart Audio Report with a post-holiday survey conducted by Edison Research. (Free download here.) The headline result is that 16% of American adults, about 39-million people, now own a smart speaker. Smart speaker adoption is growing at the pace of smartphones several years ago.

The first edition of NPR’s Smart Audio Report was debuted at the RAIN Podcast Business Summit in June of last year, presented by Tom Webster of Edison Research. The new survey is intended to update adoption metrics after holiday buying, and will be presented today at CES.

Edison conducted a 1,010-person nationally representative telephone survey between Dec. 26 and 30. Further, an online survey of 806 people, self-identifying as smart speaker owners (Amazon or Google) transpired between Nov. 17 and 22.

More Results

During the 20177 holidays, seven percent of Americans got a smart speaker, and four percent acquired their first one.

The latest research drives home a point of importance to all media publishers and distributors: Smart speaker use is replacing other behavior — for example, 30% of owners say their speaker is replacing time spent with TV. The shift might benefit audio creators, as 71% of respondents said they listened to more audio since getting one of the devices. However, traditional AM/FM radio suffers most in this replacement shift:

Traffic, weather, and  news are the top three audio activities in the 5am – 9pm daypart. (NPR was a launch partner when the Amazon Echo came to market in 2014, as the default “Flash Briefing” provider. The network’s Up First podcast is a pioneer and leading online morning news report.)

Asking for morning news, traffic, and weather can be a single-person use of a smart speaker. the new research reveals that smart speakers are used communally, too. Sixty-six percent of responder said they use the devices to “entertain friends and family.” In that use, the main activity, by a large margin, is playing music — 60% of owners do that, compared to the second-most frequent communal use of answering questions. (Listening to AM/FM radio is at 13%.)

Smart speakers are mainly home devices, but 64% of owners want the technology in their cars. (We think that demand will be accommodated.)

Another Dimension To All This

There is something to keep in mind which amplifies the power of the latest NPR report. This blast of research is about Amazon- and Google-branded devices, stand-alone consumer electronics about which asking questions is simple and clear-cut. But the future of smart audio will be mainly driven, in our opinion, by the underlying operating systems: Alexa (Amazon) and Assistant (Google). The Echo and Home lines (respectively) are the most recognized embodiments. But Amazon and Google are both partnering like crazy with other companies and devices to install their artificial intelligence operating systems in a wide range of digital experiences. Amazon put Alexa into Sonos One speakers. Google put Assistant into Kia cars — and Google has an exorbitant presence at CES this week.

So while the Echo/Home adoption rate is impressive, and seems to be tracking along the historic trendline of smartphones, the actual experience (commanding audio listening by voice) will grow even faster.


Brad Hill