Amplifi Media and jacapps form SonicAi to build radio skills for smart devices

Sonic Ai logoThis morning comes an announcement that audio content and marketing company Amplifi Media is joining with mobile app builder jacapps, to develop voice-activated “skills” for radio listening in Amazon Alexa and Google Home devices. The new company is called SonicAi, abbreviated as SAi, which we are told can be pronounced “Say.” (Clever!)

Joining the partnership is Lee Davis, an audio consultant who has held executive sales roles at CBS Radio, COX Media, and Univision. Davis is the point of contact with Sonic Ai.

The driving strategy of the new company is to bolster terrestrial radio’s presence in the home, where consumer research shows that receivers are gradually disappearing as households become more internet-connected.

Amplifi Media was founded in 2015 by Steve Goldstein, who left his 30-year career in radio at Saga Communications to plunge into on-demand audio. jacapps is a division of Jacobs Media, a research and consultancy firm for radio, run by brothers Fred and Paul Jacobs.

The separation of duties has Amplifi Media and Lee Davis focused on sales, marketing, and what the announcement calls “skills architecture” — in other words what the radio station’s features will be in Amazon Alexa and Google Home. In RAIN’s review of Amazon Alexa, we identified radio as the early winner among audio services available through the Echo and Dot devices powered by the Alexa operating system. But the radio stations we tested at that time consisted only of simulcast streams. Since then, some stations have experimented with more interactive features.

The jacapps team will be responsible for product development and customer service in the new company.

“This partnership is designed to maximize the in-home opportunity for radio stations and podcasters. We think this is a seismic change that needs to be seized upon and mastered,” said Steve Goldstein. Goldstein notes that adding interactive features to the stream is mission critical. “With some imagination, these devices open pathways to engagement with listeners which go way beyond a station stream,” Goldstein wrote in a blog post. “Our vision includes audio clips, features, podcasts and services which are designed for time shifting, retention and growth.”

Fred Jacobs noted in his blog post that this venture has been in development for months, started when a developer brought Alexa into the jacapps office.

“These gadgets are showing up in more and more homes, offices, and other spaces every week,” Fred Jacobs noted. “In Techsurvey13 [an annual study conducted by Jacobs Media], we are now tracking ownership of “smart speakers” at 11% (and that’s already 60 days ago). And we’ve learned that listeners who love formats that range from Alternative to AC to Sports Talk are grabbing up these devices in near equal numbers, indicating that mass appeal is a strong possibility.” Jacobs also cited a Gartner projection that 75% of U.S. homes will have a smart speaker by 2020.

If that projection turns true, it would be an astounding mainstream adoption rate, and predictions like that justify jacapps and Amplifi diving into the “skill” development space. It’s fair to think of smart speakers with the same urgency that radio adopted mobile apps when smartphones became popular.

Brad Hill