The impact of smart speakers on the media landscape

Jan. 11, 2018
  • Reportage

Source: Campaign Japan (in Japanese only)
Writer: Masataka Yoshikawa, Director of Institute of Media Environment, Hakuhodo DY Media Partners Inc.

The smart speaker will spearhead changes in the media landscape in 2018. As voice-user interfaces become part and parcel of our lives, “assistive media” will emerge that smoothly fulfill our desires.

Voice-user interfaces take digitization outside the screen
“Is it 1995 again?” That was the topic discussed at a conference held abroad last spring. Nineteen ninety-five was the year when the personal computer and the Internet began to enter our lives. In the twenty-odd years since, a change has swept over the media landscape in the form of the digitization of information. On computers, smartphones, tablets, and even TV, information has gone digital within the confines of the screen.

Now, thanks to artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), the digitization of life is commencing. Everything will be connected to the IoT, and data will be instantly analyzed by AI as all aspects of our lives become digitized.

Self-driving technology will accelerate the digitization of vehicles. Fintech will accelerate the digitization of finance. Digitization will similarly advance in every sector of the economy, from clothing, food, and housing to recreation, retail, education, transport, finance, health, and welfare. New services will keep appearing.

Voice-user interfaces promise to be instrumental in ensuring that such services spread and catch on. They will come into ever more widespread use among people of all ages by liberating sei-katsu-sha—the term Hakuhodo uses in place of “consumer” to mean the holistic person with a lifestyle, aspirations, and dreams—from the confines of the screen and keyboard and spawning new services that are voice-based. All aspects of life will become increasingly digitized.

At one home we visited in the United States last spring, Dad used a smart speaker, which he called “quicker and easier than a smartphone,” not only to instantly access the day’s news and traffic information by voice, but also to adjust the lighting and temperature throughout the house and control home appliances. Mom would tell the smart speaker in the kitchen to play music or set the timer as she was preparing meals. And the kids would ask the smart speaker to play their favorite songs or tell them a favorite story. This new technology made family life more convenient and enjoyable, without any hint of a digital divide between generations.

A retirement home we visited on the West Coast last fall had smart speakers in each of the rooms as well as the common areas, enabling the elderly residents to control the air conditioning and lights by voice, unaided by staff. Playing Word Master with the voice assistant had become all the rage in the community. Thus we saw with our own eyes how having a smart speaker definitely made life more enjoyable and exciting.

In the field of self-driving technology, voice is a promising form of interface between people and vehicles (or the AI systems built into them). The smart speaker is the first such device to have entered our lives. Another technology that has been attracting interest lately is the hearable device, an earphone-shaped device that will eventually be able to monitor the wearer’s vital signs (such as heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature) via the ear and act as a personal assistant offering sensible advice whenever needed. A spate of new devices and services employing such voice-user interfaces are emerging in conjunction with the new technologies of artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things.

Assistive media: Performing a new media function
What impact will the advent of these new devices and services have on the media landscape? Our conclusion is that a new form of media that could be termed “assistive media” will emerge.

The mass media are informative media in that they simultaneously inform everyone of what’s new. Digital media are searchable media in that they enable people to search for information themselves. We believe that a third category of media will appear alongside these: assistive media that help people lead their lives more smoothly.

Take food, for example. The mass media bring you cooking shows and dining information. In digital media, recipe videos are highly popular on SNS sites. So what will happen when that latest gadget, the smart speaker, joins the lineup? What will assistive media offer to sei-katsu-sha?

Say, for example, you are watching a cooking show and you see a dish you would like to try yourself. You then search for it on digital media and find a video of the recipe. It looks so mouthwatering that you want to try making it. In that situation the assistive medium will tell you what ingredients the recipe requires and ask if you want to buy them. As the technology improves, it will be able to automatically order just those ingredients missing from your fridge.

Thus a smart speaker does not just tell you exactly how to prepare the dish and how much of each ingredient you need, it even helps you with the actual job of making it. But the urge to try a particular recipe or sample a particular restaurant’s food will still arise as it always has from what you encounter in the mass media or digital media. The role of assistive media will be to smoothly fulfill the desire so aroused.

Mass media and digital media currently deliver a wide range of information on all aspects of life, from clothing, food, and housing to recreation, retail, education, transport, finance, health, welfare, and leisure. Assistive media will help sei-katsu-sha to perform actions in various everyday situations as digitization advances. In the transport field, for example, they will assist you to get from Place A to Place B by informing innovative urban mobility services using self-driving technology of the best route to take. In the fashion field, they will make recommendations to fashion subscription services on the best way to coordinate your clothes, having determined your build and what you have in your closet; then the items will actually be delivered to your home.

Some may wonder whether such technology can be called media at all. But assistive media function very much as a form of advertising in that they present certain information and spur sei-katsu-sha into action. They will undoubtedly have an impact on our business.

The definition of media is changing, and so too is the structure of industry. From digitizing information to digitizing life. From inside the screen to outside the screen. From informing people and providing them with search tools to assisting them in taking action. Amid these major changes, we hope that our ideas will guide you to some type of further action.

Written by Masataka Yoshikawa and edited by Tatsuya Mizuno.
Masataka Yoshikawa is Director of Institute of Media Environment at Hakuhodo DY Media Partners.

Link to Japanese version ⇒

Back to News & Insights