Smart Speakers Drive Live Streaming Growth for Public Radio

Jun 5, 2018

In last month’s PubMetrics presentation, we shared our biannual update on the overall digital trends in public media. For live streaming listening, we were happy to report that we’ve continued to see encouraging growth for stations. Looking at data for 340 public radio streams, total listening hours in Q1 2018 were up 6% year-over-year. 

Source: Triton, Total Listening Hours for 165 stations, 12am-12am Mon-Sun.

For the same time period, average monthly streaming cume was up a strong 9% year-over-year. Cume has increased significantly on both smartphones and desktops/laptops, where most listeners tune in, so some of this uptick is attributable to real growth in audience. However, with the rapid adoption of smart speakers, we should be careful to distinguish new audience growth from new device usage by exisiting listeners (remember, cume calculations do not deduplicate listeners across devices).

Just how swiftly are smart speakers changing the landscape for live streaming? 

  • In February, comScore reported an estimated one in five Wi-Fi equipped households in the United States now have at least one smart speaker device -- up from 12% just three months earlier. 
  • Between November 2017 and March 2018, live member-station streaming from Amazon Echo more than quadrupled
  • And together, Amazon and Google smart speakers now account for over 16% of weekly total listening hours for member station streams. 

With smart speaker ownership on the rise, it’s fair to say that at least part of the growth in live streaming cume is due to our existing audience’s use of additional devices. Other shifts in streaming behavior support this explanation. The average number of monthly listening sessions per device dropped 9% year-over-year in Q1, while total listening sessions have held steady.

At the same time, the average live streaming listening session duration increased 8% year-over-year in Q1, thanks in large part to smart speakers, where listeners can lean back and take in the listening experience. These longer smart speaker listening sessions, combined with cume growth for the most commonly used devices, offset the declines in device-specific tune-in frequency. The net result is a healthy boost in total listening hours over the past year.

We know that we’re only at the beginning of understanding how smart speakers will impact our listeners’ experiences with public radio, but so far the trends look optimistic. In the meantime, we’ll be keeping a close eye on smart speaker listening trends. Here are a few that may help your station understand evolving listener behavior:

  • Smart speakers live streaming is part of our listeners’ morning and evening routines. Hourly cume for smart speakers streaming has two major weekday “tent poles” -- one in the morning between 7am and 8am and one in the evening between 5pm and 6pm. While the peaks are similar to the engagement patterns we see for mobile streaming, smart speakers show less usage in the early morning hours leading up the first weekday tent pole, suggesting listeners may be waiting for their household to wake up before tuning in. The evening weekday tent pole peaks an hour later than what we see for broadcast, aligning with expectations that listeners are using their smart speakers after returning home from work. 

Source: Triton, Avg. Hourly Cume, all NPR & Station streams. March 2018. Hours are timezone adjusted to station location.

  • Smart speaker streaming listeners are tuning in more frequently. On average, smart speaker listeners tuned in to a member station live stream six times per month in Q1 2018, up from five times per month in Q4 2017. This rate of growth suggests that listeners are becoming more familiar with the smart speaker voice-activated skills they can use to work public radio listening into their regular routines. 


  • “Lean-back” listening experiences are a good fit for smart speakers. Historically, we’ve seen a large discrepancy between how listeners engage with live streams on computers versus smartphones, with desktop/laptop listeners engaging for over 1 hour and 30 minutes per listening session and smartphone listeners engaging for about 30 minutes at a time. Smart speakers have proven to show engagement durations more similar to desktop devices, at an average of 1 hour and 20 minutes per listening session. This suggests the “lean-back” listening of live streaming is a better fit for smart speakers than it is for mobile devices.


  • Amazon dominates, but other smart speaker brands are on the rise. Recent reporting from eMarketer shows that Amazon is losing U.S. market share to Google and other smart speaker brands. While Amazon devices still dominate member-station streaming from smart speakers with six times the listening hours compared to Google devices, member stations should expect to see this proportion shift and content accessibility on non-Amazon devices to become increasingly relevant.

To learn more about station streaming growth and other key trends in digital you can watch a recording of our spring 2018 PubMetrics webinar at