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KUOW creates two new Alexa skills to better serve growing smart speaker audience

KUOW Smart Speaker Skill
KUOW Photo

In the past 10 years, the number of radios in American homes has halved, according to Edison Research. Their replacement, smart speakers, provides an opportunity for what public radio has always done well – involving the community in programming, membership and real-time interaction.

This month, KUOW launched its own listen live skill and a new flash briefing skill to meet our growing smart speaker audience with a high-quality listening experience and lay the groundwork for direct interaction with our listeners down the road.

KUOW is making this investment after seeing incredible growth in smart speaker streams over the past year. KUOW live streaming sessions on smart speakers have increased exponentially – from less than 8,500 sessions in February 2017 to 252,000 sessions in February 2018. In January, NPR’s Smart Audio Report and Edison Research stated that smart speaker ownership has already outpaced the adoption rate of smartphones and tablets. The report stated that 16 percent of the U.S. population now owns smart speakers, and it is anticipated that smart speakers will be in more than 50 percent of homes by 2022. 

“Since we started tracking in January of 2017, we’ve seen over a 4,000 percent growth rate in streaming sessions of KUOW on smart speakers,” said Jemma Hovance, KUOW’s Director of Research and IT. “Seattleites are early adopters of new technologies, and we need to make sure we’re meeting these listeners with the best listening experience possible.”

To enable the listen live skill, which streams KUOW’s regular broadcast, users first need to say “Alexa, enable KUOW.” Then, whenever they say, “Alexa, play KUOW,” they’ll be listening directly through KUOW as opposed to Tune In or NPR. Listeners can also say, “Alexa, ask KUOW what’s playing,” to hear what program is currently on the air.

The Alexa flash briefing is a popular skill that gives listeners news updates from a mix of their preferred sources. To add a KUOW newscast to the mix, users first need to say, “Alexa, enable KUOW flash briefing skill.” Then, whenever they ask Alexa, “What’s my flash briefing?” or “What’s the news?” KUOW will be included alongside the listener’s favorites. 

“With our first skills, we want to start building a relationship with our audience over smart speakers,” said Jenna Montgomery, KUOW’s Director of Digital Media, “We’re really excited to see how we can use this technology to learn what our audience is interested in. As we continue to develop new skills, we’re prioritizing interaction.”

Beyond the new skills, KUOW is one of the first non-profits nation-wide to support donations through Amazon Echo devices. By saying, "Alexa, donate to KUOW," listeners can easily make a one-time donation through Amazon Pay.

KUOW plans to begin developing additional smart speaker skills this summer and will look to listeners for ideas and feedback along the way.


Jemma Hovance, Director of Research and IT 

Michaela Gianotti, Communications Manager