British Government Report Recommends Protecting Radio Industry From American Smart Speakers and Voice Assistants
The British government has released a report suggesting it may need to regulate Amazon, Google, and Apple to protect the domestic radio industry from the American smart speakers and voice assistants. The new Digital Radio and Audio Review found that the devices and audio services provided by the three tech giants are rapidly becoming the center of gravity for British audio content consumption, raising fears that the British companies might lose control over how audio is created and distributed in the United Kingdom.
Smart speakers have become incredibly popular in the half-decade since they were introduced in Britain, despite reported issues with the voice assistants not understanding regional accents. A third of British adults own or have accessed a smart speaker in that time, and Amazon, Google, and Apple account for more than 95% of British smart speakers, according to the government’s survey. The issue is that the British broadcasters have no say in what Amazon or Google do once they support a show on the smart speakers. There’s no legal limit preventing one or more tech giants from messing with the content and operation of a show that has signed on to stream on an Echo or Nest device. Alexa or Google Assistant could potentially legally charge listeners money to hear the BBC or start playing ads on what are normally ad-free shows.
Despite major shifts in the media landscape over the last decade, live radio is hugely popular in Great Britain. Even on smart speakers, it accounts for two-thirds of the audio played. The government projects that it still will make up the majority of audio consumption during the 2030s, albeit almost only in FM form. As a solution to at least some of the stakeholders’ concerns, the report suggested the government push back any plans to deregulate the FM radio airwaves in 2030 as previously scheduled. Though the AM channels aren’t worth the cost and effort to run, the expected popularity of FM radio makes shutting off the service before 2030 an error.
“British radio showcases some of our best creative talent and played a vital role in the pandemic bringing news and entertainment to those in need. We must make sure this treasured medium continues to reach audiences as listening shifts to new technologies and that we have a gradual transition away from FM to protect elderly listeners and those in remote areas,” British Media Minister Julia Lopez said in a statement. “We will not have a digital switchover until at least 2030 and will consider new rules to keep our thriving radio sector at the heart of the UK’s media landscape.”
The report also addressed how the smart speakers might dilute the branding power of British broadcasters. The BBC’s research found that those listening to the BBC by smart speaker might now know of care that it is a BBC news report. That’s not ideal for a group that relies on license fees and overseas payment to survive. The BBC brand is hugely valuable worldwide, so any tech that divorces its work from its brand could lead to bigger financial problems later on. The report recommended that the government keep investing in the extended BBC ecosystem and start looking at laws to pre-empt anything Amazon or Google might do to overthrow its system.
“Radio plays a unique role in people’s lives. This review recognises that and proposes important steps to keep radio listening strong as audience habits change, ensuring brilliant content is easy to find and access across all platforms,” BBC director of operations Rhona Burns said. It also challenges the BBC and the whole industry to keep innovating and evolving our audio offer, whilst keeping linear listening alive for the many millions who love it.”