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As Audio Gets ‘Smarter,’ iHeartMedia Embraces Voice Activation, Chatbots, Wearables

“Consumers are taking advantage of the ease and ubiquity of virtual assistants, smart speakers, set-top boxes and other connected devices, and in doing so, they’re proving that audio is an important part of their day-to-day life," says Darren Davis, president of iHeartRadio and iHeartMedia Networks Group

With Spotify and Pandora making their respective extensions into the work of “smart audio,” iHeartMedia is using its presence at CES2018 to highlight the radio network’s digital moves including letting listeners access iHeartRadio through a chatbot for Facebook Messenger and Samsung’s voice activated assistant Bixby.

In a sense, the new features represent a fuller step from iHeartMedia’s omnichannel focus over the past year. In 2017, the company started iHeartRadio All Access powered by Napster, it expanded the number of podcasts, and struck over 200 platform integrations, making its audio available in cars, at home, on wearables, via gaming consoles, through virtual assistants, and “nearly everywhere listeners want to tune in,” iHeartMedia says.

iHeartRadio is also available in nearly all major OEMs and aftermarket products as well as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and more. In addition, iHeartMedia can be heard in every vehicle reaching more than a quarter of a billion people monthly through its 850 local radio stations nationwide.

“In 2017, we built on iHeartRadio’s strong foundation of content access and discovery,” said Darren Davis, President of iHeartRadio and iHeartMedia Networks Group. “Consumers are taking advantage of the ease and ubiquity of virtual assistants, smart speakers, set-top boxes and other connected devices, and in doing so, they’re proving that audio is an important part of their day-to-day life. As we look ahead in 2018, we will continue to innovate – blending the iHeartRadio experience seamlessly into the way listeners use the influx of these new smart devices – and as always, make iHeartRadio easily available on the products and platforms they use most.”

The role of “smart audio” via Connected Intelligence is already being felt in the way consumers choose what and when to buy something, whether on their phone, on a Connected Home device through a virtual assistant, or in a Connected Car.

Roughly 65 percent of people who own an Amazon Echo or Google Home can’t imagine to going back to the days before they had a smart speaker, and 42 percent of that group say the voice-activated devices have quickly become “essential” to their lives.

In 2017, 35.6 million Americans will use a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month for sudden rise of 128.9 percent over last year, says eMarketer.

iHeartMedia’s stepped up effort to be everywhere consumers expect comes as Pandora has aggressively moved to ramp up its Smart Home strategy, most recently in an expanded collaboration with Sonos to employ voice-activation controls.

Rounding out iHeartMedia’s partners are Jibo, billed as a “social robot for the home”; Garmin’s new GPS running watch, the Forerunner 645 Music; and Roku users will now have access to iHeartRadio’s full feature set.

The company is also introducing new automotive updates with General Motors and Ford.