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Smart Speakers: 47M in the US Today Heading toward 150M Tomorrow

Blue columns Nielsen

Smart speakers and virtual assistants are not an over-hyped “shiny new object” technology platform. They are gaining rapid adoption and also influencing behaviors on other media channels: motivating more voice search on smartphones for example.

Various analyst projections and estimates put the number of smart speakers (and virtual assistants) in US homes at around 43 – 50 million today. There’s enough data from enough sources now to suggest that these numbers are pretty real.

A recent NPR-Edison Research survey projected about 18% of Americans, or 43 million people, are smart speaker owners today.

NPR smart speakers

A recent Nielsen total audience report, which focuses on media consumption and demographics, seems to agree. It asserts that 19% of US adults own/use a smart speaker in their homes.

Nielsen uses a somewhat larger base than NPR (247 million Americans over 18). The Nielsen data can be extrapolated to about 47 million smart speaker owners or users in the US today.

What’s also interesting is that the underlying Nielsen survey found 42% of the non-owner population is interested in buying a smart speaker. Presumably that would be additive to the 19% who already own or have access to smart speakers in their homes.

That makes for a total owner population (current and near-term) of 61% of Americans or roughly 150 million adults. That’s probably the current addressable US market, which could grow larger over time.

Smart speakers are likely to be popular holiday gifts again this year and there will be more devices to choose from (e.g., smart displays) as well as competitive discounting by Google and Amazon. It’s entirely possible that a year from now the population of US smart speaker owners could have more than doubled.

Nielsen: Smart speaker usage and ownership interest

Nielsen total audience

The earlier NPR survey found that about 36% of device owners had conducted a local search on a smart speaker. Smart displays, if they catch on, add the benefit of a touch screen, which makes them even better suited to search and commerce.

NPR also found that 10% of smart speaker owners had used their device to make a phone call to a mobile phone or landline. If this behavior grows it could further displace landlines in US homes. Currently about 46% of US households still have landlines, according to the US Center for Disease Control. It could also be an important communication tool with US businesses. (There’s lots to say about this.)

Smart speakers also replace radio in the home for many people and become a primary audio streaming device — with a range of content and advertising implications there as well.

Currently there are about 225 to 250 million smartphone users in the US (including those under 18). Aggressive estimates argue that there are about 177 million tablet users. It’s not hard to imagine that within two years smart speaker ownership will equal or exceed tablets.

Finally, there are 126 million US households according to the US Census Bureau. By 2020, it’s not outrageous to suggest, given all of the above, that smart speaker penetration could reach 90% or more. Indeed, in a couple of years, we might have a smart speaker of some sort in nearly every kitchen or living room in America.

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