'The power of voice devices can't be underestimated': Warner Bros' Sebastian Simone talks Alexa Skills

'The power of voice devices can't be underestimated': Warner Bros' Sebastian Simone talks Alexa Skills

Smart speakers have become a key driver of streaming growth in the past year – and that’s set to continue now that Amazon has revealed sales of Alexa-powered devices have passed 100 million globally.

This week Warner Music UK launched its first Alexa Skill for an artist campaign with the Buble Daily, which is available in 11 markets and provides daily quotes and trivia from Michael Buble. As revealed in the latest issue of Music Week, it follows an increasing focus on voice control by labels, including Sony Music's rollout of Alexa Skills for Paloma Faith, The Kingdom Choir and Little Mix.

Here, Sebastian Simone, head of digital at Warner Bros Records UK, takes Music Week inside their strategy for Alexa Skills…

Did Michael Buble and his team embrace the idea?

“Yeah, demonstrating to him the value of what it could be was really important. Michael and his management bought into the idea that it could be this repeat experience that his fans would really see a deep value in. He got behind it in full force really. While it’s not directly promoting his new album, Love, it’s essentially promoting Buble and by doing that you have him at front of mind. You’re encouraging fans to experience him day in and day out, and that kind of behaviour breeds artist interest."

With the rise of smart speakers, does this help personalise and further drive streaming growth?

Smart speakers fundamentally at their core are music speakers. We know that they are an evolution of music consumption, but the discovery side of it is harder to connect because it’s quite passive and lean back. By having experiences that bring the artist into that experience and making it a two-way relationship is where it starts to connect and make more sense.”

You’ve launched an Alexa Skill with video – how significant can that be for artists on devices such as the Echo Show?

“The new generations to have a screen are really impressive. This is one of the first skills that has that video capability. So if you’re experiencing this on one of the new generation models you see photos and videos of Michael alongside the audio responses.”

You’ve got to make sure you are meeting the needs of the consumer

Sebastian Simone

How does this content – trivia and quotes – send people to his music on streaming platforms?

“Phase one is immersing people in the different elements of what this skill does - his favourite quotes, campaign moments, key anniversaries, national holidays and so on. Phase two could be the next development of in-skill purchases, which could be things like tickets, music and we have lots opportunity to be creative with how we mobilise his fans as well. 

“You can launch something like this and then just step away and hope it rides out, or you can then think about how you are driving this week in week out, and how you’re using the fans who are going back to it every day to be the advocates about that experience, and that kind of travels socially. There are multiple ways of pushing Amazon’s physical e-commerce and the streaming element, which will evolve over this year.”

How important are smart speakers as part of your overall digital strategy?

“It’s fair to say that smart speakers have grown faster than any technology since the invention of the mobile phone. The power of voice devices and the ability to bring the artist into the home in that environment can’t be underestimated.”

What kind of audience are you targeting with the move into Alexa Skills?

“When you look at Michael Buble’s demographic audience, it’s fair to say that they over-index with voice devices. Just after a key gifting period is a very valuable time to launch. The synergy between Michael Buble and Amazon is a perfect fit. You’ve got to make sure you are meeting the needs of the consumer, where the consumers are. If Michael’s fans are migrating into voice speaker territory then it makes perfect sense to be doing things in that world.”

Apple Music is set to be available on Amazon Echo devices – is that a game-changer?

“It will be an interesting one for bringing Apple Music subscribers to devices they pre-existingly have in the home. It’s good for Apple and good for Amazon.”

Are you looking at potential Alexa Skills for your other artists, such as Dua Lipa and Liam Gallagher?

"It would be interesting for Dua Lipa. I think we’re going to take the learnings from this one and take stock. [Liam] would be wicked, that was one of the artists we had in mind actually. When Liam comes around again there could be an interesting play there. The type of experience you could have with Liam could be really fun."

To read the full Music Week report on Alexa Skills, subscribers can click here. To subscribe and never miss a big industry story click here.

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