Flash briefing 34 – Voice in publishing industry

Just like every other brand on the market, publishers are waking up to the reality that voice is rapidly changing the way people interact with products and services. Platforms like NYT, BBC, Reuters and Evening Standard are experimenting with the formats to understand where the audience is, the frequency in which the content needs to be delivered and times of the day people listen in these platforms.

And as first-movers, they are becoming the go-to news source in a whole medium.

Kourtney Bitterly, lead at The New York Times Research & Development has said that we need to actually start thinking about how perceptions around news are shifting.

According to Bitterly, to understand how smart speakers are factoring into people’s lives, The New York Times embarked on a month-long intensive research process with audiences in Seattle, Miami, and Detroit. While she said that the team experimenting with Google Home and Alexa at The New York Times have often found themselves being frustrated with the limitations of the platforms, users are generally more optimistic. ‘I think the most surprising thing was how forgiving people are, because they have optimism that it’s going to get better’, said Bitterly.

The Research & Development section at the BBC also did some research into how users respond to interactions with Alexa skills. Some of their findings included that users like talking to machines and that they’d like to be more personally implicated in the story. 63 percent of listeners enjoyed the novelty of the format, although 67 percent didn’t like the story. You can find the rest of their results in this episode notes here. The BBC will continue to experiment with different models and experiences and start creating content that is native to the voice environment, to master the creative storytelling potential of some of these new platforms. One area they’re particularly looking at is content for children by experimenting with different play patterns.

One example from the BBC Alexa skill serves as a way to give carriage to great broadcast and podcast content that they have already created.

The New York Times has also put their short and daily podcast The Daily on Alexa devices and Google Home. ‘It’s probably the most successful product launch of maybe the past few decades’, said Bitterly.

The UK-based newspaper Financial Times began converting their text articles to audio after catching wind that 62% Britons are happy to use voice controls. From lengthy opinion pieces to “What to watch on TV this week”, the publisher has been converting texts to audio using Amazon Polly so their 900,000+ subscribers can get informed with less effort.

From a technical standpoint, it is relatively simple to build skills and actions, making it a fairly easy space in which to prototype and experiment. Not one news organisation has a very advanced creative paradigm that is native to these platforms, so it’s still a pretty equal playing field. The creative which with they come in the near future will determine the fate of the news in voice and probably in every other medium for publishers.

Adapted from:

  1. https://medium.com/global-editors-network/hi-alexa-is-the-monetisation-conversation-moot-f8ce5d04e3cd
  2. https://digiday.com/uk/financial-times-converting-text-articles-audio/
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