Smart speak­ers find­ing their voice — but are news pro­duc­ers lis­ten­ing?

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Business & Appointments - - FRONT PAGE -

IT’S an oft-re­peated statis­tic that 50pc of all searches will be voice ac­ti­vated by 2020. Un­for­tu­nately, it’s a bum steer. The stat orig­i­nally came from An­drew Ng, Baidu’s former chief sci­en­tist and was spe­cific to the Chi­nese mar­ket, where voice is quicker and more con­ve­nient than typ­ing Chi­nese char­ac­ters and users haven’t been ex­posed to the evo­lu­tion of text-based search.

So the 50pc stat about voice searches may just be hot air. But voice is big news.

And voice-ac­ti­vated speak­ers with in­tel­li­gent as­sis­tants like Ama­zon Alexa and Google As­sis­tant, are grow­ing faster than the smart­phone and tablets at a sim­i­lar stage in their de­vel­op­ment. As a re­sult, it’s worth track­ing smart speak­ers as they in­fil­trate our homes, and ex­am­in­ing how they’re chang­ing how users ac­cess in­for­ma­tion, and how mar­keters can ac­cess users.

A new re­port from the Reuters In­sti­tute for the Study of Jour­nal­ism aims to shed some light on what the im­pli­ca­tions are for smart speak­ers and news. The re­port fo­cuses on the United States, the United King­dom, and Ger­many, mar­kets where smart speaker pen­e­tra­tion has more than dou­bled from 2017 to 2018. Most peo­ple who own one, how­ever, use it as a re­place­ment for a stereo. In the UK, 84pc of users reg­u­larly play mu­sic on said they’d lis­tened to the ra­dio on their de­vice in the last month. It was 41pc in Amer­ica.

But some news providers are try­ing to cre­ate some­thing a lit­tle more unique.

“The BBC and oth­ers are re­ally try­ing to im­prove this and not make news for smart speak­ers an off-cut from ra­dio,” New­man says. “So they’re start­ing to think about what this could be in its own right, some­thing prop­erly na­tive that al­lows you to move back­wards and for­wards through it, that’s the right length and al­lows peo­ple a bit more con­trol over the ex­pe­ri­ence.”

So what do news or­gan­i­sa­tions need to do to get their head around de­liv­er­ing the news over smart speak­ers? “The first thing is to make your con­tent find­able and ac­ces­si­ble through voice,” New­man says. “If you’re a broad­caster it’s crit­i­cal that your live ra­dio is avail­able and there’s a good news bul­letin in the flash brief­ing space.

“If you’re a newsprint pub­lisher, it’s a bit more dif­fi­cult. You need to work out what your dif­fer­en­ti­ated of­fer might be in a voice space. Rather than try­ing to do ex­actly the same as ev­ery­one else, how can you do some­thing dif­fer­ent, that plays to your strengths. That may be lev­er­ag­ing a pod­cast you’ve al­ready got, or it may be do­ing some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent.”

But it’s un­clear how best to mon­e­tise news on smart speak­ers. Broad­cast­ers should be wary of ced­ing con­trol of distri­bu­tion to Ap­ple, Ama­zon and Google. While legacy pub­lish­ers have had their fingers burnt be­fore; pre­vi­ous in­vest­ments in pod­cast­ing, video and VR haven’t al­ways re­sulted in the ex­pected wind­fall.

One is­sue is that the plat­forms haven’t been rush­ing to share data on the amount of news us­age. It seems that pub­lish­ers have also learned not to cre­ate con­tent for these new plat­forms with­out any guar­an­teed re­turns for their ef­fort. Sub­scrip­tion-based pub­lish­ers want ways to en­able pre­mium ser­vices on smart speak­ers. Oth­ers want some kind of up-front pay­ment from plat­forms in re­turn for con­tent to help build us­age. Oth­ers — like the Wash­ing­ton Post, Sky News and Zeit On­line — are test­ing the wa­ter with good ole ad­ver­tis­ing. New­man ap­proves of the softly, softly ap­proach.

“The chal­lenge is not to kill the op­por­tu­nity like we did with video by putting pre-roll in front of it and killing the ex­pe­ri­ence,” he says.

“There’s a dan­ger of try­ing to mon­e­tise it be­fore we build up the util­ity. There are cer­tain ar­eas like pod­cast­ing and long­form au­dio where ad­ver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing should trans­fer quite nicely into voice.

“You’ve got peo­ple with a lot of at­ten­tion and that’s what ad­ver­tis­ers want, and young peo­ple are lis­ten­ing as well. But for short-form con­tent and quick an­swers it’s hard to see how you’re go­ing to add some sort of com­mer­cial mes­sage with­out an­noy­ing the hell out of users. I think there will be big op­por­tu­ni­ties in na­tive con­tent. But it’s such early days it’s go­ing to take some time to see how this will pan out.”

Over­all New­man thinks voice will prove to be a ma­jor disruptor. “We talk about new tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ments like AR and VR but I think this is much big­ger change, be­cause it solves a real prob­lem for con­sumers; how do you ac­cess con­tent more quickly and more eas­ily. Even to­day in its in­fancy it’s do­ing that in­cred­i­bly well and de­light­ing a lot of peo­ple

“But when it tries to do some­thing more com­pli­cated it’s not work­ing right now. The plat­forms need to solve that, then there are lots of pos­si­bil­i­ties.

“It won’t re­place ev­ery­thing we’ve got but it will be an ad­di­tional func­tional layer in terms of ac­cess and we’ll see some re­ally dif­fer­ent op­por­tu­ni­ties for na­tive sto­ry­telling on these plat­forms.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.