The State of Voice in the News & Publishing Industry

A deep-dive report

Steff Preyer

Business Director

Last Updated : 08/01/2020

Page contents

 

Introduction to voice in the news & publishing industry

In 2018, there were an estimated 2.5 billion voice assistants in use globally, with Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant leading the way. By 2023, that number is expected to triple to 8 billion.

We’re now living in a world where voice assistants are taking part in daily conversations. Voice isn’t the future; it’s already here.

With 20% of UK households and over a quarter of US households now owning a smart speaker, we’re leaving the “early adopters” stage behind us, and the news & publishing industries need to pay attention to keep ahead of this new wave of consumer behaviour.

Some companies such as the BBC and The Guardian have been building voice into their marketing strategies for years, but there is still a significant opportunity for other news & publishing companies to carve out a section of the voice market for themselves.

Voice-activated content represents a new frontier for traditional publishers, allowing them to connect to people at any point in their daily routines. Not just at their desk or on their mobile, but while using smart speakers, on the go (e.g. voice-enabled headphones) and in the car.


 Key challenges for the news and publishing industry:

  • Quality content is widely available online, not just from direct publishers but from aggregators such as Medium.com, resulting in increased competition for the same readership base
  • Vast amounts of content need to be digitised and made voice-friendly on an ongoing basis
  • Users want access to information in seconds, rather than waiting for a weekly subscription
  • The rise in “human-free stories” e.g. The Washington post and LA Times are already using in-house software to create news and social media posts
  • Increasing focus on personalisation – people are no longer satisfied to read the same article as a stranger on the street, or even their friends and family

 


 

Voice Search Performance

The first step in your voice optimisation strategy should be checking how your website performs for informational queries, e.g. “latest news”, “entertainment news headlines”, etc.

The Google Assistant has recently become slightly better at answering queries about news, with its ability to answer improving from 57% to 59% between Q1 and Q2 2019.

The majority of answers are Google whitelisted results, such as News Playback.


 

Actions & Skills

Actions (on the Google Assistant) and skills (on Alexa) are voice-enabled apps which extend the built-in functionality of these voice assistants. While optimising your website for voice can provide a one-way snippet of information, actions and skills can allow brands to create two-way conversations with their consumers and can help them to perform tasks and activities.

Use case ideas

Use case idea 1: Flash briefings

This is an obvious place to start, for publishers of any size.

News publishers can get added into the user’s daily routine by providing daily news updates through flash briefings. Flash briefings are short, informative pieces of pre-recorded audio. They have less interactivity than fully fledged skills and actions, which means they can be easier to build, particularly if you have an existing audio source.

With flash briefings, Alexa delivers news and content from popular broadcasters. Some providers have video flash briefings available to play along with the audio on compatible Echo devices.

Google has a similar setup called Google News Service, although the number of news providers you have to choose from are lower than on Alexa.

Users can choose which news providers they want to add into their daily routines, allowing them to access the latest updates on a daily or weekly basis.

Use case idea 2: Premium subscription service

In the same way that some news publishers have a monthly paid subscription model, skills and actions can have in-app purchasing built in to sell premium digital content.

An option could be that publishers build up an audience by allowing users to listen to one story for free each day and pay a subscription for additional services via in-skill purchasing (ISP) on Alexa, or in-action purchasing on the Google Assistant. Some developers are already making tens of thousands of dollars every month via ISP, since the launch of these monetization tools in 2018.

There is also the potential to build interactivity into these stories/articles rather than just having them read out to you in the style of flash briefings. What stories, how long you have, do you want to listen to the interviews? This can help build a more engaged audience and allow them to tailor their preferences for daily news.

Use case idea 3: Accessibility

In the publishing industry, voice assistants can become a powerful tool for people who struggle with reading.

Publishers can increase their reach by building speaking articles, which are different from flash briefings in that they are longer, more in-depth and can be read out from a website as well as a smart speaker.

    Premium subscription service demo (no sound)

 

Amazon / Google 1st party

Both Amazon and Google have default options for audiobooks.

On Alexa, anyone with an Audible account can listen to the audiobooks in their library, or purchase new audiobooks using credits via their voice.

On the Google Assistant, you can listen to audiobooks from Google Play Books on your Google Home device, but you can’t buy new audiobooks.


 

Existing Alexa Skills & Google Actions

Most major news publishers already have some form of a voice app, although the use cases vary. Flash briefings are common, while some brands such as the BBC have gone further by creating an interactive news service.

In addition to news broadcasters, some traditional book publishers such as Penguin, and magazines such as Vogue and ELLE, have also launched voice apps.

Overall more brands have released on the Alexa platform over the Google Assistant.

 

NEWS

BBC News


BBC is leading the way in the UK publisher voice space, with 4 different news flash briefing skills: one for general news, one for world news, one for business and one for sports.

Recently, the BBC debuted an interactive news service, which allows users to ask for specific news reports and customise their news bulletins, e.g. “Give me the news without Brexit”

Sky News


The Sky news flash briefing delivers breaking news, headlines and top stories from business, politics, entertainment and more in the UK and worldwide

CNN News


Flash briefing for you to hear the latest US news, play a quiz or binge watch CNN’s current obsession

 

The Guardian

 


Let Alexa keep you up-to-date with the latest news, opinions, reviews, sports and podcasts from the Guardian’s award-winning journalists. Only available on Alexa.

Telegraph News

 


Get the latest news and sport as well as tonight’s TV guide, latest Film and Music reviews brought to you by The Telegraph

Reuters News

 

A daily flash briefing featuring a 5 minute update from Reuters TV

NPR (US)

 

With the NPR skill, you can listen to live radio from the NPR network and news from around the world, as well as save favourite stations. This is one of the top 10 most popular skills in the US.

Fox News (US)

 

Listen to the latest FOX News via flash briefing. Stay up to date on the political landscape or listen to the latest celebrity gossip. FOX News keeps you in the know.

NYT (US)

 

The NYT has launched a daily flash briefing delivered by the host of their popular podcast “The Daily”. Over time, the company plans on building upon this with additional news stories and sound bites.

BOOKS, AUDIOBOOKS & MAGAZINES

The Astronaut Selection Quiz


With this voice app, Penguin launched its first author-led skill/action for smart speakers. The Astronaut Selection Test was developed with Tim Peake and the European Space Agency to promote Peake’s new book back in 2018.

ELLE horoscopes (US)

Another publisher in the top 10 US skills, ELLE horoscopes provides daily horoscope predictions from the Astro Twins, a pair of astrologers who have provided dozens of celebrities with readings.

WIRED

Get in-depth coverage of current and future trends in technology, and how they are shaping business, entertainment, communications, science, politics, and society

Cosmopolitan

Listen to Cosmo’s daily news update for the latest celebrity and viral news stories.

Official Harry Potter Quiz


Produced by Pottermore Publishing & Audible, this voice-enabled quiz uses extracts from audiobooks narrated by Stephen Fry. It adds 3 new questions daily, supporting 3 players per household and 2 difficulty levels.

The Penguin Quiz

Produced by Penguin Books UK, this skill is a quick but tricky literary challenge to test your knowledge of some of the most famous books ever written.

Audible + Audible Stories

Anyone with an Audible subscription can listen to audiobooks on their Alexa device. You can browse stories in your library, purchase new audiobooks using your credits, switch profiles, skip or repeat chapters, change your narration speed and set sleep timers. Audible also offers monthly free audiobooks, as well as a separate skill “Audible stories” which offers listeners a surprise short story from a genre of their choice.

Vogue

In 2017, Google Home and Vogue formed a partnership to enhance the magazine’s 125th Anniversary September issue by offering exclusive audio content that readers could only access via the Google Assistant. The campaign featured behind-the-scenes interviews with Vogue’s best writers.

Google Play audiobooks

With Google Play audiobooks, you can listen to audiobooks you’ve purchased by saying, “Hey Google, read my book!” Navigate your audiobook with your voice, or set a sleep timer to drift off to your favorite story. Pick up where you left off on Android, iOS or web with the Google Play Books app.

OTHER

Last month, Google announced an update to their new service in the US. The feature is called “Your News Update”, which they describe as “a smarter way to listen to the news hosted by the Google Assistant”.

With this update, users can ask ‘Hey Google, what’s in the news’ to hear an AI-created news playlist. It’s made up of individual stories, written and recorded by journalists from a number of different news providers. The feature works by analyzing what’s said in an audio file to match stories with people, so that you can listen to stories grouped by topics of interest, rather than a 5-minute feed from an individual provider.

Policy Restrictions

Alexa:

None beyond standard content restrictions, e.g. profanity, promotion of illegal goods, etc.

Google:

None beyond standard content restrictions.

Main Takeaways

  • At a website level, news & publishing companies need to focus on filling content gaps by gaining Answer Box results and getting featured in Google News snippets
  • When it comes to creating two-way conversations through actions & skills, there is great opportunity for news providers and publishers to create more meaningful interactions with their audiences through:
    • Flash briefings: Creating 5 minutes of brand engagement in the home each day
    • Interactive stories: Either news or literature, allowing users to control their audio journey
    • A voice-activated extension of existing marketing efforts: e.g. launching a skill to accompany a new book launch, or to engage existing audiences in a new and exciting format

 


 

Want to learn more? Get in contact with the Rabbit & Pork team about voice strategy, workshops or building a voice app

 

Get in contact

Steff Preyer

Business Director

Previously an Account Director at ROAST, Steff joined Rabbit & Pork to help brands understand the potential for Voice Search and defines use cases to drive maximum impact for awareness, retention and revenue.
Rabbit & Pork

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