Header image of Spotlight on New Technologies: Voice-Activation

Spotlight on New Technologies: Voice-Activation

February 2, 2017 | Danielle Chatterton

Amazon launched the Echo in November 2014, becoming widely available for purchase in June 2015. Since then, the device has received rave reviews and prompted many people to think about how they can utilise voice-activated technology.

News is one of the device’s core features and therefore a variety of publishers are trying to determine how they can make it work for them. So far, there are two main ways it can be utilised;

1. The Flash Briefing: where Alexa delivers pre-recorded updates from popular broadcasters (such as NPR, BBC News, and the Economist), the latest news headlines from The Associated Press, and weather information from AccuWeather.

2. Skills: which must be installed by the user but can have a more active interface — including asking Alexa for specific pieces of information. EG, The Washington Post built two skills: one that covered the Summer Olympics and another focused on its political coverage.

Making it’s debut in the UK in September 2016; The Guardian was among the first publishers in the UK to jump on Amazon Echo, making its podcasts, news, opinion and reviews accessible. Echo users can get headlines or news on a particular topic, like sports or the U.S. elections, or Brexit news. Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, similar to Apple’s Siri, will then respond with the top three headlines.

The Guardian may be among the first to openly declare its Alexa plans, but others are just as interested in the opportunity voice-activated technology presents. Johnston Press, which owns national newspaper the i, is also internally testing both Messenger bots and Alexa. “We don’t have anything close to rolling out yet, but we are thinking of how to let people use voice commands to access local content and news, like local events and anything that’s around you,” said JP Chief Digital Product Officer, Jeff Moriarty.

The Daily Mail also utilise the Echo speaker to read out news on demand as part of Mail Plus, the paid for digital edition, content from the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday and weekend magazines. The publisher integrated a ‘skill’ allowing users to navigate the news by page, columnist and section in addition to a shuffle feature that randomly reads the news.

Simon Regan-Edwards, Production Director of Mail Digital Publishing, said: “We’re thrilled that Mail Plus is the first news brand in the world to offer its entire newspaper editorial content via Alexa. This new Alexa skill will deliver even greater convenience to Mail Plus subscribers and allow them to get our world class content in a totally new but fun and easy way.”

While all publishers are focused on growing audience on the Echo, some have begun to look for ways to monetise as well. In July 2016, the Post became the first publication to sell ads in its Flash Briefing.

It’s still very early days when it comes to publishing on the Echo and Alexa. But as Amazon spreads the Alexa software to additional devices and consumers become more comfortable with connected home devices, it is expected that the appeal of voice-controlled news will grow. And whether its additional Flash Briefing offerings or additional skills, publishers are continuing to experiment with Amazon and Alexa.