The news media’s next evolution looks to be within the realm of voice-activated devices and speakers.
With so many success stories in podcasts, news — and content media more broadly — see the next wave of bringing stories to readers within devices like the Google Assistant, Apple HomePod and Amazon Alexa. Now used mainly for shopping, music and more basic automated information like the weather, 2019 could well be the year when briefings and networks become part of a burgeoning click-free lifestyle.
Even though the devices aren’t perfect (there are complaints of Alexa responding to voices from the TV), an estimated 50 million U.S. adults now have access to a voice device, and the sector is projected to grow exponentially over the next few years, leaving plenty of room for news to join commerce in the rush toward convenience.
“When it comes to voice, we are farther along than many think,” Colin Morris, a director at Adobe Analytics, told WWD in November. “In many ways, it feels like we are nearing the point in the mobile boom right before the levees burst, and we witnessed the flooding of apps into the market.”
There are already ways to access the news on voice devices, but it’s still relatively limited to calling out for a particular radio station. If you want a briefing from a newspaper, let’s say, it can be a little hit or miss. Studies here and in the U.K. have a majority of voice-device users unsatisfied with the quality or length of a briefing (too long, usually). There’s plenty of room for magazines, too, to work some content. Things like product recommendations from published articles, podcasts on demand and even summaries and readouts from longer stories are said by most major publishers to at least be under consideration, with many in the works already.
Since so much time online is spent typing and looking for information of all kinds, it’s possible that Internet search as we know it could be headed for a significant decline. Little wonder then that Google, foremost a search engine that pulled in about $34 billion in mostly advertising revenue during the third quarter alone, is preparing to make the voice environment for newsmakers — and surely advertisers — more workable.
In December, Google revealed that it’s been working with the likes of NBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, American Public Media and more than a dozen other news organizations in order to “think through the future of audio news.”
The result is a prototype, being rolled out to a small number of Google Assistant users, built around “single-topic stories” that are pulled out of published content and then pulled into a new audio news feed. The idea is for a user to be able to request a briefing of top stories and updates on previously selected topics, and there is the ability to skip and go back to stories. It seems like the hope is to bring the ease of a podcast with the immediacy of the news, without it just being a throwback to news radio, something Google called “a one-size-fits-all medium.”
“Imagine instead if you could have your own radio,” Google said, “one that’s available on-demand, accessible throughout your day, and brings you news about the world and your interests.”
Sounds like you won’t have to imagine much longer.