The Telegraph launches audio show for Google Home

The Telegraph is using audio more often to pull in new readers and, in time, convert them to paying subscribers. The British newspaper launched two audio series in the last two weeks: a standard weekly podcast and an audio show designed for Google Home.

Audio has become a focus for the publisher over the last six months, partly thanks to devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home, the latter of which launched in the U.K. in early April. To coincide with this, The Telegraph started producing “5 by 5” specifically for Google Home. The daily 10-minute news show features five journalists discussing the day’s top-five topics and airs at 5 p.m. each day.

“What we have learned is that good audio content needs to be audio content first. We wanted to do something that was better than reading out the written word,” said The Telegraph’s chief information officer, Chris Taylor, adding that this tactic was part of its first experimentation on Amazon Alexa. “We wanted to get the tone and the opinion of The Telegraph and boil it down.”

Taylor added that it’s too early to share numbers on how many people are listening to “5 by 5” each day, but it’s currently working out how to adapt a version of this to Amazon Alexa. It will have to be tailored, not least because the The Telegraph deliberately created “5 by 5” to be broadcast at 5 p.m., while Alexa’s Flash Briefing Skills are designed to be heard in the morning.

Since the Telegraph put 20 percent of its online content behind a paywall with the introduction of its Premium subscription service last year, the team has applied more of a laser focus to the areas it gets most cut through editorially, like sports, politics and mental health, according to Taylor. Those three areas have also been selected as the topics for its other three regular podcasts. “Previously, podcasts were more generalist,” he added.

This week, the publisher launched “Mad World,” a 10-episode weekly series about mental health, where Telegraph journalist Bryony Gordon interviews well-known guests, like Prince Harry and TV chef Gizzi Erskine. The first episode, featuring Prince Harry, went live on Monday on The Telegraph’s site and platforms like iTunes and Tune In.

At time of writing, episode one had generated 300,000 plays across platforms, no doubt thanks in part to Prince Harry’s appearance. This accompanying article about the episode has had 2 million pageviews, a number Taylor was pleased with, but he wouldn’t share how it compares to other articles.

Rugby podcast “Brian Moore’s Full Contact” first aired at the end of January and is on episode 11, Taylor was unwilling to share exactly how many downloads it has had, but said it is in the hundreds of thousands. “Chopper’s Brexit Podcast,” launched in March and hosted by political correspondent Christopher “Chopper” Hope, is also pushing six-figure download numbers.

The Telegraph is relaxed about where people find its podcasts. The priority for audio is to reach new audiences about specific topics, getting them acquainted with the publisher, before it can convert them into premium subscribers. The publisher is taking the same view as it does with sharing its content on third-party platforms like Google Play and Apple News. For now, it’s not directly monetizing audio through sponsorship or branded content. But unlike video, creating audio is far less resource-intensive. The Telegraph already has its own studio and an audio-and-video team of about 30 people, who help with tech support, meaning any new shows created aren’t a resource drain.

“We’re at a point of inflection. In-home devices will make a difference to bespoke audio content. We’re about to see a sea change where more people listen to audio off the iPhone,” added Taylor.

The post The Telegraph launches audio show for Google Home appeared first on Digiday.

Edison’s annual study of the Podcast Consumer 2017

The Podcast Consumer 2017, the latest in Edison’s annual study of the medium, contains all new data on podcast users in America, derived from the Infinite Dial 2017 study (conducted in partnership with Triton Digital) and the latest from Edison’s Share of Ear® research. This report charts the rise of podcasting over the past decade, and also includes new, unreleased information on the following:

• Demographics
• Podcast Consumption
• Device Usage
• Social Media Behaviors
• Other Media Behaviors
• The updated Share of Ear® for podcasting

The New York Times launches a Facebook group to discuss podcasts (and learn to make better ones)

At the Times, a Podcast Club. Last Wednesday, The New York Times published a fascinating interactive titled “9 Podcast Episodes Worth Discussing,” which served as a tiny door into a much broader enterprise: a digital listening club, one that’s being largely conducted over a moderated Facebook group where new podcast episodes of concern are posted every Monday for members to discuss in long, threaded comments sections. It’s open to the public, and at this writing, the group is fast approaching 10,000 members.

Samantha Henig, the Times’ editorial director for audio, tells me that the club isn’t part of any broader New York Times Facebook group strategy; rather, it’s an extension of something that had organically formed within the organization. “When we first announced that we were starting an audio team at The New York Times” — that was last March, by the way — “pretty much everyone I ran into at work started gushing to me about how excited they were and how much they love podcasts,” Henig told me. Some, she said, had even been running their own personal podcast clubs, and so she figured, what if they made a company-wide version of that?

“My main goal was to harness all that energy and enthusiasm in the building around podcasts, and get a bunch of smart and engaged people in a room together,” she said. “And, selfishly, I thought it would help me and our growing audio team be smarter about our own programming if we’re in regular discussion about what’s working best or falling flat in other shows.”

And so they did. The club eventually drew a varied mix of attendees from throughout the organization, from reporters to developers to data analysts to whatever you call those people working in business development, and Henig describes a wide age range — she notes a higher representation of young folks than what one might usually expect from the Times, while also singling out Ben Weiser, “a Metro reporter who has been one of the most loyal and enthusiastic members but is very much not a millennial” — as well as a variety in taste.

When I asked about the decision to bring the club out into the wild, Henig said: “The Podcast Club has always felt like a very special thing, in part because it scratches an itch that no doubt exists beyond the office. There are lots of people listening to podcasts and eager to discuss what they’re in the middle of or to hear recommendations for what to try next. So [executive producer of audio] Lisa Tobin and I have been thinking for a while about how to go bigger with it.”

Here’s the Facebook Group, and the supporting RadioPublic playlist.

Can you hear me now?: Voice picks up steam as bot hype fades

In 2016, an unusually high number of bright, shiny objects were waved in the faces of media executives: Virtual reality! Live video! Artificial intelligence! Personalization! Voice! Bots!

Like all good media executives, many of them pounced, and by the end of 2016, publishers big and small were declaring they’d opened VR studios, built bot teams and unleashed crack squads of live video mavens to help them win the internet.

But now, reality has set in. By some estimates, augmented and virtual reality are a decade away from becoming mainstream technologies. Bots and the artificial intelligence that powers them are much more valuable to retailers than they are to media companies. Live video barely works for anything besides sports, and by the time you read this, Facebook and YouTube will probably have changed their minds about what kind of video they’d like media companies to make (again).

There is, however, one exception to this rule. Even though the number of voice-powered devices like the Echo, Dot and Google Home sold by the end of 2017 is expected to be far below the number of people that, say, go fishing every year (about 33 million), voice will have more effect on media — both positive and negative — than any of the other whizbang technologies that have grabbed so many headlines the previous two years.

Here’s why:

Voice works
While people expect artificial intelligence and virtual reality will be ready for prime time eventually, the speech recognition technology that makes voice possible is already here. In 2010, machines could understand about a million words at about 70 percent accuracy. By 2015, that number had risen past 10 million, and at about 90 percent accuracy, according to Google research that Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers analyst Mary Meeker shared in 2016.

Getting to 100 percent, where Google or Alexa (or something else we haven’t met yet) understands words we mispronounce, or utter by mistake, is probably another few years away. But today, it’s possible to ask an assistant about almost anything, and people are asking: according to Hound, a voice-enabled platform built by Shazam competitor Soundhound, its active users pose Hound multiple questions every day, on a wide variety of topics.

Andrew Ng, chief scientist at Baidu, says that half of all internet queries by 2020 will be done either through voice or speech.

The hardware is already here
Another big piece of this puzzle that’s already been solved is hardware. It could be years before Oculus Rift (which costs $600 and requires a powerful PC with serious graphics processors) become widely affordable and before smartphones that can handle live video streaming are ubiquitous.

Meanwhile, an Echo Dot will set you back just $50, and pretty much every smartphone on the market can handle cloud-powered voice queries. And if you don’t have your phone on you, that’s not necessarily a problem, either.

“It’s not just your phone, your Amazon Echo,” says Beerud Sheth, founder of voice and chat development platform Gupshup. In addition to the Echo and Google Home, Ford, VW and BMW are all working on cars that have Amazon’s voice platform, Alexa, inside them. Google Assistant, which is expected to become standard on high-end Android smartphones, is also expected to make its way into Android Auto, an operating system available in a growing number of connected automobiles.

And that, Sheth says, is just the beginning. Soon, voice platforms will be accessible from smart devices that we would never consider technologically advanced. “It’s your toaster oven, maybe even your table and chair,” Sheth says.

The advertising infrastructure is there
Whenever a new medium emerges, it takes a while to figure out what its advertising will look like (or, in this case, sound like). But voice has a head start. Thanks to nearly a century of terrestrial radio advertising, publishers including The Washington Post are already monetizing their flash briefings on Alexa.

And once Google and Amazon add the ability to programmatically target listeners, the money is going to flow. Audio advertising is already projected to account for nearly 12 percent of marketers’ budgets and programmers’ ad placements by the end of 2017, more than double the share it claimed in 2015, according to a survey conducted by Ad Age and The Trade Desk.

Add in the ability to claim an offer, or make a purchase directly through a media company’s skill, which is expected to be possible by the end of 2017, and it’s on: Suddenly, voice becomes a way to drive transactions, subscriptions, and other meaningful revenue sources

“What radio’s always been missing is a direct back channel,” said Pat Higbie, the founder of XAPP Media, a digital ad developer and a top Alexa developer. “What we have here is the intimacy of radio as well as the instantaneous feedback from users.”

The money for future innovation is already there
Amazon has set aside up to $100 million to invest in companies that it thinks could boost voice. An accelerator program, created in partnership with the mentorship-focused accelerator firm Techstars, will launch in July. And while Google does not have a similar voice-oriented fund, partners at its venture capital arm, GV, have said that they think voice is going to be the future.

“They are very invested in identifying use cases they’re not thinking about internally,” says Cody Simms, who heads accelerator programs for Techstars, said of Amazon.

The platforms are already there
If there’s one thing guaranteed to inject rocket fuel into a new idea or technology, it’s goliaths like Google, Amazon or Microsoft battling to own its ascent. Consider what competition between Facebook and Google did to increase the profile of streaming video.

That fight will be good for speeding the innovation that’s sure to occur on Google Assistant, Alexa et al. But what will be most interesting is seeing what happens when that innovation starts to really distinguish these nascent platforms from one another.

For now, there is very little that separates Google from Amazon. But once Google allows users to control things like Gmail, or Gcal, or YouTube from Assistant, or starts using people’s search histories to personalize each listener’s voice experience, it’s going to be very different from Amazon, which in turn will have access to an enormous trove of user purchase history, intent and other data.

“People aren’t going to want to have to interact differently, depending on what microphone they’re talking to,” said David Beisel, a partner and co-founder at NextView Ventures. “There’s a lot of complication there.”

But that’s not a problem for right now. For now, the stage is set for voice to take off. And while Amazon, Google and Microsoft’s long-term strategic visions for voice may differ, they’re all going to be focused on the same thing, for now.

“If they want to foster a rich ecosystem,” Beisel said, “they’re going to have to reward folks for it.”

The post Can you hear me now?: Voice picks up steam as bot hype fades appeared first on Digiday.

Listen to the FT

Summary

We have built listen.ft.com, a rather lovely subscriber-only podcast player of audio articles, in the form of a progressive web app. It’s a prototype, but it works well, and taps into an oft-stated need.

Screen Shot of listen.ft.com

Details

What was the problem?

Part of FT Labs’ remit is to engage with the business development team to explore new, interesting ways to enhance the FT’s offering to our readers.

Over the last few months, we’ve been exploring offering audio versions of FT content to subscribers – the newspaper in podcast form, if you will. Initially, this took the form of inserting an audio player with a spoken word version of the content into the corresponding article page, which is great at trying to gauge the interest of readers in this kind of content, but it’s very MVP.

There are better ways to consume audio content.

So what did we do about it?

With quite a few audio articles available, we took on the challenge to make listening to the FT both easy, and a joy. Our solution was a progressive web app, listen.ft.com (subscribers only).

A progressive web app, is a web page like any other, except that it’s been _progressively_ enhanced to take advantage of the latest web APIs and capabilities. This tends to mean that it can do a little bit more than a typical web page (approaching what would previously have required installed an app from the app store), but it will also fall back to older, better supported web technologies for browsers *cough* Mobile Safari *cough*.

The particular ability we were after for this project was for it to work offline, since trains do go through tunnels.

listen_screenshot_1

Also, if used frequently, the listen.ft.com page can be installed to an (Android) user’s home screen.

Which FT content can I listen to?

We aren’t (yet) making the entirety of the FT’s content available in audio form. Creating human-read audio versions of a written article is a time-consuming (and expensive) process, and we produce ~300 articles a day! Not only are we unable to produce that volume, we don’t think many people will be able to consume that volume, either.

As such, content that will be available on listen.ft.com will most likely either be long-form or ‘evergreen’ content. These pieces represent some of the best of FT content and insights, so we want to put it in front of as many people in as many ways as possible.

As the number of audio articles increases, myFT will give the user control over which topics should appear in the listen app.

Can’t I just listen to Podcasts?

Consuming content through audio isn’t especially new – podcasts are enjoying a resurgence in popularity, and the ecosystem work really well, but they’re an awkward proposition for a business that deals in selling its content. Releasing a news article into the world in a podcast format means exposing it from behind our paywall, and destroying any ability we have to control (and track) how widely that news piece is consumed.

As a prototype, we have not attempted to create the definitive audio player – it is clear a great deal more UX-thinking is needed. That said, it is lovely (and you can select the play speed of the audio – our one concession to feature creep).

you can adjust the play speed

Longer term, we will be tackling more, much richer, voice-mediated interactions with FT.com, and listen.ft.com gives us a good platform on which to work.

Technical difficulties experienced along the way

(which may be worthy of followup posts)

  • Keeping the audio behind a paywall, so not simply exposing the audio as a podcast feed, but also making the whole experience frictionless
  • Working offline
  • Knowing when online was in fact offline
  • Tracking user interactions when offline (e.g. which articles are played all the way through)
  • Making it work on an iphone browser (the new IE6)
  • Navigating the challenging documentation on Service Workers

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