What’s happening:

The Reuters Institute at Oxford just released a new research report, The Future of Voice and the Implications for News. With smart speakers and audio journalism emerging as here-to-stay trends, the topic is relevant to today’s digital news publishers who don’t want to miss the boat on new technology.

According to Adam Tinworth of One Man & His Blog, the Reuters research is just the type that the media needs right now, to help understand the emergent market and know what to watch for in the future.


Why it matters:

Tinworth says that a lot of time and effort is wasted on digital platforms which may never deliver the returns that publishers want — but early research on a specific one, such as this Reuters report on smart speakers, may help publishers make smarter decisions.

With the smart speaker platform just over three years old, and the devices having remarkable penetration into the home market, it’s one that is worth paying attention to. The Reuters report, written by Nic Newman, can be distilled at its most basic form into two concepts:

  • Smart speakers are popular and growing ever more so.
  • Yet, using them to listen to news is not that popular.


Digging deeper:

The smart speaker market is growing, and therefore should be watched by media companies — though Tinworth says that in these early stages, publishers might not necessarily feel pressured to jump into it right now. His take is that strategy resources might be better invested in more mature platforms at the moment, while keeping an eye on the smart speaker platform for news reporting.

Some stats on journalism and smart speakers gleaned from the report include:

  • Smart speaker usage has doubled over the past year in the United States, United Kingdom and Germany (the three countries analysed in the report).
  • While people do use them for news, it’s not frequently and they report being dissatisfied with the experience.
  • Shorter is more popular on the platform; many users report a preference for one-minute bulletins that are regularly updated.
  • People rarely change their speakers’ default settings. This means that the news provider set to default in the user’s smart speaker system has a huge advantage and ends up dominating. In the U.K., that’s hands-down the BBC.


The future of interactive audio:

Based on the report’s findings, the growth of smart speakers as a platform for news may be dependent upon:

  • The platform finding a solution to discovery issues.
  • Seeing what people actually end up using voice interface for.

Tinworth notes that new interfaces rarely replace old ones, but rather just get added. Voice is most likely to come into play when offering simple commands, such as those for playing music or dimming lights. He does see some interesting things in the report that are optimistic for the future of smart speaker journalism:

  • The Quartz chat interface could possibly be extrapolated into a more interactive voice-based news interface.
  • The platform may be in the “shovelware” stage of development — while at the moment traditional radio format is being pushed onto smart speakers, morphing into more interactive, curated experiences might be more compelling in the future.


The bottom line:

Spending some time and resources into research and experimentation of smart speaker journalism might prove worthwhile for digital news publishers; though the challenges of the imcumbency factor and monetisation remain strong. In addition, the three main smart speaker manufacturers — Apple, Google and Amazon — aren’t disclosing useful analytics or data to allow publishers to assess how successful their content on the devices is.

The Guardian’s six-month Voice Lab experiment is definitely one worth taking a look at as we move into this future.



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