OK Google: how publishers can create voice assistant content

FIPP has reported regularly over the past twelve months on the increasing popularity of voice. From Amazon Echo to Google Home, voice activated devices are finding their way increasingly into our lives. And it’s not just smart speakers. Here in this exclusive video interview for FIPP, Alexander Bregman of Google points out that Google Assistant is now available on 400+ devices, from computers to cars, making voice one of the most versatile new mediums in the marketplace today. 

“I’m obviously representing Google Assistant here an it’s really one of the biggest voice activated assistants out there and it’s available on over 400 devices,” says Alexander Bregman. “You can have lots of different experiences from audio, to text, to video nowadays as well. There’s also a way of having your own action, your own much more interactive app in there.” 

“So there’s a lot of different experiences available today for publishers, and there are a lot of questions from publishers, because they’re obviously interested in how to take part with assistants. And my job really is to explain all the different options that are available right down from some things that are relatively easy to do like news briefs, to something much more complicated but that is potentially much more interesting, such as the actions on Google’s part.”

We asked Bregman if voice activated content represented a new frontier for traditional publishers, where they could play around with new content formats in a still relatively experimental arena.

“It’s exactly that. For publishers this is a way to test with new formats. It allows them to connect to users, to connect to readers, and to connect to people that listen to their content and in a new context. So it’s not just within the context of a smartphone or a computer, but the context of a smart speaker or sitting inside a car and talking to the Google Assistant and also listening to news.”

“There is new context and also then new mediums. That medium could then be audio: so a user wakes up, does something in the living room, is getting ready for breakfast, etc. That user can tell Google Assistant, ‘Hey, what is the news?’ Or they can say ‘Hey, Good Morning!’ And once they say good morning their whole morning ritual gets kicked off, which is the agenda of that person, the weather, the news. So that’s just another interesting way of connecting to users in a whole different context to what publishers are used to.”

One important distinction to make is the difference between smart speakers and voice assistants. In recent years, due to the rise of in-house devices like Amazon Echo to Google Home the two have become synonymous in popular lexicon. But voice activated content really predates these products and, as Bregman points out, will soon evolve beyond them as well.

“Smart speakers are certainly taking off pretty fast. Assistant overall, we have usage across many different devices: smartwatches, cars, smart TVs, computers, obviously smartphones – Android and iOS. Assistant is available throughout all of these devices, and smart speakers as well. Now, the usage is indeed picking up very, very fast. This year is going to be a 10x in terms of usage. People are using them more and more often.”

“It’s kind of becoming more of a habitual thing. Once you are used to asking your assistant every morning what is the news? And you’re used to having those two minutes every morning of really understanding ok what is going on in the world while you’re doing something else, that is just becoming a habit for people and they start using it more and more.” 

Clearly for publishers looking to invest in new content formats, voice represents an appealing avenue. As Bregman points out, it is something that can be consumed while simultaneously engaged in other activities, similar to radio before it, which has itself undergone something of a renaissance in recent years due to the popularity of browsing while listening. For publishers who are just beginning to conceptualise ways to monetise voice assisted content, the radio analogy may be a good starting point.

“You asked also about monetisation. We are testing a lot of things here and again it is still very early days. Some things are much easier to monetise like the audio news briefs. You can simply put an advertising snippet within your audio news brief. So if your news brief is two minutes, the last 15-20 seconds could be an ad. So that’s a very easy way to monetise comparable to radio.” 

Finally, we asked Bregman if he could leave us with some tangible starting points for publishers looking to create content in this area. What are the ‘quick wins’, or at least the activities that publishers should be looking to first, where voice assistant content is concerned? 

“That’s a good question, because as I mentioned there are different things to try out. From audio news briefs, to just having AMP pages, to also having much more direct of an app or action on Google. I would certainly advise starting off on audio news briefs, also called narrative news. That’s an RSS feed that you give to Google. We pick up that content and serve that whenever a query is asked such as ‘Hey Google what’s the news?’ Or ‘OK Google what’s the business news?’ Or ‘Hey Google I want to hear the latest news from this publishers?’” 

“From there we trigger the audio news brief, which is very easy to do – it’s just a human made, human spoken news feed, and that’s relatively easy to do. Once you do that you can get data on how people engage with that, how often, whether they like it, etc. Those sorts of things you can start understanding, basically how people are experiencing your brand and your content in a whole new way.”

It’s important to acknowledge that voice comes in many formats and is not solely the preserve of the home speaker. For publishers, who have become accustomed to slicing and dicing content in many different ways in more recent years, its undoubtedly a technology that holds potential.      

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