The Guardian is among the first publishers in the U.K. to jump on Amazon Echo, which debuted in the U.K. on Wednesday.
Amazon’s Echo voice-controlled speaker allows people to call up information, music, even jokes. The Guardian is making its podcasts, news, opinion and reviews accessible. Echo users can get Guardian 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.
Users can ask for specific pieces of information via the Skills feature. For example, in the U.S. the Washington Post built two skills to cover the Summer Olympics, and another focused on political coverage. With the Flash Briefing, users get news updates.
For now the Guardian isn’t making custom stories for Echo but users can ask Alexa for a summary of the news headlines by sections like sport, and Alexa’s automated voice will read out the full story, review or opinion piece, if requested by the user.
The Guardian is one of several publishers using Echo as a new way to distribute audio content. The BBC and others are already on Echo, and Amazon is courting publishers to join. Amazon rolled out Echo with The Guardian, food chain Just Eat, Uber, and Spotify were its U.K. launch partners.
The product has been available in the U.S. since 2014 but came more widely available to purchase in June 2015. Amazon is estimated to have sold 3 million Echo devices by April this year, according to research from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.
Brands like Johnnie Walker and Patron have been using Alexa state side, but The Guardian is among the first publishers to jump on board in the U.K. The publisher plans to try it in the U.K. and then roll it out in the U.S in the coming weeks.
“While you’re getting the kids ready for school, cooking dinner, or enjoying a Sunday cuppa with your feet up, you can check in with us without having to pick up your phone,” said Guardian’s group product manager for off-platform Chris Wilk in a blog post. “Most excitingly, this allows us to build a fantastic experience for anyone with visual impairments,” he added.
The Guardian may be the first to openly declare its Alexa plans, but others are just as interested in the opportunity. Johnston Press, which owns the national newspaper the i, is also doing internal tests on 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 Johnston Press chief digital product officer Jeff Moriarty.
The Guardian has launched a Messenger chat bot after months of tests. It’ll be easier to gain quicker reach with its bot however because audiences are already using the app on their phones. Whereas to tap into the Guardian’s Alexa voice activation “skill” they’ll have to buy an Amazon Echo speaker, which retail at £149.99 ($195), although the smaller Echo Dot is available for £49.99 ($65).
“That definitely makes it more challenging. For a publisher like us it will be hard to prioritize being on Echo over chat bots, where there is more immediate opportunity for a newspaper like the i because they audience is already on Messenger,” said Moriarty.
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