Media Brands Using Smart Speaker
A range of media brands and publishers are venturing into the use of smart speaker content as a way to extend their existing reach and in some cases, to provide exclusive content tailored to the functionality provided by smart speaker devices. Currently, these content packages are primarily available on Google devices (where they are known as actions) and Amazon devices (where they are known as skills). Below, I have outlined a number of media organizations using this technology, giving an overview of how they are doing so.
Hearst first integrated smart speaker technology into its output in December 2015, with a skill for Alexa providing Elle magazine's horoscopes. Chris Papaleo, Hearst's Executive Director of Emerging Technology, said the astrological content provided a "sticky experience, because it lends itself to a daily habit." Building on this success, Hearst went on to create Alexa skills which provided words of wisdom from Oprah and stain removal tips from Good Housekeeping magazine, both in 2017.
Arguably Hearst's most ambitious use of smart speaker content is My Beauty Chat, a podcast offering tips and trends, with updates twice a day. Here, Hearst have gone beyond repackaging print and digital content for smart speakers, creating specific content for audio, featuring editors from their publications including Good Housekeeping, Elle and Cosmopolitan. The podcast is sponsored by L'Oreal, enabling Hearst to begin to monetize their audio content. Papaleo has said he considers this a key challenge and that Hearst are looking into other ways to make money from smart speaker content.
Conde Nast's Vogue magazine entered into a partnership with Google Home, launching "behind-the-scenes" content to tie in with the magazine's 125th anniversary celebrations in September 2017. Users of the smart speaker were able to "ask Vogue" to tell them more about five featured articles from the historic issue, which were mainly insights from writers who had covered Jennifer Lawrence, Oprah Winfrey, Nicole Kidman, Serena Williams and Megyn Kelly for the print edition. Julia Chen Davidson, Partner Marketing Lead at Google Home, said the aim was to be more "conversational" as opposed to feeling like a podcast, with speaker users able to listen to the content in a non-linear way, prompting short segments with their questions.
The Meredith Corporation's Allrecipes launched smart speaker content through an Alexa skill for the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot in late 2016, with a database of over 60,000 recipes for users to explore. In June 2017, they expanded this guided cooking experience, incorporating video instruction via the Amazon Echo Show.
The Meredith Corporation recently acquired Time Inc., bringing People magazine, which launched an Alexa skill last year, under their control. People brought a daily video flash featuring their entertainment and lifestyle headlines to the Amazon Echo Show in June 2017, with Editor-in-Chief, Jess Cagle, saying he saw the Echo Show as a "natural fit" to extend their video content into the smart speaker market.
CNN has a range of offerings for both Alexa and Google devices, including morning and evening briefings and a CNN Money briefing available in audio and video. CNN Politics provides an audio-only evening briefing for Alexa and Google. From February 9 2018, CNN will provide news briefings for Apple devices including HomePod.
E.W. Scripps Company
The E.W. Scripps Company launched news content from 23 of their local stations on Alexa in May 2017. These flash briefings deliver local headlines, which are updated throughout the day, and in some areas, represent the only local news content available through Alexa.
TV provider Dish Network were the first of their kind to offer their customers hands-free control of their services via Alexa in April 2017. In this initial roll-out, users of their Hopper DVRs were able to search for shows and control playback using their Amazon devices. Later in 2017, Dish extended this functionality to clients using their Joey receivers - devices that extend the Dish service to other rooms without the need for additional DVRs. The use of Alexa in conjunction with these receivers gives users the ability to control screens throughout the home from a single room, for example, the ability to pause a child's bedroom TV from the living room.
How are other businesses using smart speakers?
As indicated by research carried out by comSource, US households are using smart speakers for reasons beyond media consumption. While 22% of households use their smart speaker devices to stream news, with 27% using them for home automation, 11% of households use smart speakers to order products, with 8% using them to order food or services.
Several US retailers have partnered with Alexa to create voice shopping skills, including New York-based B&H Photo and 1-800-Flowers, but Amazon rival Best Buy has become a surprise partner for Alexa. The consumer electronics firm promotes their "Deal of the Day" through Alexa and have also partnered with Google Home in Canada to inform customers about sales and product information. Large retailers partnered with Google Home include Costco, Walgreens, Target and Walmart.
For hungry smart speaker users, Alexa users can order takeaway food via Amazon Restaurants, with the skill providing options based on the cuisine or your order history. This follows an early adoption of the Alexa system by Dominos in February 2016, with the pizza chain venturing into Google Home compatibility later that year.
As outlined above, a number of media organizations are using smart speaker content to expand their reach and improve user experience. Some, including E.W. Scripps and the Meredith Corporation are using this technology in a fairly straightforward way, utilizing smart speakers as another platform to offer the content they already provide. Others, such as Hearst and Conde Nast recognize the opportunity of smart speaker technology to rethink the way they provide content, particularly in an era where print media is experiencing a decline in subscribers and ad revenue.