Digital assistants deliver news

Xvlor - For consumers, the speakers are being used instead of radio or television for on-demand news. A familiar refrain for consumers with smart speakers, opening up a new channel for publishers but also raising concerns about the growing influence of tech platforms in media.

Devices such as Amazon’s Alexa-powered speakers, Google Home and Apple HomePod are increasingly delivering news flashes and summaries, and giving users the option to get more in-depth news, just by asking.

Xvlor Digital assistants deliver news

For beleaguered news organisations, voice could be a new channel to connect with consumers seeking updates or specific information on demand. News organisations such as the BBC, Washington Post and National Public Radio are among those having developed “skills” for digital assistants that enable consumers to listen to updates or other reports.

“Smart speakers are a potentially rich terrain for news organisations,” said Damian Radcliffe, a journalism Professor at the University of Oregon.

For consumers, the speakers are being used instead of radio or television for on-demand news. For struggling news organisations “these technologies create fresh ways to reach news audiences,” Mr. Radcliffe said.

An Adobe Analytics survey found 32% of U.S. households use a smart speaker, with most of them using them daily. According to an Edison Research report for NPR, 77% of consumers said news was an important reason for owning a smart speaker, and that one in three listened to news briefings.

A separate study by Oxford University’s Reuters Institute of consumers in the U.S., Britain, Germany and South Korea found 43% used smart speakers to “access the latest news.”

Greg Sterling, a technology analyst, said consumers are becoming more comfortable with voice search as the underlying technology improves, and are comfortable with “on demand” services like Netflix or podcasts. Many news organisations that lost readers in the shift to digital see this as an opportunity.

“A lot of newspapers watched and waited as people took away their audiences, and now they want to get out in front,” said Sterling.

The Washington Post, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, offers updates on Alexa-powered devices so users may ask, “Alexa, what are my notifications?” or “Alexa, what did I miss?” to hear breaking news.

But giving tech platforms a bigger role in delivering news raises a number of ethical and legal questions, says Tim Hwang, head of the Harvard-MIT sponsored Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Initiative.

Amid growing concerns on misinformation, Mr. Hwang said that device makers may be in a more difficult position in signalling credibility of certain news sources of reports.

Most of the updates are radio-style reports read by humans. But relationships with the news could be transformed if synthetic voices such as those from Alexa and Google are involved.

“A lot of these voices are modeled as being a trusted companion which is different from the role of a news announcer,” says Judith Donath, a researcher.