Voice platforms like Amazon Echo and Google Home are opening up a new front for media companies to reach consumers. Digital executives at broadcast and newspaper groups say that making early plays there and iterating quickly to a more seamless experience will earn them an important foothold in the smart home.
LAS VEGAS — Voice and smart home platforms won’t be just another digital media rabbit hole with no ROI at the bottom, digital executives from the television and newspaper worlds said here on Sunday.
A sustainable business model for media companies on these platforms is coming, they avowed, though just when remains hazy.
“We see this as a platform that we can’t ignore … an area of real growth,” said Jonathan Beard, director of digital product development for Graham Digital Media.
For some media companies, the voice platform — namely smart speaker devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home — represents the vanguard of an integrated smart home picture that also includes OTT and ATSC 3.0 big screen apps, connected mobile apps and the Internet of Things.
Graham was an early entrant onto the platform, offering multiple daily flash briefings from its stations on both Echo and Echo Show, Amazon’s video-integrated speaker.
Cox Media Group was another early mover in the space. Its Seattle-based KIRO was one of the first to launch briefings on Echo in June 2016 and saw 300% user growth in its first 12 months. Now Cox’s television and radio stations are on the platform, according to Ian Stinson, senior director of digital audience for television and a strong proponent for media companies experimenting there.
Cox has yielded some useful early takeaways from the platform, Stinson said. Among them is to develop custom skills for Echo, as they yield better, more detailed audience metrics (also key there is having a skill for local weather, which ComScore data suggests comprises 81% of Echo’s usage).
Stinson further suggested that media companies shouldn’t wear Amazon blinders when it comes to getting on voice platforms. Although Amazon has a 71.9% market share in the space, Google has captured 18.4% itself and its Home platform is growing.
Perhaps most importantly, he said that producing content both for the voice-only Echo and voice-and-video Echo Show is crucial.
“Don’t make the experience just audio,” Stinson said, noting that video’s CPMs are higher “so there’s a huge opportunity from a revenue standpoint.”
GateHouse Media, the nation’s largest newspaper company by title count, has also embraced voice, piggybacking on a heavy podcasting play the company already made as part of a general, company-wide diversification.
Peter Newton, its chief revenue officer, said nearly 400 GateHouse sites are now live on Echo with flash briefings. Engagement has been high among its users: Newton said the typical user consumes about 20 briefings per month.
Voice is a fast-evolving space, though, and GateHouse is working on iterating quickly from its Center for News and Design, a centralized, Austin, Texas-based facility where the company already manages all of its copy editing, design and audio distribution efforts.
Newton says the next step is to try to make the voice platform experience more conversational for users, rather than only a one-way briefing.
Graham is also looking to push past the briefings into something more. Beard said the company is developing apps that will integrate voice, OTT and mobile into a more “seamless” experience for users, a quality he says is essential if a company is to deliver both the best possible media experience and most relevant potential advertising.
On that advertising front, though, meaningful revenue remains elusive for now. Stinson said pre-roll video on Echo Show briefings has fared better than audio ad interruptions mid-briefing. Sponsorships have been the most common monetization form in briefings so far, but at Graham those are often part of a larger multimedia buy and not a draw in and of themselves.
Newton said while the user numbers overall are still fairly small, the platform’s high engagement factor will be key for advertisers looking ahead. That will only grow as media companies can deliver something more bespoke to its users.
“Ultimately, there will be much more customization and personalization,” Newton said.
Read all of TVNewsCheck‘s NAB 2018 news here.