Google takes aim at radio news with latest beta launch

Google is squarely taking aim at radio with the launch of a new audio news experience beta this week that positions Google Assistant as an on-demand news source, featuring AI-curated playlists and the ability to skip or go back to another story using your voice.

“For the past century, radio has been a one-size-fits-all medium. Turn on the radio and you’re dropped into a show at a moment in time—regardless of what you already know, where you are, or what you’re interested in. Imagine instead if you could have your own radio, one that’s available on-demand, accessible throughout your day, and brings you news about the world and your interests,” Liz Gannes, Product Manager, News, wrote in a blog post this week.

Gannes, a former senior editor and writer at Re/code, AllThingsD and GigaOm, is leading the initiative which has been working with news outlets around the globe like The Associated Press, Hollywood Reporter, Universo Online and South China Morning Post, to “think through the future of audio news.” Together, they built the prototype that “brings the artificial intelligence of Google News to the voice context of the Assistant.”

“This new experience will bring you an audio news playlist assembled in that moment, for you. It starts with a briefing of top stories and updates on topics you care about, and extends into longer-form content that dives deeper into more stories. At any point in your day when you want to listen to the latest news—as a morning wake-up, during your commute, or while jogging—the Google Assistant will be ready with new stories and updates to the ones you’ve already heard,” writes Gannes.

Audio news on Google Assistant is initially rolling out to a limited number of English-speaking users in the U.S.

The prototype relies on single-topic stories, segmented out from newscasts or shows, to contribute to the audio news feed. The Google News Initiative provided funding to outlets like KQED Public Media in Northern California and The McClatchy Company, which operates 29 daily newspapers in 14 states, to help offset the cost of integrating the segmenting of larger broadcasts into shorter stories.

Google is now looking for more publishers, who produce English-language content, to submit feeds for inclusion and sign up to try the experience. The digital giant has built an open specification with an eye to improving and building out the audio news experience.

The Google prototype addresses one of the key findings of a recent study by The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism showing that consumers aren’t loving news on smart speakers and favour very short news briefings. The Future of Voice and the Implications for News looked at smart speaker usage in the UK, U.S. and Germany, finding that news consumption on the devices is lower than might be expected, with those not using smart speakers for news citing the ease of accessing news on other devices (52 per cent U.S., 51 per cent UK). Many users also complained about the quality of news briefings and how often they are updated, indicating a preference for updates of no longer than a minute.

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