Are Voice Assistants the future of news?

An Amazon Alexa - a well-known brand of voice assistant

‘Voice’ is everywhere nowadays – whether it’s our smart TV, smart speakers, smartphone, or smartwatch, our devices use every opportunity to force their built-in voice assistants on us. Voice does seems like a perfect platform for news – you can get the headlines without lifting a finger – but are some of social media’s problems just being shifted onto a new platform?

Facebook’s recent changes to the Newsfeed algorithm will likely reduce news content by 20%, and some publishers are already beginning to see the effects. The changes are being viewed in the industry as Facebook’s response to the negative reputation the company has acquired since Donald Trump’s election.

So it is inevitable that publishers are turning their attention to voice. Companies like Apple, Google and Amazon are investing billions into voice assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home.

On the face of things, voice AI has huge potential for the newsroom, and certainly makes things easier and quicker for the user. If these assistants become part of our daily habits it would be foolish not to take advantage.

Speaking at the recent Hacks/Hackers London meet-up, Andy Webb, Vice-President of Product Strategy at BBC Worldwide, explained why news organisations are scrambling to catch up:

When people ask for news, the API chooses the most suitable agent (or app) to execute the request. The goal is to become that top agent.

He added that instead of asking an assistant for headlines from a particular organisation, users simply ask for ‘the latest headlines’. This removes the brand from the process of accessing news, so becoming the agent that the API chooses is even more crucial.

This has big implications for journalism. If users only hear news from one organisation, they are only hearing the news they want to hear. This could easily mean a social media-style ‘Echo’ chamber. Pun intended.

Then, if the brand is removed from the process, how does the user does know who is providing the news they are hearing? What is the benefit for the publisher? Will they have to pay to be the top agent for news?

So instead of generating money from the news they provide, they could end up paying for the privilege of providing that very same news. As the same process is separating the brand from the news – where is the money coming from?

Alternatively, companies building the devices could pay for the news and everything carries on as normal. Until we know how popular voice assistants will truly become, we just don’t know.

It’s safe to assume that the sheer volume of money invested means that voice assistants are here to stay. If developers can find a balance between making the process easier for the user with equal coverage of publishers, then the platform could change how we consume news in a big way.

If we’re not careful, though, newsrooms could be forced onto a platform that removes the brand, the competition, and the ability to make money.

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