Al Jazeera Finds Its Voice On Smart Speakers

As more people use smart speakers, publishers are establishing their own voice.

News organization Al Jazeera is exploring how to position its brand on voice, which it believes will be the gateway to an internet-of-things-driven world, said Michael Weaver, SVP of business development and growth at Al Jazeera Network.

“Voice assistants are the first entry into that space in a mass market,” he said. “Right now, the race is to get content on them.”

Since the voice ecosystem is so fragmented, Al Jazeera began working with voice distributor SpokenLayer about six months ago to make its content accessible on any platform where consumers may want to listen. SpokenLayer integrates with all of the major smart speaker manufacturers, including Google, Amazon and Microsoft, to host, stream and manage voice experiences for publishers.

While Al Jazeera also works directly with device manufacturers, those relationships are often bespoke and slow moving. SpokenLayer, which works with major publishers such as Condé Nast, ESPN and Oath, makes it easier to widely and quickly distribute content on all devices.

“These platforms have a vested interest in not choosing favorites,” Weaver said. “We hired an editor and a producer, and SpokenLayer handled getting it out on to all of the devices.”

But like any new media, publishers have to tread lightly with voice to figure out the format that will resonate with audiences. Because SpokenLayer hosts and distributes content, it can provide granular data to publishers to help them develop and edit stories in a format that works for the medium, said Will Mayo, founder and CEO of SpokenLayer.

“We’ve worked closely with Al Jazeera to help them sculpt their experience and the content,” he said. “They’re working with our team on the data side to help inform them of the best stories to tell, in the [right] style.”

From SpokenLayer data, Al Jazeera can understand who is listening, which device they’re using and how often they tune in – much more detailed information than it would get from device manufacturers.

“[In] audio, typically all you know is that something got shipped out,” Mayo said. “We have a data set more akin to Google Analytics-level understanding, which is brand new for audio.”

That data and support helped Al Jazeera, which struggled to identify the right formula for its content on voice-activated devices, Weaver said. With SpokenLayer’s assistance, the publisher launched a curated, three-minute daily news briefing that it hopes will become habit-forming for listeners.

“On any new technology, news, entertainment, weather and finance lead the charge,” Weaver said. “It’s just bite-size information that people want.”

Weaver characterized Al Jazeera’s daily news briefing as successful, but declined to share distribution numbers. Al Jazeera also plans to launch morning and evening briefings and explore voice as a channel as it expands coverage beyond news.

Al Jazeera isn’t monetizing voice yet, but it plans to do so after building a large enough audience, Weaver said. SpokenLayer offers a sponsorship opportunity, which is the fastest growing part of its business, that Al Jazeera may try down the road.

“We want to understand how effective advertising is in this space,” Weaver said. “Is it an actionable channel? If not, is it a good branding channel? I think Amazon doesn’t know the answer to that, and neither does Google.”

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