Google News AI Brought to Google Assistant

On Friday, Google announced it has incorporated the AI used for Google News to Google Assistant. An audio news playlist will be assembled for users, starting with a briefing of top stories and updates, later extending into longer-form content that dives deeper into more stories. Users can ask Google Assistant to skip a story, go back, or stop. Google Assistant will also be able to give updates to stories users have already heard about. Currently, there are no music, ads, or profanity allowed in stories.

What prompted this new feature is the idea that users can have their own radio completely tailored to their taste and schedule. The feature is rolling out first to a limited number of people via the Google Assistant in the US and in English. The announcement blog post stated Google had been “working with publishers from around the world to think through the future of audio news.” Participating news partners include:

  • Advance Local
  • American Public Media
  • AP
  • Axios
  • Billboard
  • CNBC
  • CNET
  • KQED
  • McClatchy
  • NBC Owned Television Station Group
  • New York Times
  • Newsy
  • SCMP
  • The Hollywood Reporter
  • theScore
  • Washington Post
  • WNYC

Building the Audio News Experience

In order to help with the transition of print news to audio news, Google developed an open specification, which is available for news organizations that would like to participate in the new audio news feature. This prototype relies on single-topic stories contributing to the audio news feed. There are two parts of the playlist structure, which is determined by length. Those under 2 minutes play first and are approximately 50 seconds. Those that are 2 to 15 minutes are called medium format stories and play after a block of 5 to 8 short-format stories. News organizations can submit feeds for inclusion today, and sign up to try the experience here.

Helping Journalism Make the Transition to Voice Assistant Channels

Google’s announcement arrives shortly after a new study called “The Future of Voice and Implication for News” published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. Researcher Nic Newman conducted consumer surveys in the U.K. and U.S., consumer focus groups, in-home consumer interviews and individual interviews with media executives from 26 media organizations five countries. A key conclusion included:

“Despite the rapid growth and strong promotion of voice technology, news consumption on these devices is currently lower than might be expected, with most usage focusing on very short news briefings. Many users are unaware of the wider range of options around news, including how to access their favourite brand. Others are underwhelmed by existing content, which is mostly reversioned from radio or print.”

In addition, only 1% of consumers in the U.K. said that news was the most valued feature of their smart speaker. Even the category of creating memos and lists was selected by three-times more consumers as the most valuable feature while setting alarms and reminders was seven times more popular.

The new Google initiative could help drive news discovery on smart speakers and raise the level of importance consumers assign to the feature. You can hear an in-depth interview with Mr. Newman about his findings in Voicebot Podcast Episode 71.

Google News Initiative Funding Audio News Development

This past Spring, Google announced its plan for combating the spread of fake news, pledging $300 Million to clean up false news through the Google News Initiative. In addition to allowing news organizations to submit feeds for inclusion through the development of the open specification, the Google News Initiative announced participation in the development of audio news. The Google News Initiative provides funding to a number of news organizations, such as KQED and McClatchy, to support building out audio capabilities for the industry as a whole. Liz Gannes, Google Product Manager of News comments,

Audio journalism requires new capabilities and workflows for both print publishers and broadcasters, whether it’s adding a sound booth or segmenting larger broadcasts into shorter stories.

Audio News Brings More Responsibility to Google

Google is in a very unique position in relation to the curation of news, and they have come under fire in the past for allowing conspiracy theories and unreliable partisan sources to filter to the top of search results. Currently, the audio news AI is under beta, only partnered with reliable news sources and only available to certain users. However, as the use of this feature grows, it will be crucial for Google to carefully vet submitted audio news feeds. If Google is planning on personalizing audio news to users, it is easy to see how yet another platform can be manipulated to become just an echo chamber for users. This feature is new, and this certainly is not a concern yet. However, it is definitely something to monitor over time.

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