Flash Briefing: How Publishers Are Producing Dedicated News Formats for Alexa

Amazon Echo

For Alexa to be a strong platform for new kinds of ecommerce it needs to be a strong general-interest platform first, as I laid out in detail here. In essence, the platform needs to be, well, useful to users.

Being the first platform of a kind (voice controlled, that is) to get signifcant enough traction has many benefits. One is you may attract activity that is not always already warranted given the reach of your platform.

Flash Briefings are one example of this. News publishers are using the format to create content for Alexa/Echo.

Here is how Amazon defines Flash Briefings, a dedicated format for news on Echo/Alexa:

With Flash Briefing, Alexa delivers pre-recorded updates from popular broadcasters (such as NPR, BBC News, and the Economist), the latest news headlines from The Associated Press, and weather information from AccuWeather.

The Niemanlab has talked to publishers about Flash Briefings:

There are two main ways — so far — that outlets can utilize Alexa: the Flash Briefing and skills. Flash Briefings are a passive experience, which are perfect to listen to while getting ready in the morning or while cooking dinner. Using the Alexa app on their phone, users choose a lineup of updates they want to receive and then ask Alexa to play it whenever they want. That’s it. Briefing channels are typically about 90 seconds long. (…)

Because the platform is so new, all the publishers I spoke with categorized their forays onto the Echo as experimental. (…)

For outlets working with Amazon to publish on Alexa, the first decision to make whether to create a channel in the Flash Briefing or a skill. Many publishers have decided to focus, at least initially on the more straight-forward Flash Briefing, but a handful, including the Post, have created their own skills. (…)

​This goes from audio versions of morning newsletters to dedicated updates produced and published several times a day:

Most of the publishers I spoke with don’t have dedicated Alexa teams — they’ve incorporated Alexa production into staffers’ existing workflows. Newsy, the digital video outlet owned by Scripps, launched an audio-only app, Newsy Radio, last fall. It expanded to Alexa in June, and it produces 10 to 12 updates per day for the platform. Newsy’s updates are read by its radio hosts; three to five stories make up a 90-second edition. (…)

NBC owns 11 stations in markets across the United States, and those stations were the first local outlets on the Echo and Alexa. The stations each update their Alexa briefings three or four times a day, said Lora Dennis, senior vice president of digital media for NBC-owned stations. Staffers in each newsroom adapt the top stories for a 90-second briefing.

​NBC and others use Amazon’s text-to-voice feature to create their Flash Briefings. Slate produces essentially a 90-seconds podcast.

Unfortunately, none of the publishers shared numbers. (They most likely are not allowed to.)

In July, The Washington Post became the first publisher to put ads into its Flash Briefings.

It seems that Amazon has the radio news aspect for Alexa locked in. One big part remaining is music, which Amazon is working on currently. But that doesn’t need to be a first-party solution. A few weeks ago, Amazon made it possible to set Spotify or Pandora as the default music source for Alexa.

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One comment

  1. […] Flash Briefings, formats created specifically for Alexa (which would also work with, say, Google Home), are already being used by some German publishers. Namely, Tagesschau, Bild, Spiegel Online and n-tv are providing some content for Echo/Alexa. (Obviously, Amazon is the driving force behind those launch partners. One wonders, how they feel about the delay of the actual launch.) […]


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