Q&A: BlueToad CEO on Amazon Polly Newscaster Voice & Future of Audio
Consumers are rapidly embracing voice technology, leading publishers in search of tools that can efficiently produce audio versions of content. Responding to demand, digital publishing platform BlueToad partnered with Amazon to launch a Neural Text-to-Speech (NTTS) voice for Amazon Polly in the style of a newscaster.
The newscaster voice, released July 30, uses Polly’s enhanced NTTS technology to transform text into natural-sounding human speech and adapt to different speaking styles. NTTS is currently available for 11 different Polly voices, including two newscaster voices in US English (one male and one female).
Following the launch news last month, we asked BlueToad CEO Paul DeHart to share his perspective on the future of audio and its possibilities for publishers:
Why did you partner with Amazon to launch Polly’s NTTS Newscaster voice?
About five years ago, we began exploring ways to offer audio versions of articles on our platform. While publishers could certainly record and upload their own audio files, it’s been our experience that they are often looking for quick and easy solutions that take tasks off their plate instead of adding to it. We looked at the available text-to-speech options on the market and felt Amazon had the highest quality voice product. We were also able to make this feature available to publishers through a simple opt-in process. After several years of using the Amazon solution, we were invited to become an early tester and eventual launch partner for Polly’s NTTS Newscaster voice. Amazon’s new voice technology is truly an amazing step in text-to-speech, and it was an easy choice for us to join them as a launch partner given the impact it would have on our offering to publishers.
Why should audio be a priority for publishers right now?
Publishers have slowly evolved into media companies, and in today’s environment, they must continue to embrace new ways to create and deliver content to their readers. Audio has recently re-emerged as a preferred way for audiences to consume content. A 2019 Infinite Dial study found that U.S. consumers reported an average of 17 hours of listening a week. This presents an interesting opportunity for publishing brands. Audio isn’t going to supplant print, digital, or other social efforts, but it does offer an additional, convenient way for readers to engage with a brand when they previously were not – like on their commute.
How are your clients using audio solutions to success?
Our customer use case is pretty straight forward. Publishers have the option to check a box and make audio versions of their articles available to readers. Of course, they can also upload their own recorded audio files if they prefer. Either way, when readers open the digital version of a publisher’s content on a phone, it’s easy to simply click on the audio icon of any piece of content and begin listening. This adds one more option to the content consumption journey of the reader.
SUCCESS Magazine was our launch partner for the Amazon Polly NTTS Newscaster voice and is one of over a thousand BlueToad customers who currently leverages our audio article feature. For SUCCESS magazine, audio articles offer readers the ability to continue their personal and professional development from anywhere – at home, at work, or in transit. This puts the SUCCESS brand one step closer to 24/7 accessibility for its audience.
Another common way that publishers are leveraging audio in their digital editions is through podcast integrations. Our platform offers the ability to create a custom content hub that can easily include RSS style feeds. When added to the digital edition, podcast content will present inside the reading experience – keeping the audience engaged in the publisher’s brand rather than linking out to a podcast platform where they might venture off.
In 2019, we’ve seen an increase in audio article engagement across our platform of over 260% compared to 2018.
What opportunities do you see for publishers in monetizing audio content?
Publishers don’t have a business if they aren’t connecting with readers, so creating and distributing content in various forms is a necessity. Audio is just one way to help build the overall brand and connect with a larger audience. Of course, many brands are now also looking at how to place advertising against this new content. One typical strategy is to include a sponsorship message at the beginning of the listening experience. On our platform, publishers can also output the audio from their digital magazine into a form that can be fed to common podcast platforms.
How do you think audio technology will impact the media landscape in the future?
Audio content consumption is growing and will more than likely continue to grow. Nearly 20% of Americans now own smart speakers like an Amazon Alexa, and over 50% of Americans are listening to podcasts. Audio is just a comfortable, tried-and-true way to consume content. And the opportunities for listening experiences are growing as well. People have more time to listen to content during their commute, at work, and at home. Again, audio isn’t going to supplant other content channels, but it does offer one more way to reach a larger audience, which is what publishers are looking to achieve. It will be interesting to see if and how publishers learn to leverage smart speakers to deliver audio content to readers. It’s too early to tell and right now the opportunity is more effective for larger consumer news brands. But at the end of the day, audio is a publishing channel that is here to stay.
Leah Wynalek is the senior editor for Publishing Executive and Book Business. She has worked at national magazine publishing companies including Trusted Media Brands and Rodale, where she assisted in digital content creation and strategy for Prevention.com. More recently, she used her multimedia skillset on behalf of clients as a content specialist for Philadelphia-based marketing agency En Route.