Hearst launches Oprah on Alexa
Inspirational quotes from Oprah Winfrey offers the latest in interactive content.
Oprah, meet Alexa.
Hearst Corp. is one of a handful of publishers that has been experimenting with producing interactive content for both Amazon’s and Google’s voice-controlled home assistants. Now the media company is turning to one of its bigger brands to ideally capture more people’s attention in the emerging at-home audio arena: Oprah Winfrey.
Last week, Hearst launched “O to Go” on Alexa, which allows users to hear Ms. Winfrey read short snippets from her book “What I Know for Sure.”
There is no advertising money to be made at the moment since neither home-assistant platform carries paid ads. However, it isn’t hard to imagine the possibilities, particularly after Google Home devices recently tested promotional audio for Walt Disney Co.’s movie “Beauty and the Beast.” Meanwhile, some publishers are experimenting in this realm hoping to extend their brands to new outlets, learn early on what consumers want, and ideally be set up for if and when moneymaking opportunities arise.
Hearst has built similar audio tools, including a daily horoscope app from Elle magazine available on both Alexa and Google Assistant and a Good Housekeeping tool for Alexa that helps people remove stains. People access this content using simple voice commands, such as, “Alexa, how do I get wine out of a white carpet?” or “Tell me my horoscope for Sagittarius today.” In these cases, users don’t have to use magazine brand names to initiate their queries.
With Ms. Winfrey, Alexa users can use their phones, Amazon Echo devices or other voice-enabled products to ask Oprah to voice a daily inspiring or surprising passage or quote. One such response may be: “What I know for sure is that every day brings a chance for you to draw in a breath, kick off your shoes, and step out and dance…”
Ms. Winfrey has recorded nearly 90 messages at launch, though consumers can only access one a day. No money is changing hands between the two companies, representatives from Hearst and Amazon said.
According to Chris Papaleo, Hearst’s executive director of emerging technology, although these products (Amazon calls them skills) aren’t driving revenue right now, it’s crucial for the company to test and learn early. It’s particularly important since voice commands aren’t a natural transition for text- and video-centric media companies, he said.
“We think voice-activated, hands-free content is going to be really, really important long term,” he said. But unlike when the company started posting its magazine articles to the web a few decades, where many of the same edited and presentation principles applied, “audio is not at all something we are used to. And we can’t afford to wait and then play catch up.”
Mr. Papaleo said the company is planning more experimentation in this realm and believes that group games and fitness are two areas that are ripe for creative uses of voice commands.
Hearst isn’t the only media company looking to forge new ground in the voice-assistant realm. Forbes has been making content available via both Amazon’s and Google’s platforms for three of its sub brands — Level Up, which focuses on life hacks; Passport, which centers on travel and food; and Overworld, which covers gaming. For example, a person can directly ask for the latest headlines from a specific publication. Or in the case of Alexa, they can add one of these titles to the list of news companies that deliver daily audio headlines via a feature Amazon calls a “Flash Briefing.”
Lewis DVorkin, Forbes Media’s chief product officer, said it makes sense for media companies to start small. “I’ve learned my lesson,” he said. “When you want to experiment [on a new platform], make it narrow, deep, and get it right. Better to attack these things one by one, then take it wide or you’ll be falling over the place.”
Overall, Mr. DVorkin is very bullish on the appeal of home assistants for basic utility tasks, like looking up the weather, because the ease of home assistants soon makes looking up such things on the web seem slow by comparison, he said.
As for revenue potential, Mr. DVorkin is counting on marketers’ desire to be first on every shiny new platform to help drive interest in some sort of voice-enabled ads down the road.
“If you look at podcasts, a year ago we made no money,” he said. “Now we do.”
Written by Mike Shields, 11 April, 2017, published on wsj.com. Read the full article here.