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Delivering Podcasts to Amazon Alexa From the Widen Collective®

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Nearly half of Americans use digital voice assistants, according to the
Pew Research Center. This new channel presents opportunities and challenges for brands, one of which is delivering audio content straight into the home or office via voice command.

“We recognized the growing trend of voice-assisted technology as a distribution channel for audio, similar to what radio was decades ago, the web 10 years ago, etc.,” says David Anthony, technology consultant for a nonprofit, faith-based media organization. “The client [we work with] is always exploring ways to connect with different audiences. Amazon Alexa skills allow them to get their content to a younger set of listeners.” 55% of Americans ages 18-49 say they use voice assistants, compared with 37% of those 50 and older.

David and his team built two Alexa skills to deliver daily audio content from their Widen Collective® digital asset management (DAM) system. The first is a daily podcast skill, which plays the day’s 20-30 minute podcast. To listen, the user says, “Alexa, play today’s podcast for Company Inc.” Or, “Alexa, play Company Inc.’s podcast from December 25, 2017.”

The second skill is a flash briefing. It’s a customizable news update that pulls from your desired news sources, broadcasters, and more. It plays a 90-second audio summary “in-line” with other flash briefings through the command, “Alexa, play my flash briefing.”

Connecting the listener’s command with the right audio content

Alexa requires a specific file format that it interprets and then plays back to the listener. Delivering it requires connecting three main components:

  1. The Alexa device
  2. The API that listens for requests from Alexa and returns the information needed to play for the listener
  3. The DAM system

Amazon Alexa to Digital Asset Management API Infographic

“When a listener plays the skill, the API queries the DAM for the correct asset, transforms the metadata into the correct JSON format for Alexa, then sends it to the Alexa device for playback,” says David. “The Alexa device pulls the audio file directly from the DAM based on the URL provided in the JSON. We also included stop, resume, rewind, and fast forward controls to make it more usable for the listener.”

Learning how to structure the asset metadata to facilitate the skill best took some trial and error.

The team structured the metadata for these assets into six fields.

Destination channel: Web, app, voice
Format: Broadcast, flash briefing
Title: Spoken by Alexa as an introduction when a skill is played and also surfaces in Alexa when a skill is used
Description: The asset description that surfaces in Alexa when a skill is used
Scheduled date: mm/dd/yyyy

Create once, publish everywhere

Audiences continue to gain more choices in where, how, and when they consume content. It’s up to businesses to tackle the technical challenges of being there. Since the API is brand-agnostic, David and the team plan to expand the use of the audio content to Google Home and other similar services, all pulling from one central source — the DAM system.

The team started the create once, publish everywhere strategy a few years ago, so the client was already using the DAM system to pull content into three websites and two apps. Alexa and voice assistants were a natural next step.

Future opportunities with delivering content through voice assistance

Voice-assistant technology has some limitations because it’s new and because of consumer privacy concerns. Unlike other web-based content, like web, email, and mobile apps, there isn’t much support for high-level analytics or user-centric engagement tracking just yet. Until then, David and the team track unique listeners, unique devices, and plays of each asset.

One opportunity is adding functionality to the skill to allow listeners to interact more directly with their company history and connect their email address for unified messaging. Then they could provide relevant content based on the listener’s history.

Advice for businesses getting started with voice assistants

“Audio content isn’t required, but having Alexa read long-form content gets monotonous,” David says. If you don’t have audio content, he recommends starting with something short, like a flash briefing. If you have an existing podcast with an RSS feed, the hard work is done. You’ll need an API to translate between the RSS feed and the Alexa service and then submit the skill for approval.

“Structuring the metadata in the DAM is critical,” David says. “Put some thought into that while the technical stuff is being done.”

“There are a few skills out there that play podcasts already. They're general apps that if/when the provider includes a given podcast, any listener can bring it up on their Alexa device.” He adds, “The strength of these two custom skills is in the branding and the ability to add engagement points around specific listener activity. It's also highly valuable to have all the assets managed in one place (the DAM) and be able to distribute it to the various channels, including voice now.”

How are you taking advantage of new smart devices to mobilize your content? We’d love to know! Contact us or leave a comment below.

Topics: Customer Stories, DAM, MarTech, Integrations, Content Strategy

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