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Smart home tech the next frontier for publishers

As publishers continue to optimise smartphone strategies, a new contender has entered the Australian market in the form of smart home devices – and news media brands are quickly jumping on board.

Google Home launched in Australia today. The speaker device is a voice-activated personal assistant which can play music, tell you the weather and news, control the lights and remind you where you left your keys by simply saying “Hey Google”. The Australian device will differ from those around the world, armed with an Australian accent and slang, and a more expensive price tag of $199.

Publishers are not sleeping on the opportunity to get involved. News Corp Australia masthead The Australian announced on Monday that the masthead had joined Google’s launch.

“The Australian’s product strategy is to be the anchor of our audience’s news mix, meaning we need to inform our audience wherever they are,” said The Australian’s chief executive Nicholas Gray.

“We look forward to launching on Google Home on day one, but for us, long-term investment in this category will require a belief that it will drive digital subscriptions.”

Other news organisations involved in the launch include HuffPost, the ABC, Fox Sports, TechCrunch and Sky News.

Google Home has a list of specific controls that allow users to consume the news they want.

Users will be able to build individualised news experiences based on their own news interests. Currently, Google Home supports 10 news categories, including general news, technology, sport, politics and entertainment.

Several other online services are also available to be used and controlled by Google Home.

Fairfax Media and Nine Corporation-owned streaming service Stan and competitor Netflix have integrated with Google’s services, allowing voice activation to control video streams on smart devices. Google is also offering all Home users a free six-month subscription to YouTube Red, YouTube’s premium ad-free streaming site.

The device allows music streaming through various apps including YouTube Music and Spotify alongside radio streaming via TuneIn Radio. This service also lets publishers push in-house produced podcasts through these channels.

Google hopes to expand its sport offering and is currently in discussion with several sporting codes.

The device is the first of its kind in the Australian market. In the US, the Google device is in stiff competition with Amazon Alexa. The Amazon product is currently out-selling Google three units to one. Alexa is expected to be a key feature of Amazon’s Australian launch in the coming months, which was announced by the company in April this year.

Apple is a late player to the home tech market. The HomePod was announced at Apple’s keynote event in June. The device runs on voice application Siri, while it is marketed as a top-of-the-line speaker device. Consumers will be able to purchase the HomePod internationally in December, with the Australian model costing $499.

Amazon Alexa was the first smart home device to introduce advertisements to the service. The short six to 10 second ads were announced in May, with the ad-network scheme quickly abandoned by June. The initial aim of “Sponsored Messages” was to specifically target users’ interests, using data collected by developers who make “Alexa Skills”, the Amazon equivalent of apps. Several advertisers, including fast food restaurant Wendy’s and sport television channel ESPN, were said to be on board.

However, changes to Amazon’s advertisement policy, pointedly a new rule that prohibited the use of or imitations of Alexa’s voice, saw the scheme abandoned. Voicelabs, the analytics service used by Amazon and Google, said that it would always act “100 per cent within Amazon policy”.

“This ability to react to user preferences opens the door to a whole new field of audio advertising, and the May 21 Policy prevents this,” VoiceLabs CEO Adam Marchick in June.

“We understand why Amazon did this, and based on this policy change combined with the limited set of Alexa skills that are allowed to advertise, we made the decision that the market was not ready.”

News publishers also have become involved in the US. Yesterday, Buzzfeed announced it had teamed with Amazon Alexa to create a morning briefing called “Reporting to You”. The mini podcast is designed specifically for hands-free devices and provides users with a rundown of all the big stories they need to know as they start their day.

The device also has several unique downloadable news skills that can be “enabled”. Each skill has its own voice command and has its own services.

Apple has given no indication what news services it will support or whether the device will enable the use of third party apps.

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