News24.com adds custom synthetic voice to news articles
South Africa’s largest news platform adds audio to improve news subscription product.
News24.com, a site owned and operated by South African news group, Media24, last month launched the world’s first customised synthetic voice for news. Subscribers to the newly introduced digital subscription package will be able to access audio versions of all news articles available on the website. Whilst media companies have experimented with pre-existing text-to-speech, News24 contracted SpeechKit, a UK-based technology company, to build a voice specific to the region.
Kelly Anderson, Deputy Site Editor at News24.com says;
“We decided to work with SpeechKit and develop a custom synthetic voice to deliver our subscribers the value they deserved. Existing voices struggled to handle pronunciations unique to South African accents and it was imperative that the voice resonated with our readers. We’re thrilled with the result. The voice handles local names, towns and places better than anything we’ve heard before. It’s much more engaging to listen to a voice that sounds like our brand.”
Audio articles, automated using text-to-speech technology, are rising in popularity as the format moves through the technology adoption curve. Publishers are able to instantly deliver audio versions of their stories through media players embedded on their websites and apps, or through platforms, such as Spotify and Apple Podcasts. This format gives subscribers a new way to engage with articles whilst they get on with other tasks.
Patrick O’Flaherty, Co-Founder and CEO at SpeechKit adds:
“We’re excited to partner with News24 and bring this new voice to their readers. Bringing local accents to audio articles will help take this emerging format to a new level. Our focus at SpeechKit is building seamless and engaging listening experiences. By creating a voice that reflects the local audience we’re already seeing improvements in the listening data.”
SpeechKit develops and integrates high-quality custom synthetic voice technology and audio publishing tools. Research shows that listening comprehension improves when sentences are spoken in a native accent. Up to this point, the team has been working primarily with existing text-to-speech technology. By creating integrations for newsrooms that allow readers an option to listen SpeechKit allows publishers to improve engagement and retention of news audiences.
The shift in news business models, from advertising-based models towards reader revenue, is forcing publishers to improve their digital retention with new products and strategies. In a recent Reuters Institute report, over half of the publisher respondents claimed audio would be a focus for them in 2020. New technologies, hardware, and audience behaviour are paving the way for a more immersive and modern audio news experience.
SpeechKit was founded by Patrick O’Flaherty and James MacLeod in 2017, after an experiment building a curated audio news digest. Realising that intensive podcast production would serve only a handful of publishers, they developed a platform to automate audio versions of news stories. The service is live on 75+ publishers worldwide and the company recently raised investment from Newark Venture Partners, backed by Audible.
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