The Times has partnered with Amazon for the first time and will embrace Alexa just as the World Cup kicks off, with the title's sports editor telling The Drum that the medium may be more effective as a “marketing tool” than a means of distributing content.
The publisher will experiment with the voice interface to explore whether it can build its brand and grow subscriptions, but also to establish a beachhead on a platform where people may one day chose to listen to its podcasts.
On Friday 18 June, the Times Sport Alexa skill will launch, offering tasters of The Times’ sports reportage, in addition to a fact and question of the day to drum up engagement.
“We will mention what's happened, we will pick out what Henry Winter said in his match report about England or put out a nibble of Patrick Viera's column that he is doing for us, just to try and show people what we are doing in in-depth analysis," said The Times sports editor Alex Kay-Jelski.
"Readers should think 'Ooh, this could be quite interesting' and they will hopefully want to buy the product in some form.”
Football fans will also have a direct route to listen to The Times' World Cup Podcast, hosted by presenter Natalie Sawyer, by simply stating: 'Alexa, ask Times Sport for the latest podcast'.
“When a World Cup comes around you think, we can’t just do what we always do, we have to find something to build new audience and have a bit of an experiment and fun," Kay-Jelski said.
Rather than cannibalise the Times' content and paywall-protected business model, he hopes the experiment will "lure people into buying a newspaper" or get them onto The Times website or app.
“Publishers always have to look at new things, journalism is not going to stay the same. Things that involve voices will become increasingly a big part of what we do. But, it is at the early stages. With Alexa, it is not as if you can get your entire content across, all you can do is get a feel of it and use it as a marketing tool. We'll see later. Maybe down the line I may say 'Alexa, read me Henry Winter's match report' and his voice will come up.”
For now, it is setting no expectations on engagement. “We will all get together at the end of the World Cup and have a look at the data, see how many people it reached and how beneficial that was.”