BlueToad is a technology company based in Orlando, Florida and has evolved into a single platform for responsive digital editions and web content. The company caught the eye of WNIP again last month when it was selected as launch partner for Amazon Polly’s Neural Text-to-Speech (NTTS) technology that offers publishers realistic listening experiences. We caught up with Hutch Hicken, President and CTO of BlueToad, to find out more…
What business problem is Amazon Polly’s NTTS addressing?
Audio has recently re-emerged as a preferred way for audiences to consume content, and it offers a real opportunity for publishing brands. A 2019 Infinite Dial study found that U.S. consumers reported an average of 17 hours of listening a week. Audio isn’t going to supplant print, digital, or other social efforts, but it does offer an additional, convenient way for readers to engage with a brand when they previously were not – like during their commute.
Audio is a key way to connect with publishers’ audiences, and BlueToad offers numerous ways for publishers to incorporate audio into the reading experience.
What is your core product addressing this problem?
BlueToad had the opportunity to be an early tester of Amazon Polly Neural Text-to-Speech (NTTS) technology and to ultimately offer Polly’s NTTS Newscaster voice to publishers. NTTS is an enhanced, more realistic voice experience that learns to speak by listening to recorded human speech and copying it, similar to how a human child learns to speak.
Now incorporating NTTS Newscaster voice, BlueToad’s text-to-speech article feature (Instant Audio) is poised to offer publishers a simple but powerful way to freshly engage their audience through realistic listening experiences. Providing audio versions of customer article content is an important part of our solution, and we’ve already seen excitement from our publishers.
BlueToad has consistently taken advantage of the diverse set of Amazon Polly voices by offering voices with languages and accents native to the publication’s readers. Additionally, BlueToad attempts to determine the likely gender of the author of each article – based on census data matching first names to declared gender – then matching to an appropriate Polly voice in the selected language and accent.
Can you give some examples of publishers successfully using this solution?
Our Instant Audio article feature is pretty straight forward. Publishers have the option to check a box and make audio versions of their articles available to readers. Of course, they can also upload their own recorded audio files if they prefer. Either way, when readers open the digital version of a publisher’s content on a phone, it’s easy to simply click on the audio icon of any piece of content and begin listening.
SUCCESS Magazine was our launch partner for the Amazon Polly NTTS Newscaster voice and is one of over a thousand BlueToad customers who currently leverages our Instant Audio article feature. For SUCCESS magazine, Instant Audio articles offer readers the ability to continue their personal and professional development from anywhere – at home, at work, or in transit. This puts the SUCCESS brand one step closer to 24/7 accessibility for its audience.
We can help publishers create a responsive digital edition that works wonderfully on phones and desktops for just a few hundred dollars per issue on average. This product includes our Instant Audio article feature. All we need is a PDF and three business days to get it done.
What are other people doing in the space and why?
We feel our competitors have been slow to embrace the full potential of audio. We are one of the first platforms to offer an out-of-the-box audio solution, especially with such a natural and realistic voice experience. On a larger scale, we are seeing more publishers adopting audio strategies. This has begun in the growing podcast space and is continuing as publishers explore opportunities with smart speakers. We noticed more publishers incorporating a podcast into the digital edition reading experience. Now these publishers can also provide a full audio version of each article in their magazine. They can also output these audio files into their own podcast and make it available on their podcast platform of choice.
How do you view the future?
Audio content consumption is increasing and will continue to grow. The opportunities for listening experiences are growing as well. Nearly 20% of Americans now own smart speakers like an Amazon Alexa, so it will be interesting to see if and how publishers learn to leverage these devices in particular to deliver audio content to readers.
In 2019, we’ve seen an increase in audio article engagement across our platform of over 260% compared to 2018. It’s clear that audio as a publishing channel is here to stay.