- Custom AI voice launched on Aftenposten in early 2023.
- Unique voice developed from podcast host Anne Lindholm.
- 58% average audio article completion rate observed.
- Daily usage of audio articles on par with podcasts.
In the news sector, Schibsted News Media has a reputation for consistently delivering excellence through innovative product strategies.
Notably, the group is renowned for their fearless transition to a digital-first publishing model, making early investments into video, and nimble experimenting with paywalls and new revenue models.
Most recently, Schibsted turned to audio looking to deepen engagement with their journalism, fit into new routines and attract younger audiences.
Audio: The Blue Ocean for News & Media
Karl Oskar Teien, Head of Product at Schibsted, has laid out why he thinks audio poses such a uniquely promising opportunity for news publishers.
“Our biggest competitors are not just other media companies. It is anyone distributing their content on a screen.”
In a recent blog post, he explains how Schibsted has strategically pinpointed audio as the format where they can reach and grow their audience effectively, away from dopamine-inducing social media apps.
“We know that tech and streaming giants dominate users’ visual attention, and it seems unlikely that news publishers will turn the tide anytime soon,"
Despite competition for visual attention, news dominates a disproportionate share of listening, surpassing other categories. In the US, 40% of spoken-word audio time is spent listening to news or information.
Schibsted took advantage of this trend early, recognising the importance of building audio functionality into their core products, where they could experiment, analyze and monetize more effectively.
Karl Oskar told us their “primary goal is to tap into users’ sonic attention” thereby taking advantage of the less crowded blue waters offered by audio.
In 2022, the Schibsted team looked to extend the success of their audio strategy by adding the option to listen to individual articles.
Inspired by the success of localized AI voices deployed by South African media group, Media24, they came across BeyondWords.
The Importance of Natural Sounding Speech
When considering AI audio articles, Karl Oskar says their team looked specifically at a) quality and b) listener engagement.
In order to enable functionality across all articles, they needed confidence that the voice wouldn’t make critical pronunciation mistakes.
They assessed AI voice partners on their domain experience and their ability to offer quality that would remain “the best in the industry over time”.
Since 2018, BeyondWords has worked with leading product teams to deliver natural sounding AI voices.
Our focus on delivering high-quality voices in the domains of news, corporate, and financial research, combined with our publisher-first product development ethos, has made us the first-choice of many newsrooms.
Working with Schibsted Product Manager, Lena Beate Pedersen, the BeyondWords team developed a custom AI voice based on the Schibsted podcast host, Anne Lindholm.
Karl Oskar explains the team wanted “familiarity with a voice that users already know”. In fact, studies show that resonance and comprehension improve when listening to a voice with a familiar accent or voice.
The new voice, dubbed ‘Aftenposten Robot’ internally at Schibsted, was piloted on Aftenposten Junior skole in late 2022.
In a recent blog post, Lena Beate Pedersen explains that 92% of teachers in Norway indicated that they have children in their classrooms who struggle to read. Some schools had even suggested that, without audio functionality, they wouldn’t subscribe to the Aftenposten Junior skole product.
Her team recognized the significance of this trend and its future effect amongst subscribers.
Early Listening Insights
After a successful pilot on Aftenposten Junior skole, the custom AI voice was deployed to Schibsted’s flagship masthead, Aftenposten.
Here, the Schibsted team observed data and feedback from their audience convincing them of the efficacy of audio versions of their articles.
Higher completion rates
Firstly, they observed that those who clicked to listen were likely to finish more of the article.
On average, audio articles on Aftenposten have a 58% completion rate. In an age when 13% of news readers cancel subscriptions due to too little time to read, this was extremely compelling.
Furthermore, feedback from focus groups told them that the audience were choosing to listen when “they really want to get the details in the story”.
At Schibsted, they recognise that this improved engagement with their stories means better value to subscribers, resulting in fewer cancellations.
AI audio vs human-read
Secondly, Lena, Karl Oskar, and their team wanted to test how the AI voice compared against human-read audio.
They compared engagement of the AI voice vs human-read audio, concluding that, although completion rates were slightly higher for human-read audio, the AI voice provided the required scale and efficiency.
And after a few months live on Aftenposten, audio article usage is on par with podcasts.
Based on these early data points, several more custom AI voices have been commissioned across Schibsted brands in Norway and Sweden.
Karl Oskar told us, in an effort to further grow engagement, they plan to invest more time optimizing their products for listening, utilizing playlists and other features.
To learn more about how BeyondWords can help get your stories heard, feel free to book a meeting. Our technology is deployed by more than 30 enterprise product teams globally, across news, investment research and more.
Lastly, we’d like to thank Lena Beate Pedersen and Karl Oskar Teien for championing the AI voice at Schibsted and providing us with these detailed insights.