Commentary

Hearst's Big Move Into Tech Raises Questions Of Responsibility

Amazon reports its voice device Echo was its top seller over the holidays. Hearst is hoping to plant its feet firmly in technology’s future, too. The company has been experimenting successfully with content on both the Echo and Google Home.

As new forms of technology emerge, the impact of these devices and platforms pose new challenges and opportunities for publishers. While the move from print to digital has been bumpy for many outlets, those companies choosing to focus on a digital-first future reap some early benefits.

Business Insider reports that Hearst is not only investing resources in ways to monetize its brands across voice devices—which are said to number more than 130 million by 2020—but has begun to see revenue, specifically with the Echo.

So far, Hearst has offered content such as daily horoscope readings from Elle and inspirational quotes from Oprah Winfrey, through her eponymously titled magazine.

The company also introduced something called “My Beauty Chat,” which is essentially a podcast available twice a day to subscribers in which editors offer beauty advice for five to 10 minutes. Most interesting: The podcast spans the company’s brands, including editors from Good HousekeepingCosmopolitanElle and Oprah. L’Oreal is a paid sponsor.

According to BI, Hearst has seen so much success, it is ramping up its explorations into voice devices to take advantage of its early lead. 

Chris Papaleo, executive director of emerging technology, stated the goal is to develop “skills” —what Amazon calls an Alexa command—ahead of other media companies, and get consumers into “hard-to-break” habits first.

But most interesting is a quote that appears at the end of the article from Doug Rozen, Chief Digital and Innovation Officer at the media-buying firm OMD.

Rozen stated: "We are already seeing that voice is becoming the best way for people to interact with their mobile devices. If last year was about experimenting in voice, this is the year we're talking about developing a real voice strategy. And we're all looking now at Amazon, not just as a commerce company but as a media company."

This has already become a hot issue for platforms like Facebook, which produces its own content and sells advertising, but refuses to acknowledge its position as a publisher. The social-media company, which is expected to begin shipping its own voice device called Portal in late 2018, will want a piece of the publishing action.

The more content and technology become embroiled, the more necessary it will become to establish standards to promote ethical behavior. To date, social-media platforms have been loath to do so. Amazon, not a member of that group, is a special case, given its stable of movie production, native TV shows and book publishing imprint.

But as publishers find new ways to monetize their brands through technology, the successes and pitfalls they experience will shape the media landscape — as well as human behavior. 

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