Amazon Alexa now offers long-form news coverage in addition to Flash Briefings

One of the top use cases for Amazon Alexa is its ability to quickly summarize the day’s headlines via its customizable “Flash Briefing” skill. Now, Amazon is rolling out a new feature that will allow Alexa device owners to get more in-depth news from their preferred news provider, with this week’s launch of “long-form news.” Currently, the new feature works with news from Bloomberg, CNBC, CNN, Fox News, Newsy and NPR, Amazon says.

Getting the news is already a top voice activity among smart speakers owners. According to a 2018 Adobe survey, 46 percent of voice assistant users ask their smart speaker for news. And today’s Alexa Skill Store lists over 5,000 voice apps in its News category, which indicates some level of consumer demand for this sort of content.

But sometimes users want more than just a set of quick headlines.  That’s where Alexa’s in-depth news feature aims to help.

Amazon says that voice commands like “Alexa, tell me the news,” “Alexa play news,” or “Alexa play news from…” followed by the source’s name, will now launch in-depth news sessions featuring stories curated by the news provider. This can include stories from NPR’s most popular radio shows, CNN’s top headlines, Newsy’s video news, and others.

Both Newsy and CNBC will offer video news stories on Alexa devices with a screen, like the Echo Show and Echo Spot. The rest will be audio-only.

Customers can listen or watch all the news stories or move through the different stories with verbal commands like “Alexa, next” or “Alexa, skip” to jump ahead.

When you ask Alexa for the news for the first time, the assistant will ask for your preferred provider. You’ll also be able to change this later in the same Settings screen where you currently configure your Flash Briefing preferences.

This is a little confusing because the section is still labeled Flash Briefing, instead of something more appropriate, like “News” or “News settings,” for example.

In addition, the process of using the new feature is a bit different for those customers who have already been using Flash Briefing, which is also confusing.

If a Flash Briefing user asks Alexa for the news, the assistant will continue to play the Flash Briefing you’ve already configured and are used to accessing by saying things like “Alexa what’s the news?” or “Alexa, tell me the news,” among other things.

If you want to instead now hear the long-form version of the news, you’ll need to specify a source by saying the specific command: “Alexa, play the news from CNN” (or whichever news provider you prefer.)

Amazon seems to understand this process is a little clunky, telling us it’s still “early days” for the feature and it will “continue to listen to customer feedback and evolve the experience over time.”

The launch is a big bet that smart speaker owners want to do more than stream music, control their smart home, or perform other minor tasks, like setting alarms, timers, or using lists, for instance. Instead, it sees Amazon Alexa, to some extent, taking the place of watching a nightly news telecast. That’s an option that many of today’s cord cutters don’t have, as they’ve given up pay TV for just Netflix or some other mix for streaming apps.

Longer-form content could also give Amazon a place to put ad units in the future, if it wanted to go that route.

The long-form news feature began rolling out to customers in the U.S. on Monday.

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