Noa’s new Alexa skill has human narrators read news from NYT, FT, Economist & others

News junkies who want something more in-depth than Alexa’s Flash Briefing now have a new option for listening to the day’s news – as well as features and other reporting – right from their smart speaker. A company called Noa has just launched an Alexa skill that uses human narrators to read you the news from top publishers like The New York Times, Financial Times, The Economist, and others. With the skill, you can catch up on the stories you missed while you’re doing other things – like cooking, cleaning, commuting or exercising, for example.

The skill is aimed at those who already enjoy listening to longer-form audio, like podcasts or talk radio, on their Amazon Echo or other Alexa-powered device.

The use case here is also similar to that of “read it later” apps like Pocket or Instapaper, both of which have added an audio playback option for listening to your saved articles.

However, those apps currently rely on text-to-speech functionality, not on human narration.

Noa, meanwhile, employs a team of half a dozen narrators based across the U.S., U.K., and Ireland who read the stories published by the company’s current partners. These include: The New York Times, Financial Times, Business Insider, The Economist, The Independent, Bloomberg, The Irish Times, and the Evening Standard.

That list will grow in 2019 to include more news organizations and magazine partners, the company says.

To use the skill, you must first enable it on your Alexa device by saying, “Alexa, enable Noa.” (It’s pronounced like the “Noah” from the Bible – the one with the Ark.)

You can then ask Noa to read the news by published, journalist or category.

For example, you can say “Alexa, open Noa and play ‘The New York Times;’” or “Alexa, ask Noa to play Tim Bradshaw;” or “Alexa, open Noa and play ‘Technology.” 

Not all articles from the publisher partners will be available, explains Noa CEO Gareth Hickey.

“Only a limited subset of articles lend themselves well to audio – namely, the opinion and feature style stories.  Essentially longer-form journalism,” he says.

The skill also employs a metered-access paywall that allows listeners to stream up to ten articles per week for free. To listen to more, you have to subscribe at $7.99 per month (or €/£7.99 per month, depending on location) for unlimited access. The company doesn’t currently support Amazon Pay, so you’ll have to sign up at Noa’s website or through its mobile apps, if you want to upgrade.

The Alexa skill is the latest from the Dublin-based startup Noa, founded in 2015 by Hickey and Shane Ennis, with the goal of providing access to audio journalism.

“While audio-journalism is a core part of our offering, personalised discovery and quality curation are equally as important,” Hickey says. “The goal isn’t to inundate users with audio articles, but instead to help them learn and understand the news,” he adds.

Given Noa’s focus on audio, smart speakers make sense as the next big platform to address – especially now that they’ve reached critical mass. The startup raised $600,000 last year, Hickey notes. 

It’s not the only company working to provide human narration of the news for the booming smart speaker market. SpokenLayer, for instance, currently powers “Spoken Edition” podcasts for many news publishers, including TechCrunch. And Amazon’s Audible Channels launched with spoken-word recordings from publishers like the The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Foreign Affairs, Charlie Rose, McSweeney’s, The Onion and other periodicals.

Noa’s Alexa skill is called “Noa – Journalism, narrated,” and is free to install and use for up to 10 articles per week.

Noa also has a limited presence on Google Home, allowing listeners to hear four Editors’ Picks each day. But its next version will allow for journalist, publisher and category navigation – the same as on Alexa. Noa will soon launch on Android Auto and CarPlay, as well.

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