Podcast producers often refer to the podcast industry as divided into two distinct eras – pre-Serial and post-Serial.
Published in 2014, Serial is a podcast produced by some This American Life alumni that is the most-listened-to podcast in history. It was the fastest to 5 million downloads or streams on Apple iTunes and has accumulated many times more plays since then. It’s often referred to as heralding in a golden age for podcasts, credited with introducing many new users to the platform and opening up potential for the channel to develop to new heights.
There’s no doubt that Serial and other excellent podcasting content has helped attract attention to the medium in the last couple of years, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Technology is also playing its part in making podcasts more accessible.
Namely, the Amazon Echo smart speaker was launched the same year as Serial. Later, a feature called “Flash Briefing” was added to allow Echo owners to receive a daily digest of news content just by saying “Alexa, play my flash briefing.” Users are able to select their content of choice from a catalog using the Alexa mobile app. Or they can ask for a specific podcast to play back. Before Alexa, using a smartphone app or iTunes on a laptop were the best options for listening to podcast content.
In Canada, Amazon hasn’t officially released the Echo yet. Google Home launched in Canada this past summer. It offers a similar “Daily Briefing” feature that plays news, but the “News” section in the Google Home app is currently limited to a curated selection and does not allow the user to search for other content. It’s unclear how podcast producers can collaborate with Google to be featured in this area.
An official launch for Amazon’s Alexa service is anticipated for Canada before the holiday season. (Though Amazon won’t comment on that matter). But regardless, for podcast producers that are just as keen to reach a U.S. audience, a Flash Briefing Skill opens you up to an audience of more than 10 million users and growing. Amazon is clearly interested in further developing the Alexa / Echo ecosystem too.
The appealing thing about Alexa’s Skills market is that it is still a fairly new greenfield space. There are not a million other Skills that are already doing something similar to your idea, or content providers clamoring for attention just yet. But you can bet there will be. That’s why the time is now to develop your Flash Briefing Skill and capitalize on the opportunity. And I promise you won’t even have to write a single string of code.
Here’s what will make your podcast a good Flash Briefing Skill:
- It is updated with new content at least on a daily basis. A focus on news is best.
- It offers brief updates, in the case of audio podcasts you want to aim for under five minutes (though some big media publications have found success with a 15-minute length that is exceptionally produced). If you’re delivering text-based content, you want to keep it to just a few sentences.
- The title clearly represents the content of your podcast. The simpler, the better.
- Make sure your RSS feed is configured to deliver just one podcast at a time. Or if you’re using text-based updates, one story at a time. People won’t suffer listening through old content with Alexa.
How to create your Flash Briefing Skill (no coding required):
- Create an Amazon Developer account (it’s free)
- Login to the Developer Dashboard and click on “Alexa” along the top navigation
- Click on “Get Started” under the Alexa Skills Kit
- Click on “Add a New Skill”
- Select “Flash Briefing Skill API” and name your skill. Here, you simply want to type in the same name as your podcast.
- Click Next. The interaction model requires no configuration. Click Next again.
- Type in a custom error message. Don’t try to be fancy here. “Show name is not available” will suffice. This is what Alexa will play when it can’t retrieve your content to play, for any reason.
- Next to “Feed Information” click “Add new feed.” This is sort of the moment of truth to see if your podcast’s RSS feed will work with Alexa. It must be hosted on a HTTPS secure server and meet Amazon’s other requirements. Paste your feed URL into the “URL” field on the form.
- The other fields on this page are self-explanatory. Note you’ll need to crop a version of your logo that’s exactly 512×512 pixels to upload here. Make sure you’re selecting “audio” instead of “text” for your feed type.
- Click “Next” and if you can progress without an error, pat yourself on the back. Otherwise, you’ll have some techincal work to do on making your RSS feed comply with Amazon’s requirements.
- On the testing screen you can choose if you want to start testing your podcast right away or do it later. I recommend you do a beta test with your podcast before submitting for certification. So leave it as yes. Click Next.
- On the Publishing Information screen, you are entering information that is both for the users of Alexa, and its development team. Keep it as simple as possible. For example in the “testing instructions” field one sentences like “This is a simple podcast that is designed to play one audio feed” will suffice.
- The keywords are optional, but a really good idea to help users discover your content. Fill out several that are relevant to your podcast. Upload the logo images required (108×108 pixels and another 512×512 pixels) and you’re ready to click Next.
- The Privacy page should be a breeze and again self-explanatory. No real sticking points here. Click Save when you’re done.
- Wait! Don’t hit “Submit for certification” yet. First, look under the “Skills Beta Testing” box on the left-hand column. You can click “Beta Test Your Skill” and email a preview to yourself and anyone else you want to include. This will email a link that will open up the Alexa app on a smartphone and allow the recipient to add your Flash Briefing Skill to their content queue.
- Once you’ve tested it and you’re ready to publish, hit that “Submit for certification” button. It shouldn’t be more than a couple days to hear back. Good luck!