While consumers may be reading daily newspapers less, one morning habit hasn’t changed: the commute. Now, the Tribune Co.’s innovation and technology unit wants drivers and bus riders to listen to audio versions of its stories.
Newsbeat, the first major consumer product by Tribune Digital Ventures, will use human readers and text-to-speech technology to create audio versions of the stories, according to Shashi Seth, president of the unit. Taking a page from Pandora Media, the application personalizes stories according to user interests and other signals. It even uses mapping tools to anticipate how long the audio should play before the commute ends.
Tribune is stepping up efforts to find more ways to attract customers as news habits change. With Newsbeat, the company is trying to tap into the growing demand for digital entertainment when users are in their vehicles. Apple and Google — whose operating systems dominate the smartphone market — have unveiled new efforts to get their software into cars.
“The timing is really good,” said Seth, who worked previously at Yahoo! and Google. “What we’re aiming for is not only the mainstream, but also the really long tail.”
In addition, Tribune recently bought Gracenote from Sony, giving it a music service that already works with many leading in-dash car systems.
The Newsbeat application will have access to more than 7,000 stories daily from Tribune newspapers and partners services, he said. This includes the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and The Baltimore Sun. The service, which will be supported by audio ads, is available in the Android and Apple App Store.