UPDATE: The company will seek advertisers to monetize the service.
Ever wished you could listen to, instead of read, content on your favorite Web sites? Ever wished you or your client could sponsor such podcasts? The New York Times Company's International Herald Tribune (IHT) is attempting to fulfill those wishes for its readers and advertisers, by beta testing a service that lets users choose which articles to instantly transform into an audio format.
"We are excited because this is a scaleable way to advertise in audio, as opposed to doing a one-off podcast, which can be fantastic, and we'll look into doing that, but this is scaleable," said Meredith Artley, editor & director of IHT.com.
The company hasn't yet signed up advertisers, but has pitched some on the offer, which would put :05 or :10 audio ads at the beginning and possibly the end of articles. Creative could either be a produced, radio-style ad, or text that could be read by the same automated system that reads the articles. The company envisions putting spots on every third, or every fifth, article, to avoid bombarding listeners with the same message over and over.
"We want to make sure that the advertising experience is varied and not overly repetitive and not getting in the way of the news," said Artley.
The IHT is offering the new service at audionews.iht.com using technology from Swedish firm ReadSpeaker. The company hasn't released the details of how its system works, but professional readers apparently record a dictionary of words in advance, and the technology assembles them on the fly. Users can select stories they want to hear immediately, or customize a feed of content that could be imported into iTunes or other podcasting software.
Roy Lindemann, managing director of ReadSpeaker France, said the service is, "a very convenient way for [the IHT's] readers to listen to vast amount of news text when traveling, commuting, doing sports or simply at home or at work."
The service seeks to tap into the tiny, but growing, population that's interested in podcasting. A Nielsen//Netratings study released yesterday finds that 6.6 percent of the U.S. adult online population, or 9.2 million Web users, have downloaded an audio podcast in the past 30 days. Artley said she expects early adopters to be a tech-savvy audience that's keen to try new technology.
There's potential that, should the test be successful, it could be rolled out across other New York Times Company properties like NYTimes.com and Boston.com.
"We're the guinea pigs on this one. We wanted to experiment with this one and push it out, but we're all part of the same family," said Artley. "This happens all the time in smaller ways... we share information internally and tweak and evolve."
According to the company's citation of a DoubleClick stat, IHT.com receives 2.7 million unique readers monthly.
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Pamela Parker is a former managing editor of ClickZ News, Features, and Experts. She's been covering interactive advertising and marketing since the boom days of 1999, chronicling the dot-com crash and the subsequent rise of the medium. Before working at ClickZ, Parker was associate editor at @NY, a pioneering Web site and e-mail newsletter covering New York new media start-ups. Parker received a master's degree in journalism, with a concentration in new media, from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.
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