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News Corp boss raises alarm about Google’s voice plans for news

The boss of News Corp Australia has warned that Google is set to snatch listeners from  the radio and podcast industry in the same way it has disrupted the world of publishing.

Writing in The Australian today, News Corp’s executive chairman, Michael Miller, suggested Google’s plans to create a spoken news service could cripple the radio industry and stunt the growth of publishers’ attempts to break into podcasting and other audio services. He claimed participants are being pressured to join the audio Google News service but said Google is declining to pay for the content at this stage.

“Google has resisted approaches from publishers to work out some form of fair commercial agreement in advance of launching its audio news service,” Miller wrote. “It says it wants to achieve ‘scale’ first.”

The search engine giant launched a prototype of the artificial intelligence driven voice news service in December after a year of working with publishers including The Associated Press, Hollywood Reporter, and the South China Morning Post.

Australian media companies have been slow to roll out services on Google Voice however some brands, such as Officeworks, have been experimenting with the platform.

Local broadcasters have been more enthusiastic about Amazon’s rival voice product, Alexa, with Commercial Radio Australia launching a rebroadcasting app for the service at last year’s Radio Alive conference. Southern Cross Austereo last year announced it would push out Hit and Triple M programs on the Amazon platform.

News Corp’s Michael Miller: “Google intends to profit off the creativity and ­industry of journalists and media businesses without paying for the privilege”

Google declined to comment about Miller’s article while Commercial Radio Australia had not been able to reply at the time of publication.

News Corp was absent from Google’s original list of industry collaborators, which also included the NY Times, NBC and The Washington Post, with Miller claiming the publishers in the pilot have been pressured by Google to participate in the program.

“Publishers are being asked to breakdown podcasts, audio news briefings and radio broadcasts into ‘single topic stories’ that Google’s algorithm can reorganise into a personalised newsfeed for individual users based on their interests,” Miller wrote.

“That may sound innocuous at first, but in reality, it’s a way for Google to drive consumers from publishers’ websites and radio ­stations, and keep them in the Google ecosystem.

“In other words, Google intends to profit off the creativity and ­industry of journalists and media businesses without paying for the privilege.”

Millar cited BuzzFeed’s current financial problems as an example of the dangers for publishers collaborating too closely with digital platforms such Google and Facebook.

He wrote: “Even newish digital darlings like BuzzFeed – once thought to be a news model for modern times — are learning fast the pain Google (and Facebook) can cause through their dominance of how information is distributed, and how dependent publishers are on the whims of the tech giants’ ­algorithms.”

He added: “But this is something that should concern all businesses and consumers, not just media. Where a company such as Google has incredible power, its approach is to take, not give back or share. That is hardly a role model for how business relationships should work.”

Mumbrella’s Audioland conference on May 2 will explore the rich ecosystem of the audio industry including content creation, distribution, marketing, industry trends, new technology and more. Early bird tickets are available now.

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