Published 2024-01-17

Schibsted’s AI voices tells you the news

Three of Schibsted’s newspapers – Aftenposten, Svenska Dagbladet and Aftonbladet – now have their own AI voices. The rest of the large papers will soon follow. Offering an option to listen to news and stories is becoming increasingly important to meet user needs.

The people behind Schibsted’s AI voices. From the left: Aftenposten’s Anne Lindholm, Aftonbladet’s Maria Bjaring and Svenska Dagbladet’s Eva Johannesson. The people behind Schibsted’s AI voices. From the left: Aftenposten’s Anne Lindholm, Aftonbladet’s Maria Bjaring and Svenska Dagbladet’s Eva Johannesson.

“Time spent on audio is growing rapidly. Around the world, more and more people listen regularly, and each person listens for a longer period of time,” says Karl Oskar Teien, Director of Product, Schibsted Subscription Newspapers.

For Aftonbladet, the need became obvious from reader surveys where the responders said they wanted to be able to listen to news summaries. And this spring they will be able to. The voice is in place and at the moment the technology is being fine-tuned.

Maria Bjaring, Aftonbladet’s well-known TV host, has lent her voice to the AI service. She has recorded 4,000 sentences for almost 80 hours in the podcast studio. The AI model will then use her voice to turn the written news summaries into spoken words.

“I immediately said yes to doing this. It’s a very exciting project. But it’s almost also philosophic to share something as personal as your voice,” Maria says.

Svenska Dagbladet learnt that their readers want to be able to do other things while taking part in the news. And their users will soon be able to listen to the morning report (morgonrapporten) to get their daily update. But more is to come – the paper sees potential to scale this across other formats during 2024.

“It’s important to be available in different formats and we know that younger users are listening to content more and more,” says Inanna Lallerstedt, Senior Product Manager.

Aftenposten was the first newspaper in Schibsted to offer this kind of service. Today their readers can listen to most of the paper’s articles, and they also get playlists with recommendations on what more to listen to.

For Aftenposten, the project started out with their newspaper for children – Aftenposten Junior. Since it’s used in schools, there was a need to make the content available to all children, including those who struggle with reading or are blind. But this is of course also a challenge in society at large.

“Today a large part of society is left out when it comes to consuming journalism. It is, in fact, a democratic problem,” says Lena Beate Hamborg Pedersen, Product Manager at Schibsted Subscription Newspapers who led the initial project.

So, in many ways, it’s a great opportunity to offer an audio alternative to text. According to Karl Oskar Teien, there are some clear drivers behind this change in behaviour. While audio as a product is nothing new per se, there are many ways in which the current move to audio is different from traditional broadcast radio:

  • It’s fuelled partially by hardware adoption, led by AirPods’ exponential growth. Several other wearable devices have also seen double-digit sales growth over the last few years. The convenience of these new devices means people now wear headphones more often and in situations they previously wouldn’t – even while talking to their friends!
  • Our mobile devices are always connected, enabling users to listen to any topic at any time while doing other things. The ability to multitask is one of the main reasons users turn to audio in their busy lives.
  • Lastly, the sheer volume of content is growing rapidly, with an entire publishing industry transitioning to audiobooks, and all-time-high investments from tech- and media companies going into the podcast industry.

As a result, the number of listeners is growing rapidly. In Norway, the share of users listening to podcasts per month nearly doubled, from 24% in 2017 to 43% in 2020. Between 2020 and 2023, the share of people who had listened to at least one podcast in the last year increased from 38% to 46%. Two out of ten Norwegians listen to podcasts every day. Among Swedish users in general, the average time spent on podcasts and radio daily already matches that of digital news consumption.

So no wonder several of the Schibsted newspapers are turning their text stories into audio stories. VG, Bergens Tidende and Stavanger Aftenblad have all either started the process or decided to do so.

Schibsted News Media is working and experimenting with different AI tools and technologies to create more relevant content and better experiences.

Read more about how we look at the potential ahead:

Unleashing the potential of AI in news
Trust and credibility will fuel news media
Aftonbladet is ready for the AI revolution