Bloomberg Media Group’s chief product officer sees big opportunities in audio

Julia Beizer joined Bloomberg Media Group as its first chief product officer in January — and since then, she said, “Audio has been a big part of my world.”

Specifically, Beizer’s team has been releasing products for different smart speakers including Apple’s HomePod, Amazon’s Echo Show and most recently Google Home, with the launch of the First Word news briefing for both Google Home and the Google Assistant app. Bloomberg has also turned its video news show TicToc (initially created for Twitter) into an audio podcast. And by leveraging Amazon Polly for text-to-audio conversion, the company now offers audio versions of every article on the Bloomberg website and app.

Beizer joined Bloomberg from The Huffington Post (which, like TechCrunch, is owned by Verizon’s digital subsidiary Oath). She pointed out that these new initiatives represent a range of different approaches to audio news, from the “beautiful, bespoke, handcrafted audio projects” that you can create via podcasts, to an automated solution like text-to-speech that allows Bloomberg to offer audio in a more scalable way.

“What that really represents is utility,” said Beizer, “We want to fit into our consumers’ lives in different ways.”

She added that since text-to-speech launched at the beginning of May, her team has found that “the people who use it, use it a lot,” listening to two to three articles per session on average.

And beyond the success of individual products, Beizer suggested that these audio initiatives represent a new “culture of experimentation.”

“Newsrooms historically thought a lot about what we have to offer to the world,” Beizer said. “That’s a mindset that’s really built for the world when people had morning newspaper habits or watched the 6pm newscast every night. For us to be relevant in consumers’ lives, we have to adapt to how they are consuming media.”

That means trying out new things, and it also means shutting them down if they’re not working.

“I often say: Launching things is my favorite thing to do, and killing things is my second favorite thing to do,” she said. So it’s possible that some of these audio products won’t exist in a year, though she also argued, “Audio writ large — specific intiaitives aside — is something I believe is a trend that isn’t go away.”

Not that Beizer is spending all her time on audio. She acknowledged that the “pivot to video” has become a punchline in digital media, but she said that as she looks ahead, she still wants to find new ways to repackage and promote Bloomberg’s TV content for an online audience. She also said that the site’s new paywall represents “a huge opportunity.”

“We’re completely rethinking how we deliver our content —we want it to be essential to users’ lives,” she said. “That ties directly into subscription. I’ve worked in subscription before, and it gives you real clarity about your user and your audience.”

Essential is releasing a wired headphone jack accessory

Essential has been nearly radio silent since reports surfaced late last month that Andy Rubin was looking for a buyer for his hardware startup. The company didn’t really confirm or deny the rumors — or say much else for that matter. A few weeks later, the company does have some news — but it’s not what you were most likely expecting.

The startup just dropped the second modular accessory for its first smartphone. The Audio Adapter HD features a built-in amp and the ability to play back MQA (Master Quality Authenticated), a hi-res streaming audio technology. Oh, and there’s a 3.5mm audio jack, because everything that’s old is new again.

The new add-on is set to drop at some point this summer. The company has also teamed up with Tidal. The streaming service has also reportedly had some issues of late, though, for its part, the company did offer a more outright denial. The partnership gives new and existing Essential customers a three-month trial subscription of Tidal’s HiFi service — a taste of what they’ve been missing with their low bit rates.

The company has declined to provide pricing for the add-on. Its first mod, the 360-degree camera, retailed for $200 at launch, though that price has since dropped considerably on retailers like Amazon — much like the Essential phone itself. As with the camera, the Audio Adapter HD feels like a niche, compared to mods from Motorola, which include things like battery packs and speakers.

At the very least, however, it does show that there’s still some life left in the Essential line.

Microsoft’s plan for GitHub: “Make GitHub better at being GitHub”

As part of Microsoft’s $7.5 billion purchase of cloud source code repository GitHub, the company is installing a new CEO. Once the deal closes (which is expected to happen later this year), out will go GitHub co-founder Chris Wanstrath and in will come Nat Friedman. Friedman is the former CEO of Xamarin, the cross-platform .NET implementation that Microsoft bought in 2016.

Friedman brings solid open-source bona fides: core parts of the Xamarin stack were open source, and Friedman’s previous company, Ximian, was created to develop the open-source GNOME project. His appointment should quell many of the fears that open-source developers have about the takeover. To engage with the community further, Friedman today did a Reddit AMA to answer questions about the acquisition.

The main thrust of his replies? Microsoft doesn’t really intend to change much at GitHub. When asked if GitHub users should expect any big alterations, Friedman answered that Microsoft is “buying GitHub because [it] likes GitHub” and intends to “make GitHub better at being GitHub.” Although there will be “full integration” between GitHub and Visual Studio Team Services, there won’t be any radical changes in trajectory or service offerings.

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