Creating magical listening experiences with BlueToad and Amazon Polly

This is a guest blog post by Paul DeHart, co-owner and CEO, BlueToad.

BlueToad, one of the leading global providers of digital content solutions, prioritizes innovation. Since 2017, we have enabled publishers (our customers) to provide audio versions of articles found in their digital magazines using Amazon Polly.

We see that novel content experiences engage today’s audience. In addition to the significant growth seen in mobile content engagement, audio has emerged as a preferred content consumption method. A 2019 Infinite Dial study found that U.S. consumers reported an average of 17 hours of listening a week. Nearly 40%+ of Americans now own smart speakers like Amazon Echo. Furthermore, the time that Americans spend commuting is on the rise and most vehicles can easily access and play audio from a mobile device. As a result, 90 million Americans said they listened to a podcast last month.

Given this trend towards audio, we at BlueToad developed a solution to help publishers easily turn any article into a listening experience using Amazon Polly. When a reader opens a digital edition on their phone, they can choose the audio icon on the story to begin listening. From a publisher perspective, this feature is simple to implement, as it only requires checking a box on the BlueToad platform. BlueToad and Amazon Polly do all the heavy lifting.

We selected Amazon Polly for this solution because of its ease of use as well as its unmatched performance. When first implementing audio solutions, we tested Amazon Polly and a few other voice services and we ultimately found that Polly was the most consistently accurate.

With Polly’s newly released Neural Text-to-Speech (NTTS) Newscaster style voice, we are able to help publishers engage their audiences with realistic listening experiences at the touch of a button. (Amazon Polly released NTTS and Newscaster speaking styles on July 30, 2019; check out the documentation.)

The diverse set of Polly voices helps our customers deliver captivating audio experiences to their audiences, including matching publications’ local languages and accents. We work with many publications with an international distribution, such as Lion Magazine, which publishes over 30 international editions distributed across the globe. To help international readers enjoy the magazine, we provide narrations in different languages using Amazon Polly, such as the French-speaking Polly voices Mathieu, Céline, and Léa.

BlueToad offers U.S.-based customer SUCCESS Magazine a wide array of valuable audio, mobile, and other solutions powered by AWS. SUCCESS Magazine’s audience is interested in personal and professional development, and the magazine aims to reach those self-starter individuals in convenient ways amid their inevitably busy lives. Amazon Polly’s voice solutions form a large part of the answer, enabling a seamlessly hands-free content consumption experience.

The owner and CEO of SUCCESS Magazine, Stuart Johnson, comments, “The trends increasingly show that consumers are gravitating towards audio content. With the exceedingly high-quality speech that Amazon Polly now offers, we’re even better equipped to deliver these exceptional listening experiences to our audience.”

We also help SUCCESS by providing a mobile-optimized experience for their written content, enabling readers to engage wherever they are. Across our entire platform, the results speak for themselves: Over three years (2016-2019), article engagement on mobile phones increased by nearly 300%.

From a technical perspective, our implementation is straightforward. Using the Amazon Polly APIs, we generate MP3 audio files as soon as a new article publishes on our platform. Then, we store the resulting files in Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) buckets. To always maintain the best possible narration quality, we automatically discard older audio files by setting lifecycle policies on the Amazon S3 buckets, which prompts the narrations to be regenerated with the latest set of Polly updates included. We have found that the Amazon Polly listening quality is extremely high and only keeps getting better.

Going forward, we’re excited about the opportunities to continue delighting our customers and their customers with the latest advances in the media industry. Thanks to AWS and Amazon Polly, we’re already able to deliver a best-in-class solution for our customers. We’re primed to keep improving and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible.