- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2006

The Washington Times last week debuted a feature on its Web site that allows visitors to listen to articles.

The new feature, known as “Click-2-Listen,” immediately converts nearly all staff stories into audio files that listeners can hear on the spot or download to their MP3 players to listen to later.

“Essentially, it’s a different interface to the same content that we currently have,” said Bob Adkins, Internet director for The Washington Times. “Instead of the user being bound to just a browser like a typical Internet application, now we can push the content to their cell phone or their MP3 device.”

The Click-2-Listen service, developed by Newsworthy Audio, is the first step in a two-phase rollout of on-demand access features at The Times. The second phase, expected in the next few days, will feature daily podcasts of articles.

Media analysts said it remains to be seen how popular The Times’ text-to-audio function will be, but agreed that on-demand access to content is the wave of the future.

“It can serve as a bridge in terms of convergence — it’s a way for a paper to step toward a more multimedia sort of platform,” said Casey Frechette, an interactive-learning producer at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla. “It could be a way to drive traffic from the paper to a Web site.”

Users don’t need to install any software for Click-2-Listen, and they can download the audio file to their hard drives at any time while the article is playing.

Some files contain an advertisement to offset the cost of converting text to audio, but most do not, according to Mr. Adkins.

While numerous publications use podcasts, analysts said they were not aware of another news publication that converts all articles to audio files.

“Currently, you might see sites having podcasts of columnists or selected stories,” said Michael Pond, a media analyst for Nielsen/NetRatings. “This is really giving the consumer the choice as to what stories they might want to convert into an audio file to take with them.”

Some analysts were skeptical of Click-2-Listen, however.

“I don’t understand what they are trying to do here,” said Barry Parr, a media analyst for Jupiter Research, who said traditional podcasts are faster and easier to use for those who want portable listening.

“Unless there’s a missing piece that I’m not getting, that’s not the right way to deliver audio,” he said.

John Morton, a newspaper analyst in Silver Spring, questioned the need for a listening capability.

“Why listen to it when you can read it so much faster?” said Mr. Morton, president of Morton Research Inc. “This may be the greatest thing since sliced bread — on the other hand, there may not be much attention paid to it. I don’t know.”

Mr. Adkins said research showed that visitors to WashingtonTimes.com are currently more interested in streaming audio than podcasts.

“The greatest use was people listening from their browser while they were doing other work so they could multitask,” he said. “But we’ll constantly be looking for alternative delivery methods.”

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