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An Amazon Echo. Photo: Joby Sessions/T3 Magazine via Getty Images

The New York Times plans to build custom Alexa skills for advertisers through its branded content studio for roughly six figures. The campaigns will be sold as a white label service, with no distribution offering — just production.

Why it matters: Amazon doesn’t let brands sell sponsorships or ad integrations for Alexa, so this is the next best way for the NYT to make money off budding new technology for marketers.

Details: NYT is pitching the business after 3 months of field research showing how consumers will react to the technology.

  • It will use its 175-person branded content studio called T Brand Studio, which is expected to take over 3 months per custom skill.
  • One of the research findings presented to advertisers includes that fact that consumers think voice is a healthier form of technology than other types of tech, like social media.
  • This is because it’s responsive and doesn’t push users to a feed or another media assets they may not want to engage with.

Sebastian Tomich, NYT global head of advertising and marketing solutions, says the company can pitch what its newsroom has learned while building an Alexa skill on the backbone of storytelling, which allows it to better understand how the technology works.

  • For now, he says, the types of clients that a custom skill build-out is most likely to attract are ones with products at the core of its offering, like e-commerce brands or consumer packaged goods companies.
  • But, longer-term plans are to look for partners to build skills for as it expands its newsroom skills experiments into more categories, like travel, music, books, sports and news.
  • So far, Audi has been announced as its first partner, but the company is in talks with several others for potential deals over the next few months.

Between the lines: The NYT strategy is really just to get ahead of any emerging tech and share those insights with its brand partners, even it's still in early stages.

  • Beginning in 2015, for example, Tomich's team began selling customized virtual reality videos to brands to run alongside NYT's VR videos that could be viewed through Google Cardboard VR headsets.
  • VR never quite caught on among consumers, but it showed marketers that the NYT was willing to take risks in efforts that drive innovation and relevancy, per Tomich. 
  • "I like to think of these things in two-year cycles, where there's an opportunity to try a new platform and leverage the credibility of newsroom to help propel us on brand side think of new creative executions for clients. Rather than say 'this is the future,' we see a two-year period to tap into a market growing fast and see if it could be viable long-term," Tomich adds.

The big picture: Data shows that there's a "skills gap" in the news sector on voice assistants. The Reuters Institute for Politics and Oxford University found last year that while news is widely requested on voice assistants in the U.K., it's less valued because there are fewer user engagement skills created in the news and storytelling industries compared to topics like traffic or weather.

Go deeper: Amazon ramps up effort to make Alexa more ubiquitous

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Democratic leaders struck an agreement with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) on emergency unemployment insurance late Friday, clearing the way for Senate action on President Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus package to resume after an hours-long delay.

The state of play: The Senate will now work through votes on a series of amendments that are expected to last overnight into early Saturday morning.

Capitol review panel recommends more police, mobile fencing

Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

A panel appointed by Congress to review security measures at the Capitol is recommending several changes, including mobile fencing and a bigger Capitol police force, to safeguard the area after a riotous mob breached the building on Jan. 6.

Why it matters: Law enforcement officials have warned there could be new plots to attack the area and target lawmakers, including during a speech President Biden is expected to give to a joint session of Congress.

Financial fallout from the Texas deep freeze

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Texas has thawed out after an Arctic freeze last month threw the state into a power crisis. But the financial turmoil from power grid shock is just starting to take shape.

Why it matters: In total, electricity companies are billions of dollars short on the post-storm payments they now owe to the state's grid operator. There's no clear path for how they will pay — something being watched closely across the country as extreme weather events become more common.