Creating Your Flash Briefings
Flash Briefings are issued as part of an Alexa Skill that is free of charge.
The Skill has a single Channel from Standfirst with a feed in it.
A feed has any number of Flash Briefings within it.
A Flash Briefing comprises of up to five items made up of Audio, Video (in the case of a handful TV channels on Alexa - we can support video on request for Enterprise customers), or Text to Speech content.
The above gives an idea of the hierarchy. A Channel can contain a number of Flash Briefings both from the past and going into the future. Each Flash Briefing will contain between one and five items. You can create and schedule future content. The most recent published Flash Briefing that is live is what is sent to the Alexa platform.
Defining Your Channel
Once logged in, you will see a screen like this, with perhaps some slight differences depending on whether you have other services from us:
So click that big plus sign and we get to:
The Channel Name really matters. You’ll use that to identify your channel. It will help to align it to your planned Skill name. The description helps but isn’t actually displayed anywhere. If you’re wanting to use the Channel, even if the Skill is not yet set up on Alexa, you’ll want to keep the status as Active.
When you press Save, you’ll see the screen changes and you now have the Feed URL available on the right. This is the URL you will give to the Alexa Skill in the developer dashboard at Amazon. If you don’t need it right now, you can always come back to the Channel settings.
The screen will look like this:
And that’s it! You’ve created your channel!
The Flash Briefings Builder Tool
Each briefing can be made up of one or more items, which can be mixed as text, video or audio. However, most briefings are just one item of one type, audio being the most popular.
You can prepare content either daily, or in advance and schedule it to automatically be added to the feed that Alexa will collect from. For example, if your Flash Briefing is a “Tip of the Day” type briefing, then you could produce thirty flash briefings in one batch and then upload them for the next month with schedules covering each day.
Building your first Flash Briefing
Obviously, the first thing to do is to create your content! We’ve created some tips for how to maximise your impact:
Keep a text briefing down to about 150 words in length.
Audio and video briefings should be around one to two minutes long. Anything longer and it can intrude on the series of briefings that people like to listen to. However, there’s an argument that in some niches up to ten minutes is acceptable.
Alexa devices are most popular with people where their hands are generally busy or dirty. Aim for audiences such as people working in their kitchen, the garage, a laboratory, and so on. Relatively few people use the Alexa app on their smartphones.
When recording audio, make sure that the sound is clear and there are no distracting background noises. You can get surprisingly clear audio recordings by using cheap USB headsets, or if you need to record multiple people you will need a suitable microphone in a quiet room. In situations where a silent room is not possible a cheap mixing desk and lavalier microphones can be used with a great deal of success.
Punch and Roll is a recording technique that helps you quickly correct for errors, especially when reading from prepared texts. It’s possible in both Audacity and Audition.
Watch our website for hints and tips!
Defining the first Flash Briefing
When you open up the Flash Briefings for the first time, you’ll see there are no Flash Briefings listed. Click the Plus button to get started!
Once you do, you’ll be presented with your starting point:
Let’s first run through the left hand of the screen:
The title of this set is internal to the platform and won’t be displayed on the user’s Alexa.
If you only have one channel, this will default to that. It’s possible to run multiple Flash Briefings from one subscription, and the amount available changes according to your subscription level.
As soon as you hit save and any processing requirements on media files is completed, the Flash Briefing will become available to the Alexa platform for distribution. Depending on your settings in your developer account this will take anywhere between a minute and an hour. In most cases we find it’s done within a few minutes.
The Feed Items
On the right of the Flash Briefings screen, you’ll see the panel where you define your feed. Let’s run through the fields and how they work. First, you’ll notice that they’re boxed off with an Item number.
The fields are pretty self explanatory, but let’s run through them anyway, starting with the title of the box itself:
This is the order of the item in the feed and as read by Alexa. If you add a feed item or items to a Flash Briefing, they will be read out the next time a user says “Alexa, tell me the news” whilst the already read items should be skipped.
This is displayed on the screen of the app or on screen based Alexa devices.
For most users we only support these three types. Please contact us if Amazon has given you permission to include video streams in your feeds.
Text is read out by the Alexa voice.
Upload Audio allows you to upload a file, either by dragging and dropping, or through a dialog box. When selected it looks like this:
If you’re on a slow connection, you may see the progress bar. On a fast connection most MP3s will load up quickly enough that you’ll just see an orange flash.
Once uploaded, a player will let you preview the audio file. By default, Standfirst will automatically reprocess the audio file to Amazon’s Alexa requirements. This is probably the trickiest thing to get consistently right, so we decided to help out there! If your workflow already meets these standards, then you can go to your options panel (look for the cog ) and turn this processing off.
Please note that files above 24MB in size are not supported. 24MB, if encoded at the correct bitrate, is enough for about ten minutes of high quality audio which is the limit allowed by Amazon for an Alexa Flash Briefing.
Once satisfied with the file selected, press the green Select File button in the bottom left corner and you will have successfully set up an audio file for Alexa to use.
If you click the X symbol, you can remove a file to upload a new one.
There is currently no facility to see what the processing has done to your audio file other than to play it on the Alexa or to read the feed and extract the MP3 from there. A future update to the platform will include a facility to review the processed file.
Related Article URL
App users can click through to view a related article in the browser, if you have one:
Click on Remove Item if you don’t wish that item to be in that Flash Briefing feed any longer. You will be asked if you’re sure because once deleted, the item cannot be restored without being recreated by you.