Hidden Cities

Since the Financial Times and Google announced the Hidden Cities project in 2015, the publisher has been aiming to help readers discover fresh perspectives on some of the world’s cultural and political capitals, including Brussels, Dublin, Rio De Janiero and London.

Now utilising the latest in Google technology, the news organisation is taking audiences on a journey through Berlin, guiding them through the sights and sounds of the German capital.

Using just their voice, audiences can immerse themselves in Berlin's vibrant clubs, tango scene, parks, lakes or even university hospital.

"We take audiences into the atmosphere, so they feel like they are there" said Alastair Mackie, head of digital advertising development, Financial Times at News Xchange today (15 November).

"It's an audio experience that you have to sit forward and engage with, rather than leaning back and listening to it in the background."

Using the Google Assistant app on their phone or the Google Home device, audiences can simply say “Ok Google, open Hidden Cities" for the experience to begin.

The audio documentary features Guy Chazan, the FT's Berlin bureau chief, who introduces the nine stories surrounding life in the city, while a narrator named Caroline helps audiences navigate around and jump from story to story.

"We didn't want to use the synthetic voice from Google – we wanted to use a human voice at every point, which is where Caroline came in," said Mackie.

"It is about leveraging the interactive capabilities of these devices – we are seeing a lot of growth in our audio audience and we think there is a real opportunity to create new forms of storytelling."

The publisher did a lot of user testing with their readers from its Feedback Forum since the beginning of August.

"It was challenging as there is no visual aspect to the navigation when you're listening on a smart speaker," he said.

"We are trying to make people feel comfortable when they are in the experience – listening to interviews with locals."

The publisher will now seek to analyse how long audiences spend with the experience and how they navigate through it, hoping that by producing evergreen content it will enable users to leave and come back to pick it up later.

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).