Google will show off branded 'how to' videos for its smart assistant in May

  • Google is pitching brands on a new "how to" feature for its smart assistant that would include videos with step-by-step guides.
  • The pitch shows a concrete example of how Google could someday monetize the Assistant and Google Home smart speaker line-up.
  • It also adds another hint that Google could unveil a new version of the Home with a screen at its IO conference in May.
The silhouettes of attendees are seen at the Google booth during the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Jan. 11, 2018.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The silhouettes of attendees are seen at the Google booth during the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Jan. 11, 2018.

Google has been pitching companies to create videos for a new "How To" feature for its smart assistant. It plans to show the feature at its annual conference for software developers in May, according to a person who's seen the pitch.

The "how to" skill would provide videos with step-by-step instructions when a user asks how to do something. For example, Johnson and Johnson could create a video about how to bathe a baby, or Kraft could make a video with a recipe for cheese fondue.

A person with knowledge of the matter said that Google is not launching any advertising or monetization related initiatives at its conference. Even so, the feature hints at how Google could eventually make money from its smart assistant and Google Home smart speaker, which go up against Amazon's Alexa and Echo.

As more people start using these voice-powered smart assistants, tech companies and advertisers alike are looking for ways to monetize the new format. It's especially important for Google parent company Alphabet, which makes nearly 85 percent of its revenue from advertising, and will need new ways to serve ads as people start more of their searches through a smart assistant instead of on a screen.

While surfacing a how-to video from a brand will be free, initially, Google could eventually charge companies for promotion.

The pitch also offers further indication that Google could launch a new version of its Home device with a screen, similar to Amazon's Echo Show. Last fall, TechCrunch reported that Google was working on a tabletop smart screen with access to Assistant, as well as YouTube and Google Photos integration.

The videos could also be played on non-Google devices that use its Assistant. Late last year, Google announced partnerships with Lenovo, LG, and others to create Assistant-powered "smart displays."

No money changing hands — yet

Google is telling brands that the How To action will be announced at Google's IO conference for software developers in May, although it won't actually launch until several months later, according to the person who's seen the pitch. Google has already pitched brands related to DIY, beauty, and consumer goods on this format. This person declined to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the project.

Currently, if you ask Google's Assistant on the Home smart speaker for a recipe, like how to make roasted brussel sprouts, or for guidance on something, like how to re-chain a bicycle, the answer will come from whatever Google's algorithms put in its "featured snippet" box on search.

Brands today can also create their own free "Actions" which allow users to interact with their content. For example, Home users can ask to talk to the "Estee Lauder Nightime Expert" to get skin-care tips.

However, the "how to" opportunity will give companies a more integrated, useful way to provide branded information to users.

Google often works with brands as early access partners for new features and a person with knowledge of the situation says there's currently no monetization strategy in place for either side.

This recalls an incident last spring, when users criticized Google for tacking an apparent advertisement for the movie "Beauty and the Beast" onto its daily briefing feature. Google denied it was an ad before quickly pulling the feature, suggesting that it was a trial rather than a paid commercial.

Meanwhile, Amazon has also started experimenting with different ad formats, like paid search and other promotional opportunities, sources told CNBC earlier this year.