Hey, Beeb? BBC to launch new voice assistant to accompany iPlayer
James R | On 27, Aug 2019
The BBC is planning to launch its own voice assistant in the next year, in a move that puts it in competition with Amazon and Google.
The working title for the assistant is “Beeb”, which would be the wake-word for the assistant, helping users to interact with BBC iPlayer and other online services. So far, voice assistants have been powered by their own speakers too, but the Beeb will be focused on software rather than hardware, with the assistant instead to be built into the BBC website and iPlayer app, as well as made available to other manufacturers.
Similarly, the BBC’s lack of resources compared to other major tech firms means that it will not be trying to replicate the same functions on offer by Amazon and others, instead focusing on engaging users with its existing content.
The shift to its own assistant, though, is nonetheless partly commercially motivated: Beeb will mean that the BBC can gather data on users and what they consume, making it easier to measure directly what content and platforms to develop.
With an assistant of its own, the BBC will be able to “experiment with new programmes, features and experiences without someone else’s permission to build it in a certain way”, said a spokesperson.
The BBC has also noted that “Beeb” is a working title, although the word has worked well in research so far. The main challenge, rather, is recognising regional accents from across the UK: the BBC is asking staff around the country to record their voices to train the programme to recognise a range of voices.
“Much like we did with BBC iPlayer, we want to make sure everyone can benefit from this new technology, and bring people exciting new content, programmes and services – in a trusted, easy-to-use way,” added the spokesperson. “This marks another step in ensuring public service values can be protected in a voice-enabled future.”