BBC developing Alexa rival for regional accents

“Aye oop Beeb …. switch to ITV”

by Andy Bassett
Movies & TV News

8

BBC developing Alexa rival for regional accents
Smart speakers are big business and the digital assistants they contain can be found in many of the latest technology-based products hitting the market. Adding to the likes of Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri, the BBC is planning its own voice assistant, called Beeb.
Unlike the plethora of hardware containing helpful digital assistants, Beeb wont come in its own bespoke speaker like Alexa in the Amazon Echo or Google Assistant in the Google Home but rather but will remain software based, ready to be added to a range of devices such as TVs, smart speakers and mobile devices as required.

Reported in the Guardian, it seems one of the drivers behind the BBC’s decision is the many and varied dialects and accents found scattered throughout the UK and researchers are adding the regional accents of BBC staff to the database so instructions will be understood whether they delivered in local Bristolian or Edinburgh brogues. One assumes that Alexa and Google Assistant lack access to these extra variations in UK speech patterns in their own databases which, no doubt, are more US-centric in their choice of accent options.

Market experts, Strategy Analytics report that the 30.3 million smart speakers were sold in the second quarter of 2019 which is double the same period in 2018, so it appears that consumers are getting more comfortable using a voice assistant as a way of controlling technology around the home and around 20 percent of British households use a voice assistant in some way.

Launching next year, the BBC voice assistant will be a smaller scale affair that those of the giant media companies currently being embedded in our homes and will concentrate on simple tasks such as switching content, adjusting volume and interacting with online content rather than accessing personal schedules or controlling other smart devices.

The voice assistant will be built into the broadcaster’s webpage and its iPlayer app on smart TVs and respond to the wake word ‘Beeb’. It will be available to manufacturers who want to embed it into third party products.

Apart from improved understanding of regional accents, another key driver for the development of Beeb is to push users towards its own product as a way of collating more data specific to how users interact with the BBC’s content. Using third party apps complicates access to the data and makes any kind of analysis more difficult. Indeed, the BBC is removing its radio stations from the TuneIn app since the US company would not provide information on who was listening to the BBC’s stations.

A spokesperson explained, “With an assistant of its own, the BBC will have the freedom to experiment with new programmes, features and experiences without someone else’s permission to build it in a certain way. It will also allow the BBC to be much more ambitious in the content and features that listeners can enjoy.”

The venerable broadcasting corporation sees the assistant as an additional element to its public service portfolio by helping consumers navigate through the expanding choice of content on offer. It also recognised concerns about privacy and responded, “People know and trust the BBC, so it will use its role as public service innovator in technology to ensure everyone – not just the tech-elite – can benefit from accessing content and new experiences in this new way.”


Does the British public need a domestically oriented digital assistant? Have members found problems getting correct responses from the current crop of US-based voice assistants? See how others have fared with Alexa and its ilk using their own regional dialects.

Source: theguardian.com, www.broadbandtvnews.com,
Image Source: Daily Mail

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