How the BBC is using voice assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home

Next year, the BBC will pair editorial staffers with its software engineers to figure out what content experience people want from voice-enabled devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home in order to inform new interactive editorial formats that are technically feasible.

“We will do some experiments together,” said Mukul Devichand, editorial lead for BBC Voice. “We are keen to understand what it means to natively publish in this platform — no one has cracked it yet.”

Like many other publishers, the BBC made its Amazon Echo debut with a news briefing Alexa skill and has experimented with creating “The Inspection Chamber,” a Kafkaesque audio drama developed exclusively for the Echo and Home with production company Rosina Sound.

But with mounting competition on voice-enabled devices, the BBC wants to boost its presence on them. This week, the broadcaster announced it made its entire suite of audio content compatible with Alexa on Echo devices — an engineering effort that took around five months.

That means Alexa device owners can now access any of the BBC’s podcasts and tune into any of its 56 radio stations directly by asking for them via Alexa devices. The BBC claims its podcasts had 240 million downloads last year, with “The Archers,” “Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review” and “Woman’s Hour” among the most popular.

The BBC team relies on voice services installed on the Alexa devices rather than recording additional information for them, but that will likely change next year as it experiments with creating content specifically for Echo and Home devices, according to Devichand.

Figuring out how to make a brand stand out in a voice-activated environment is a challenge for news publishers, content producers and brands alike. The BBC wants to build its Echo and Home audiences so it can monitor what people say to devices, what they listen to and for how long. That will help show which content areas are worth expanding for voice-activated formats, added Devichand.

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