BBC plans ‘Beeb’ voice assistant for its apps and services

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The BBC is producing its own in-house voice assistant called Beeb, which will integrate with the UK public broadcaster’s website and iPlayer apps on smart TVs. The Guardian reports that the corporation currently has no plans to release its own smart speaker featuring the assistant, but will make the software available to other manufacturers who wish to build it into their speakers. Beeb is currently planned for launch next year.

The announcement of the voice assistant comes as the BBC has started to withdraw some of its content from select third party services. Earlier this year it removed its podcasts from certain Google products, and its radio stations are also disappearing from TuneIn at the end of the month. In both cases, the BBC said it was concerned that these third party services weren’t providing it with the listening data that it needs to develop its programming.

Having its own voice assistant could overcome the data problems, but it introduces additional challenges. This year has already seen reports that Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft have all paid either employees or contractors to listen to voice recordings extracted from their voice services, often without adequately disclosing this to their users. The BBC did not immediately respond to questions about how it will handle voice data from the Beeb assistant.

Rather than attempt to match the wide functionality offered by Alexa and Google Assistant, Beeb will instead be focused on letting people interact with the BBC’s services. The corporation is also taking steps to ensure the assistant can understand the UK’s regional accents, and is currently testing the assistant using voice data from its staff across the country.

The BBC says that it is developing Beeb to give it more flexibility, and allow it to be more ambitious with how it develops its voice assistant. “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,” a spokesperson from the corporation told The Guardian.

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