BBC set to take on Google and Amazon in the digital assistant game

The BBC has announced it will challenge Google and Amazon in the digital assistant market, with its own version built to understand regional dialects.

Although it is still early days with many questions still to be answered, the working name for the digital assistant will be ‘Beeb’. What, we hear you say (and would you double dare to ask ‘what’ again?), but the state-funded entertainment service will attempt to prove its software engineering smarts match-up to that of Silicon Valley’s finest.

“Around one in five adults have a smart speaker in their home – and millions more have voice-activated devices in their pockets – so there is growing demand from people to access programmes and services with their voice,” a BBC spokesperson said.

“But people are concerned about how these devices use their data. 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.  This marks another step in ensuring public service values can be protected in a voice-enabled future.”

The selling point of the voice assistant is an interesting one. While those on the other side of the pond might want to monetize data collected through digital assistants, the BBC has promised an experience “free of commercial interests”. That might sound attractive to those who do not trust the internet giants with their personal data, but first and foremost, the BBC has to create an offering which is as good, if not better.

The voice user interface is becoming increasingly popular with consumers around the world, though it is another way in which the trust with the consumer can be broken. Few might consider their voice a potential risk, though with banks and other sensitive services using voice for identification and authentication, it will certainly become one (assuming it isn’t already of course).

With the BBC brand viewed by many favourably around the world, this could be an interesting element. The press statement is already laying the concept of trust on thickly, and we suspect this will be an important tool for the communications team in the future. Especially considering Silicon Valley constantly seems to be shooting itself in the face.

Another interest element is the regional dialects of the UK. While we all might sound the same to those from outside the isles, the difference in regional accents is very apparent to a Brit. In offices around the UK, BBC employees will be asked to record a couple of minutes of audio footage to help the team train the digital assistant in the variances of the UK.

The world is changing, and changing very quickly, therefore there is a risk the BBC could be left in the analogue age. Linear TV is dying, and while there might be generations who are sticking with the traditional means of entertainment, it won’t be long before the gathering around the TV is a nostalgic memory.

The BBC iPlayer has proven to be very successful, and this is another way in which the BBC is proving its relevance in the digital economy. What remains to be seen is whether ‘Beeb’ can compete against the smarts and head-start Silicon Valley has.