The BBC is creating Beeb, an in-house voice assistant, which will integrate with the UK public broadcaster’s website and iPlayer apps on smart TVs. The Guardian reports that currently the company has no plans to launch its smart speaker featuring the assistant, but will make the software available to other manufacturers who feel like building it into their speakers. Currently, Beeb is planned to launch next year.
The declaration of the voice assistant arrives as the BBC has begun withdrawing 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 vanishing from TuneIn at the end of the month. In both cases, the BBC shared it was concerned that these third-party services weren’t providing it with the listening data that it needs to develop its programming.
The “Beeb” voice assistant will not arrive with its hardware like an Amazon Echo or a Google Home device. It will rather be an additional feature for both the BBC website and iPlayer app. The BBC has made use of its staff for training Beeb, asking employees from around the country for testing software. The company has also addressed what it says are the public’s concerns about commercial voice assistants: targeted advertising and security. “People know and trust the BBC,” a spokesperson told The Guardian, “so it will use its role as public service innovator in technology to ensure everyone — not just the tech-elite — can help from accessing content and new experiences in this new way.”
However, the relationship between the BBC and smart speaker manufacturers has been strained. The BBC requires that users sign in to their accounts while accessing content like radio streams on third-party devices, to collect data about users’ listening habits. This isn’t supported by popular Alexa app TuneIn though, leading to the BBC pulling its radio content from the app last year.