by Andrew Cochran

BBC plans to have its own voice assistant on BBC platforms, including its website and BBC iPlayer. The software will be made available to third-party manufacturers.

The voice assistant’s working name is Beeb, the nickname often used affectionately for the company.

Beeb‘ may also become the voice command to activate the system, although BBC News says a final decision on the wake word is still pending.

The Guardian says Beeb will be ready ‘in the new year’ after further testing with BBC staff across the UK. Unlike other voice assistants, Beeb will not be offered as a device, aka ‘smart speaker.’

A BBC spokesperson said their initiative is so ‘everyone can benefit from this new technology’ and the BBC is ‘ensuring public service values can be protected in a voice-enabled future.’

The British public broadcaster says that compared with Alexa, Siri, and others, theirs will better understand British accents.


American-developed systems such as Alexa and Google Home are less efficient with accents outside the US, according to a 2018 study by The Washington Post. The UK presents a famously wide range of accents and dialects — with at least 37 dialects of English in one estimate.

More than 50% of current shipments by Amazon and Google are to markets outside the US, says CANALYS, a market research company. Amazon is the dominant company, with 25% of the global market.

Smart speakers use natural language processing algorithms to discern spoken language, convert it to text, match results to requests, and convert the result into a ‘spoken’ response.

The Guardian says Beeb was developed by an in-house team at BBC.

“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.”

BBC statement

Our Take

  • Cultural integrity is a natural space for public broadcasters. Dialects and accents are key elements of culture, as are forms of storytelling.
  • Brand integrity becomes more important as voice grows in use. Saying ‘Without someone else’s permission’ points to how some broadcasters and publishers feel content creation is their prerogative, in contrast to the tech companies.
  • Critics will say this is a wasteful expense in the face of private alternatives that are already established and have massive sums to compete. The final arbiter will be public adoption.