BBC Global News launches tool that ‘reads’ articles on BBC.com

The feature uses artificial intelligence to convert text articles into speech, ‘reading’ them aloud with a synthetic voice

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Nov 17, 2020 2:19 PM
BBC

BBC Global News has announced the launch of a new smart text-to-speech tool on its international digital online platform, BBC.com. It uses artificial intelligence to convert text articles into speech, ‘reading’ them aloud with a synthetic voice.  The BBC worked with Microsoft to create the new voice and AI software, using deep neural networks to create a synthetic voice with a natural tone and clear articulation of words.

Launching globally today, the initial content will be part of a series within BBC Worklife called ‘The Life Project’. Its 16 feature articles, which focus on giving readers the tools they need to make life-changing decisions during the pandemic, are now available in audio. 

Built with cognitive and behavioral integrated tech software, the tool will start to learn the patterns of users’ behaviour and prioritise content based on their preferences, whilst maintaining the BBC’s trusted curation of balanced journalism and ensuring audiences are served the most important stories which also feel relevant to them.

The launch marks the first milestone in an ambitious plan which aims to see the product rolled out to other areas of the site, the introduction of background soundscapes to add to the listening experience, infinite scroll and a number of other innovative tech developments as part of an initiative called Project Songbird. 

Uniquely, the speech is in a soft regional voice to make it warm and welcoming. Part of the work involved developing a voice that not only provides colour and character to the recordings, but also offers a rounded, human-like sound which aligns to the tone and emotion of the article and remains engaging even throughout a long-form article. The use of a synthetic voice means the project will be suitable for a wide range of content as well as allowing the audio to change automatically as and when any text is updated.

The new product also offers the BBC’s commercial partners the opportunity to reach a growing and hyper-engaged audio audience. Along with pre-roll advertising, sponsored feature sections and full sponsorship with additional bespoke commissioned audio content from BBC StoryWorks Commercial Productions will also be on offer and, with the ability to download in the background, the new function will offer an even more dynamic advertiser experience.

Errol Baran, Global SVP, Business Development & Innovation, Advertising & StoryWorks, says: “As the popularity of audio grows, this new product offers audiences another complementary way of engaging with our content in a format that suits them.  That, married with the opportunities available to our commercial partners and the quality of the offering, makes this a unique and exciting new proposition in the market.” 

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