BBC Is Developing Its Own Voice Assistant That Can Understand Every British Accent

Mike Wheatley

The BBC says it will launch its own voice assistant next year to rival similar services such as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. The assistant won’t be a hardware device like Alexa is with the Amazon Echo device, but will instead be software-based, able to run on various TVs, smart speakers and mobile devices.


One of the key differences of Beeb is that it will be trained to understand the full gamut of British accents, which might make it more useful for Scousers, Geordies and the like.

Beeb will be woken up by saying the word “Beeb”, similar to how Google’s Assistant is activated with the phrase “Hey Google”. The BBC said its voice assistant won’t have such a wide scope however, as it will not attempt to provide the same level of functionality as its commercial rivals. Instead, it will primarily be used to switch channels, show lists of content, raise or lower the volume, and so on. BBC said this was because Beeb is being developed by a much smaller team without the same resources as big tech companies like Amazon.

The voice assistant will be made available in BBC apps such as the iPlayer on smart TVs, and also to TV makers for deeper integration at the hardware level.

"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,” a BBC spokesperson told The Guardian. “It will also allow the BBC to be much more ambitious in the content and features that listeners can enjoy.”

Currently, around 20% of British households use voice assistants, The Guardian said. This is changing the way people watch TV and listen to the radio, making it easier to try new channels and stations. It also gives people a new way to interact with media by putting such devices at the centre of the home.

One motivation for the BBC is that the assistant will allow it to collect more data on its users, but the broadcaster was quick to try and alleviate any privacy concerns people might have.

"People know and trust the BBC, so it will use its role as public service innovator in technology to ensure everyone – not just the tech-elite – can benefit from accessing content and new experiences in this new way,” it said in a statement.