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BBC Sounds on Alexa: new ways to find and navigate content

Kate Goddard

Product Manager, Voice and AI, BBC Design and Engineering

BBC Voice + AI is a relatively new team whose job is to ensure that audiences can access BBC content and services using devices like smart speakers and phones that have a voice assistant on them. We launched the BBC Alexa skill back in December 2017, when it first became clear that audiences wanted to be able to access BBC audio content on their smart speakers. Since then, adoption of smart speaker technology has ramped up - 24% of audiences have told us through a recent online survey that they have access to a smart speaker at home. And we’ve seen a great appetite for voice content – we have now delivered in excess of 265 million live and on-demand streams to our audiences.

Initially, the BBC skill offered live radio streams and podcasts to listeners, but we soon added the full range of on-demand radio programmes that are available on BBC Sounds. We are continually inspired by feedback from audience members, and have been busy improving features and functionality on the skill since launch.

Continue listening across Alexa and BBC Sounds app and website

Today we are adding a major new feature to the skill. Listeners will be able to pause and resume podcasts and on-demand programmes seamlessly between the BBC skill and the BBC Sounds app and website. If you get halfway through listening to a podcast on your phone using the BBC Sounds app during your commute home, you can resume it on Alexa once you get back into your house. All you need to do is ask for the podcast or on-demand programme you were listening to. For example, say “Alexa, ask the BBC for The Infinite Monkey Cage”. If you’ve been listening on Alexa, and want to pick up on your phone, all you need to do is scroll to the “Continue Listening” section of the BBC Sounds app or website, and click on the programme title.

This feature will be available to anyone who has linked their BBC account to their Alexa account - you can do this by clicking on the Settings button for the BBC skill in the Alexa app.

Continue Listening is just the latest in a number of changes we’ve made to the skill since it first launched.

Accessing all your favourite content

You can easily find BBC Sounds radio stations, podcasts and on-demand programmes simply by saying the name of the station or show. For example, say “Alexa, ask the BBC to play six music” or “Alexa, ask the BBC for Woman’s Hour”. You can also ask for any of BBC Sounds Music Mixes like “Handpicked by 6 Music” or “The Takeover Mix”.

Finding out track and artist information

It is now possible to ask Alexa for information about the track that’s currently playing on our live radio stations, just by saying “Alexa, ask the BBC what’s playing?”. BBC radio is a popular way for people to discover new music and this will make it much quicker and easier to find out what it is you are listening to.

Using our audio player controls

In response to many audience requests, we have worked hard to allow easy navigation between and within podcast and on-demand programmes. To navigate between episodes in a series, just say “Alexa, next” or “Alexa, previous”. If you miss something when listening to an on-demand episode and you want to go back, just say “Alexa, ask the BBC to rewind 30 seconds”. Or if you want to skip forward to find the section you are interested in, just say “Alexa, ask the BBC to fast forward 5 minutes”.

We hope that these new features will make it easier for you to quickly and easily play and control your favourite BBC Sounds content using your smart speaker. We’ll continue to listen to your feedback - it’s vital for helping us prioritise new features to build and release.

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