Research & Development

Posted by Henry Cooke on , last updated

We’re really excited to announce a project we’ve been working on for a while: an original interactive audio drama pilot for voice devices, made in collaboration with Rosina Sound.

There’s a few reasons we’re excited!

First, the story and production are great! Rosina Sound’s team have an excellent track record between them, and have done a cracking job of creating the audio for the piece. The story not only works well as a piece of interactive fiction, but also is an entertaining listen in its own right (and has some great jokes). The project took shape collaboratively between R&D and Rosina Sound - together, we listened to existing interactive audio stories and, taking inspiration from computer games like The Stanley Parable and Papa Sangre and authors like Franz Kafka and Douglas Adams, the piece evolved into a comedy science fiction audio drama.

BBC Taster - Try The Inspection Chamber

BBC R&D - Talking with Machines

BBC R&D - User Testing The Inspection Chamber

Second, we’re trying out a new way to interact with a story. We’ve seen a lot of examples of interactive audio stories which operate like a Choose Your Own Adventure book - short chunks followed by a choice: would you like to go down the stairs or through the door? We don’t think this works particularly well for entertainment - it takes you out of the moment and forces you to step back and consider your choice at a level of remove from the story and in the context of all the other choices you’ve made. In this pilot, you’re actively playing a part in the story, using your own voice - we wanted to make it feel like you’re having a genuine, direct interaction with the other characters in the piece. We haven’t come across any other interactive stories like this on voice devices, and we’re excited to see how people respond to it.

Is this what is felt like when the first radio show fired out across the airwaves? The BBC has been on the forefront of entertainment technology since it first embraced radio way back in 1927. Now it’s making another hugely significant jump with a show that involves the listener interacting thanks to the Alexa AI.


Third, we’ve built a story engine which allows us to release the same story across different voice devices. We’ll be releasing for Amazon Alexa and Google Home to start off with, but we’ve got the potential to add to that roster of devices and it’ll be interesting to see if we could get it on to, for example, Microsoft & Harman/Kardon’s Invoke speaker, or Apple’s HomePod and other devices as they come along. As far as we know, there aren’t many people developing cross-platform voice experiences in this way.

Update, November 2017: We've now released the pilot on BBC Taster for Amazon Alexa devices.

BBC R&D - Prototyping for Voice UI

BBC R&D - Prototyping for Voice: Methodology

BBC R&D - Prototyping for Voice: Design


Henry Cooke - Producer
Barbara Zambrini - Producer
Antony Onumonu - Developer
Tom Howe - Developer
Andrew Wood - User Experience
Joanne Moore - User Experience

Rosina Sound
Nicky Birch - Executive Producer
Tim Wright - Writer
Joby Waldman - Director
Ben & Max Ringham - Sound Design

Amelia Bullmore as Kaye
Tom Bennett as Josef
Laurel Lefkow as DAVE

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BBC Taster - Try The Inspection Chamber

BBC R&D - The Unfortunates: Interacting with an Audio Story for Smart Speakers

BBC R&D - Talking with Machines

Tech Radar - The BBC is working on an interactive audio drama for Alexa and Google Home

The Verge - BBC is making interactive radio plays for Alexa and Google Home

Mashable - The BBC finally found a cool use for Amazon Echo, and it's not what you think

Daily Mail - The BBC is working on an interactive audio drama for Alexa and Google Home that will allow listeners to choose the fate of the characters

Yahoo News - The BBC is working on an audio drama using smart speakers

BBC R&D - Prototyping for Voice UI

BBC R&D - Prototyping for Voice: Methodology

BBC R&D - Prototyping for Voice: Design

BBC R&D - Singing with Machines

BBC R&D - The Mermaid's Tears

BBC R&D - Better Radio Experiences

BBC R&D - Responsive Radio

This post is part of the Internet Research and Future Services section