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Pilot ended 8th May 2019
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In a world of fake news, this experimental podcast player helps you draw out the facts. You get to see the source of the information, graphs that show how the numbers stack up and share the key clips from the interactive transcript. Click try and dive deep into data.

The Inside Story

We spoke to Chris Baume to find out more...

Can you sum up the project and why you've made it?

This is an experiment in how we can use data to enhance the listening experience for our radio programmes and podcasts.

During the production of a programme, vast amounts of information is generated - scripts, sources, numbers, images and notes. However, much of that information is lost after the programme is broadcast so we are unable to make use of it. We are starting to develop broadcast systems that can capture much more information about our programmes. At the same time, we are using audio analysis technology, such as speech-to-text, to help us extract additional data from our content.

We want to find out if listeners would find some of this data useful. But right now we don’t know what information we should display, or how to present it. This is why we've put it on BBC Taster. This pilot explores one way to use this information by creating a data-rich playback interface. An interface that we hope helps our listeners explore, navigate and share our content.

How did you come up with the idea?

We started this process by compiling a list of all the information we could capture or generate. We then ran a series of paper prototyping sessions where volunteers used the available information to design their dream podcast player. That process produced ten designs from which we picked a winner, and combined it with elements from some of the other designs. If you want to know more about how we designed the interface, then head to our BBC R&D Blog.

It became clear that one application of this technology could be to expose the source of information used in our programmes. We then approached the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘More or Less’. We thought their emphasis on data and fact-checking was the perfect match for this new playback interface. The BBC has an ambition to expose more of its fact checking machinery. We hope this new player could go some way to fulfilling that ambition.

How did you build it?

Our colleagues in Radio Engineering are developing the next generation of radio studios, so we collaborated with them on developing the player. Behind the scenes, we’re using their proposed data format to store all the information for the programme. This means that our player should be compatible with the output of these new studios, as they come online.

The interface itself is built around the BBC’s Standard Media Player that currently drives iPlayer and Sounds. We developed the front-end in Javascript using the React framework.

What do you hope to learn from it being on Taster?

Does this sort of data-rich interface enhance the listening experience, or is a distraction? For example, there were mixed opinions on whether the transcript would be a useful navigation tool or divert attention from the audio. Our prototype contains many different elements, including contributors, images, links and sharing. We're interested in finding out which of these add value to the listening experience, and which do not.

What next?

We believe there is huge potential in using data to enhance the audience experience. This pilot explores one way that data can be used to enhance an existing programme format. But what if we could use the data we capture or generate to produce original new programme formats that were previously impossible? We want to test this idea by running workshops with producers to bring them up-to-date with the possibilities, and also explore the creative use of data in storytelling.


Presenter - Tim Harford
Producer - Ruth Alexander
Editor - Richard Vadon
Technical Director - Chris Baume
Software Engineer - Thomas Dodds

A collaboration between BBC Research and Development, BBC Internet Fit Radio and BBC Radio Current Affairs.

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