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BBC News Plans to Auto-Create Audio Versions of All Its Articles

As the popularity of podcasts continues to soar, BBC Global News is looking to get deeper into the aural action by producing automated audio versions of all BBC News’ online articles.

Project Songbird, announced Monday, is BBC Global News’ initiative to build a text-to-audio commercial business across digital online platforms. The service promises to let audiences listen to their favorite news and sports editorial content hands-free — without the need to actively click and browse. According to BBC Global News, Songbird will be built with the ability to download audio in the background and will offer a “dynamic” advertiser experience. There’s no set launch date for Songbird for now.

The company announced the plans at its Digital Content NewFronts presentation in New York.

Among other announcements, the company said BBC’s “Click” technology news and gadget series is employing a new interactive technology — à la Netflix’s “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” — that will let viewers customize content according to their preferences. For the 1,000th episode of “Click” later this year, the show is building a full-length branching narrative episode that will provide varying granularity of explanations depending on a viewer’s tech knowledge.

BBC News is proud to show the ways that our history of innovation have continued to grow and change, helping to keep the BBC one of the world’s most trusted and most innovative global news organizations,” said BBC Global News CEO Jim Egan. “Our announcements today demonstrate our ambition and drive to be the best news organization in the world and an essential commercial partner.”

The company’s NewFronts presentation was hosted by “Beyond 100 Days” presenter Katty Kay. Other announcements from the event:

  • BBC is prepping the launch of “Future You,” a new feature programming vertical covering “big ideas” from the worlds of health, psychology, technology, science, and medicine, featuring interactive elements.
  • Also in the works is “The Future Sounds of Music,” a site devoted to exploring and experimenting with the ideas, tech and creators that are redefining the experience of music. It will feature content ranging from mixed-reality performances to AI-composed songs, presented both online and on TV, culminating in a live event in New York featuring live performances, demos and panel discussions.
  • Launching in 2020 is BBC’s new Discovery section, a cross-vertical collaboration between BBC Travel and BBC Future, which will blend travel, tech, exploration and archaeology. The section will feature two new series, “The Future of the Past” and “The 20/20 Project,” focusing on important cultural heritage sites around the world that are under threat and on the efforts being used to save them.
  • As part of its programming commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, BBC is producing interactive series “The Race to the Moon in 50 Numbers” (e.g., “8: The amount of dollars per day the NASA astronauts were paid while they were in space”) while BBC Travel is developing a series about lunar worlds on Earth.

According to BBC Global News — the BBC’s commercial international division that runs bbc.com and the BBC World News network — the fiscal year ended March 2019 was its best-ever year for profitability. According to the company, Americas ad sales grew 16% for the period, with overall worldwide sales up 4% including advertising and distribution revenues.

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