News Labs at BBC World Service Hack

News Labs together with other BBC teams recently participated in the BBC World Service Hack. The hack was focused on the World Service 2020 project, which aims is to find the best ways to build the global reach of the World Service to half a billion people and increase access to news and information, with the help of new investment from the UK government.


  • Social Media - too many people see one piece of World Service content and then go away again. How do we solve that? How might we engage our audience off our own platform?
  • Audio - How do we make it easier for our audience and journalists to create and share audio content and make it compelling?
  • Performance - How can we speed up the delivery of content to our audiences? How can we allow users to specify which version of the content they want to access?
  • Personalisation - How do we allow users to interact with our content without signing in? How might we be more engaging?
  • Languages - We have 27 World Service languages (and English, Welsh and Gaelic) - we’ll soon be adding 11 more. Be creative…


Three teams were the joint winners - and we are very happy to say that News Labs team members were in all of them.

Team Audiophiles (Reece Hall from Broadcast Systems Development with Alex Norton and Rob Squires from News Labs) tried to make World Service audio content more accessible by “slicing” out highlights of radio programmes, while Team Captionator (Dave Bevan, Arturs Tamanis and Dolan O’Toole from Broadcast Systems Development with Xi Bai, Rachel Wilson and Kirill Skorodelov from News Labs) endeavoured to generate animated gifs from high definition videos, so people with low bandwidth can view them more easily. Team Olive (News Labs’ Jacqui Maher, Georgina Rannard and Lei He) focused on distributing that lightweight content on social media and linking it back to the bulkier versions on the BBC site.

The picture below shows how the three systems work together:

ws hack diagram
(Audiophiles, Captionator and Olive working together)

Show and tell…

The gif below shows how Captionator works:

captionator demo
(Captionator demo)

The gif below shows how audio and gifs can be distributed with Facebook Messenger bot:

messenger bot demo
(Messenger bot demo)

Next step?

This hack has helped News Labs establish a good working relationship with other BBC teams, especially the Broadcast Systems Development team and we are all very keen on continuing the development of the prototypes we built during the hack. On the whole, we will be using what we learnt from this hack to see if we can help World Service colleagues develop new ways of reaching underserved audiences.