06 July 2021

Chapters to discover and share - The Today programme pilots Slicer for greater online impact

For the past few weeks, we’ve been running a pilot with the Today programme to surface chapter points on BBC Sounds web. We want audiences to navigate our audio journalism faster and be better able to share stories with friends.

By giving each chapter a title and a description, we aim to make the best of the BBC’s audio journalism more discoverable through search engines and the BBC’s own platforms.

Chapters available in BBC Sounds Web

Chapters available in BBC Sounds Web

Hopefully the slicer prototype underpinning the work will make our journalism accessible to a whole new generation.

With the support of colleagues in BBC Sounds, we have been refining the production process with editorial colleagues and discovering, in detail, how listeners interact with the newly available feature.

Why add chapter points?

Audio content is difficult to navigate. Unlike text it lacks subheadings and unlike video it lacks thumbnails. As a result, audiences frequently miss out on audio content they would love.

Even our own journalists have reported difficulty tracking down content that they know exists, including pieces of their own journalism!

By segmenting each story and working with production staff to give it an audience-friendly title and description, we make this content much more discoverable, both in the user interface and through search.

It is also something we are increasingly confident audiences want, because they’ve told us in user research sessions. We think too that segmentation and sharing is increasingly becoming an expectation, due to the availability on other audio and video platforms.

Segmentation also gives our linear production teams the chance to think about the digital delivery of their content, something they have been very engaged in. They understand that getting this right could make their storytelling more discoverable and accessible.

How it works?

Even though programmes like Today appear on BBC Sounds as single blocks of audio, they are created out of dozens of smaller stories.

We use that framework - the running order - as a skeleton to decide where chapter points are likely to land. We pull through the production and script data from the running order to create a draft title and description for each segment.

We refine the initial chapter points by matching what appears in the programme script to the transcript of what was actually broadcast.

Finally a producer runs through the audio and checks that the alignment is in the right place, before editing the title and description so it is audience-friendly.

Screenshot of the slicer user interface

In the slicer editor, journalists can check the chapters and add an audience-facing title and description

We’ve refined the process further, allowing editors to decide which stories they want to group from the running order. For example, six stories that make up the news bulletins at the beginning of each hour, might be grouped into one chapter.

What’s next?

We are working with colleagues in BBC Sounds, who have supported this work, to understand how audiences are interacting with the new feature on Sounds web, before deciding whether to roll it out to the BBC Sounds app.

Initial user research suggests the feature is desired by listeners and our presenters, correspondents and editors have been very supportive of the work.


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