Automate workflow of clipping linear radio content and then publication to BBC Sounds
As the BBC has 40 local radio stations, producing many hours of content every day, how can we automate the surfacing of the very best of this radio output in the BBC Sounds app and on social media platforms?
Ideally, we want to deliver our linear output in a way that allows it to be effectively re-used/re-purposed in other parts of the BBC, outside the context of its originating programme.
This has already been done with great success with local news: the style and tone of existing, twice-daily bulletins were changed to be more conversational, meaning they could be lifted out of linear and used as updates on Voice platforms (try asking Alexa for the local news in your area). These same bulletins are now being dynamically inserted into the Interactive News skill, based on the postcode associated with a listener’s account. One piece of content, produced locally, given a ticket to ride.
1 - Identify the X
We built a prototype which is based upon discrete events from the radio playout system, specifically silent IN and OUT markers entered at the pre-production stage to indicate the start and end times of a piece of content, that the production team has identified for "lifting out" and re-purposing. Entering these markers at the production stage requires minimum effort.
We also worked with Audio Engineering & Production to implement the markers in the playout events within the playout system, so that they can be identified downstream at the point of live broadcast.
Our prototype is an events-based system responding to notifications when a "take" is played out on all linear radio programmes. We then filter these takes to establish if it is something we are interested in (i.e. does it contain an IDX-IN or IDX-OUT marker). The IDX-IN and IDX-OUT markers effectively bookend the piece of content that we want to surface. Upon receiving these markers, our process builds a timed representation of all identified events within the programme.
Following user feedback, the IDX system was changed to include support for an IDX-AUTO marker. This replaces the need to have two separate IN and OUT tokens and instead allows a user to specify a fixed time segment where the duration of the content to be clipped out is known in advance. This was a request to assist in the creation of community news bulletins, as many stations need to create these but they will not all end the news in the same way, so there exists no reliable IDX-OUT marker.
2 - Automate clip creation
By using the BBC recording of transmission (ROT) service, we are able to create an audio file containing all of the content as it was broadcast, between the IDX-IN and IDX-OUT markers.
During discussions with users, it was discovered that it is very common for a BBC Sounds intro and outro to be added before and after a clip. We decided to automate this step, allowing the user a choice in which audio file they can use, either with or without the intro/outro. Both of these audio files are then made available to the user.
Additionally the audio from the IDX clips is sent to our automated transcription tool. Once the transcript is completed the IDX system is notified at which point it is made available to the user. The user has the ability to edit this transciption which will update the version stored within the IDX system. This work was carried out to enable future developments into organising clips based on topic extraction and the automated creation of videos with subtitles for social media.
3 - Surfacing the clip
In order to surface these clips to the user, we built a static web app, allowing the user to preview and download the clip as well as viewing all of the associated metadata. It furthermore allows the producer to listen to the clip within the original radio programme by utilising markers within the media player to display the location of each of the chapters.
Additionally, we integrated the IDX system with the media publishing workflow within the BBC, uploading the clips to this service. This will give each clip a unique identifier called a PID; this PID can then be used to surface a clip onto iPlayer or Sounds. This feature was highly requested by radio producers as it creates an end-to-end system, starting with the radio playout system and ending with a clip that is ready to be made public with an editorial check.
As an experimental feature, we created an RSS feed to update with every new clip that is added to the system. This allows IDX to be integrated with SocialFlow to automate the publishing of IDX clips to the BBC twitter accounts.
Here you can see an episode of BBC Coventry and Warwickshire breakfast show, in which they have IDX marked one segment called 'QUIZ'. It has loaded the entire show in the player with a marker to designate when the clip occurred.
Extending to national networks
Following on from the success of IDX for local radio it has now been identified for use within national networks. The team worked extensively with the producers of the Radio 1 Breakfast Show with Greg James to produce clips of All The Latest Things (ATLT) to be surfaced on a Sounds rail.
Collaboration with the Breakfast Show team inspired some further development to IDX. A new feature has been implemented where the user can now specify the audio they wish to be automatically appended to the clip for intros and outros in place of the default BBC Sounds audio.
More work needs to be done for the SMP player in the Sounds app to handle these segments. However, the SMP player on the web does provide this support already and we are currently using this in our demonstrations. In the meantime, however, in order to surface the content on Sounds, we are creating separate audio assets for all of the individual pieces of content based on the segment timings.
With the ability to "identify the x" we can easily expand to identifying not only the best bits of a programme but also, for example, news, trails, weather, traffic and so on, which could be removed from a programme or dynamically replaced within an on-demand programme with current content. The type of clips can be anything the producer wants and are not limited by design.
- We were able to demo identified stand alone content played as clips within the BBC's Standard Media Player (SMP).
- We created an audio file for each clip with the option of having BBC Sounds idents added to the beginning and end.
- Automatically transcribed every audio file.
- Uploaded clips to BBC media publishing workflow, making them ready for publication to BBC Sounds.
- Created a Twitter feed which automatically updates with a link to each clip.
- Did foundational work to allow future integration with Audiogram.