Strong and scalable content production for regionalised promotions in 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.
We worked with a team from BBC Sounds to run a pilot with three local radio stations who were keen to have the "best bits" of their linear radio content re-surfaced as stand alone content; a podcast, for example, on the Sounds app. Importantly, we wanted to achieve this with little or no extra effort required from the production teams.
We built a prototype
The prototype is in two parts: identify the piece of content and build a timed representation of all identified events for an entire programme; develop a web app to enable production teams to listen back to and evaluate the sections of the programme which they have marked up.
The prototype is based upon discrete events from the dira! VCS 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 dira! VCS 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.
The web app we developed allows the producers to listen to the standalone piece of content and also to listen to it within the original radio program. Crucially, the ultimate aim here is not to produce multiple new assets for every identified section of every programme, but to produce a playlist with in and out points to be played back on the BBC's Standard Media Player.
Local radio journalists want to produce a sports podcast from a piece of content taken from BBC Radio Manchester, Talking Balls, which is aired every weekday. Once the best bit has been identified and marked with IN and OUT markers, it is surfaced as a standalone 13 minute clip in the SMP player.
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 will be 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).