BBC Partners With Microsoft For Voice-Activated iPlayer Experiment

BBC iPlayer

The BBC has some big plans for the future of iPlayer as voice recognition software continues to evolve

The BBC has been working with Microsoft to build an experimental version of its iPlayer streaming service which users can operate using their voice.

The test version uses artificial intelligence (AI) to let users log into their BBC account, turn on iPlayer, search for their favourite programmes and listen to the radio via the internet by simply talking to their television.

The AI software compares the tone, modulation and pitch of a person’s voice to a sample that he or she has previously uploaded, with only a direct match allowing the person to log in.

BBC iPlayer voice control


This method of biometric authentication makes it much harder for anyone else to access a user’s account and replaces the need to type in a username and password – a security method that has become notoriously unreliable thanks to password reuse.

Once logged in, viewers use voice commands to search for genres or specific shows. For example, saying “BBC, show me something funny” will bring up a selection of comedy programmes, while saying “BBC, put EastEnders on for me” starts playing the latest episode.

“The ability of humans to communicate with each other by talking is one of our species’ most unique traits,” said Cyrus Saihan, head of digital partnerships, distribution and business development at the BBC.

“As the technology around us continues to evolve, it is interesting to consider how we might soon be talking naturally with the range of digital devices that have become such an important part of everyday life for many.”

He also added that future developments in the technology, combined with AI, could provide users with even greater control over how they watch TV, such as syncing programmes across devices and having more in-depth conversations with the software.

“You could end up in a conversation with your TV about what’s available to watch now, whether you like the sound of it or not, whether there’s something coming up that you’re interested in, and what you like to watch when you’re in a certain mood,” he said. “All the time, your TV service would be learning about your preferences and getting smarter about what to suggest and when.

“There could be interesting scenarios in a typical family setting too. Just by listening to the voices in the room, your TV could automatically detect when there are multiple people in the living room, and serve up a personalised mix of content relevant to all of you in the room.

“All of this personalisation could happen without anyone having to press a button, sign in and out or change user profiles.”

Quiz: The BBC’s Technology Journey