Quibi is partnering with the BBC on international news show for millennials

The BBC and Quibi are partnering to make a new daily international news show for millennials.

The two companies said that the new programming, which will be featured as part of Quibi’s “Daily Essentials” programming, will be filmed in the Beeb’s central London headquarters five days a week and each segment will be five minutes long.

The show aims to catch viewers up with all the news from around the world in five minutes, according to the two companies.

“Since the BBC began life as a start-up in 1922 we have been focused on two things: innovating to reach our audiences in new ways; and providing trustworthy news and entertainment of the highest quality,” said BBC Global News chief executive, Jim Egan in a statement. “Technology is changing constantly, as is the world at large and we’re delighted to be working with an innovative new player like Quibi to bring young audiences a daily made-for-mobile global news update of the highest quality from our unparalleled network of international correspondents and experts.”

The BBC also has news programming distributed on Snap and Facebook’s Instagram. So the company seems to be covering its bases to ensure it doesn’t miss out on the potential next big thing in media platforms.

“BBC News is one of the most respected news brands around the globe, and in particular for millennials in America today,” said Jeffrey Katzenberg, founder and chairman of the board of Quibi. “We’re proud to partner with them to create a daily international news report for Quibi.”

The deal with the BBC follows a July announcement that Quibi had also hooked up with NBC News for programming. As we reported at the time, that deal includes a six-minute morning and evening news show for Quibi’s service.

NBC News also runs a Snapchat news show called Stay Tuned that reaches millions, and recently launched its own digital streaming news network, NBC News Now, delivered through its NBC app.

The mobile-only streaming service is set for an April 2020 launch, and has already announced a big slate of programming from top-tier filmmakers and actors.

Some of the highlights include commitments from filmmakers Sam Raimi, Guillermo del Toro and Antoine Fuqua and producer Jason Blum to create series for the service, plus a show called “Inspired By” with Justin Timberlake.

As we’ve reported, subscribers to Quibi can also expect a show about Snapchat’s founding, an action-thriller starring Liam Hemsworth, a murder mystery comedy from SNL’s Lorne Michaels, a beauty docuseries from Tyra Banks, a Steven Spielberg horror show, a comedy from Thomas Lennon, a car-stunt series with Idris Elba and more.

The BBC is developing a voice assistant, code named ‘Beeb’

The BBC — aka, the British Broadcasting Corporation, aka the Beeb, aka Auntie — is getting into the voice assistant game.

The Guardian reports the plan to launch an Alexa rival, which has been given the working title ‘Beeb’, and will apparently be light on features given the Corp’s relatively slender developer resources vs major global tech giants.

The BBC’s own news site says the digital voice assistant will launch next year without any proprietary hardware to house it. Instead the corporation is designing the software to work on “all smart speakers, TVs and mobiles”.

Why is a publicly funded broadcaster ploughing money into developing an AI when the market is replete with commercial offerings — from Amazon’s Alexa to Google’s Assistant, Apple’s Siri and Samsung’s Bixby to name a few? The intent is to “experiment with new programmes, features and experiences without someone else’s permission to build it in a certain way”, a BBC spokesperson told BBC news.

The corporation is apparently asking its own staff to contribute voice data to help train the AI to understand the country’s smorgasbord of regional accents.

“Much like we did with BBC iPlayer, we want to make sure everyone can benefit from this new technology, and bring people exciting new content, programmes and services — in a trusted, easy-to-use way,” the spokesperson added. “This marks another step in ensuring public service values can be protected in a voice-enabled future.”

While at first glance the move looks reactionary and defensive, set against the years of dev already ploughed into cutting edge commercial voice AIs, the BBC has something those tech giant rivals lack: Not just regional British accents on tap — but easy access to a massive news and entertainment archive to draw on to design voice assistants that could serve up beloved personalities as a service.

Imagine being able to summon the voice of Tom Baker, aka Doctor Who, to tell you what the (cosmic) weather’s like — or have the Dad’s Army cast of characters chip in to read out your to-do list. Or get a summary of the last episode of The Archers from a familiar Ambridge resident.

Or what about being able to instruct ‘Beeb’ to play some suitably soothing or dramatic sound effects to entertain your kids?

On one level a voice AI is just a novel delivery mechanism. The BBC looks to have spotted that — and certainly does not lack for rich audio content that could be repackaged to reach its audience on verbal command and extend its power to entertain and delight.

When it comes to rich content, the same cannot be said of the tech giants who have pioneered voice AIs.

There have been some attempts to force humor (AIs that crack bad jokes) and/or shoehorn in character — largely flat-footed. As well as some ethically dubious attempts to pass off robot voices as real. All of which is to be expected, given they’re tech companies not entertainers. Dev not media is their DNA.

The BBC is coming at the voice assistant concept from the other way round: Viewing it as a modern mouthpiece for piping out more of its programming.

So while Beeb can’t hope to compete at the same technology feature level as Alexa and all the rest, the BBC could nonetheless show the tech giants a trick or two about how to win friends and influence people.

At the very least it should give their robotic voices some much needed creative competition.

It’s just a shame the Beeb didn’t tickle us further by christening its proto AI ‘Auntie’. A crisper two syllable trigger word would be hard to utter…

Original Content podcast: ‘Years and Years’ takes an unsettling look at the next decade

“Years and Years” is an unusual show. It’s a co-production of HBO and the BBC, and in the course of six hourlong episodes, it covers a span of more than 10 years in our near future.

During that time, we see the rise of a terrifying Trump-style politician in the United Kingdom named Vivian Rook (played by Emma Thompson), along with lots more political, economic and technological upheaval. All of this is seen through the eyes of Manchester’s Lyons family — grandmother Muriel and adult siblings Rory, Edith, Daniel and Rosie, plus their spouses and children.

No one in the family is a major power player; they simply watch everything change with a growing sense of dread. That, in large part, is what makes the show effective — it feels true to the experience of trying to get on with your life while the world shifts around you.

On the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we spend the entire hour reviewing the show. We had some reservations about the finale — which seemed to abandon the strengths of the previous episodes — but even so, we were impressed by the series, and by the way it brought so many of our fears to life.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:

0:00 Intro
0:23 “Years and Years” review
30:07 “Years and Years” spoiler discussion

UK Internet attitudes study finds public support for social media regulation

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has published a new joint report and stat-fest on Internet attitudes and usage with the national data protection watchdog, the ICO — a quantitative study to be published annually which they’re calling the Online Nation report.

The new structure hints at the direction of travel for online regulation in the UK, following government plans set out in a recent whitepaper to regulate online harms — which will include creating a new independent regulator to ensure Internet companies meet their responsibilities.

Ministers are still consulting on whether this should be a new or existing body. But both Ofcom and the ICO have relevant interests in being involved — so it’s fitting to see joint working going into this report.

As most of us spend more time than ever online, we’re increasingly worried about harmful content — and also more likely to come across it,” writes Yih-Choung Teh, group director of strategy and research at Ofcom, in a statement. “ For most people, those risks are still outweighed by the huge benefits of the internet. And while most internet users favour tighter rules in some areas, particularly social media, people also recognise the importance of protecting free speech – which is one of the internet’s great strengths.”

While it’s not yet clear exactly what form the UK’s future Internet regulator will take, the Online Nation report does suggest a flavor of the planned focus.

The report, which is based on responses from 2,057 adult internet users and 1,001 children, flags as a top-line finding that eight in ten adults have concerns about some aspects of Internet use and further suggests the proportion of adults concerned about going online has risen from 59% to 78% since last year (though its small-print notes this result is not directly comparable with last year’s survey so “can only be interpreted as indicative”).

Another stat being highlighted is a finding that 61% of adults have had a potentially harmful online experience in the past year — rising to 79% among children (aged 12-15). (Albeit with the caveat that it’s using a “broad definition”, with experiences ranging from “mildly annoying to seriously harmful”.)

While a full 83% of polled adults are found to have expressed concern about harms to children on the Internet.

The UK government, meanwhile, has made child safety a key focus of its push to regulate online content.

At the same time the report found that most adults (59%) agree that the benefits of going online outweigh the risks, and 61% of children think the internet makes their lives better.

While Ofcom’s annual Internet reports of years past often had a fairly dry flavor, tracking usage such as time spent online on different devices and particular services, the new joint study puts more of an emphasis on attitudes to online content and how people understand (or don’t) the commercial workings of the Internet — delving into more nuanced questions, such as by asking web users whether they understand how and why their data is collected, and assessing their understanding of ad-supported business models, as well as registering relative trust in different online services’ use of personal data.

The report also assesses public support for Internet regulation — and on that front it suggests there is increased support for greater online regulation in a range of areas. Specifically it found that most adults favour tighter rules for social media sites (70% in 2019, up from 52% in 2018); video-sharing sites (64% v. 46%); and instant-messaging services (61% v. 40%).

At the same time it says nearly half (47%) of adult internet users expressed recognition that websites and social media platforms play an important role in supporting free speech — “even where some people might find content offensive”. So the subtext there is that future regulation of harmful Internet content needs to strike the right balance.

On managing personal data, the report found most Internet users (74%) say they feel confident to do so. A majority of UK adults are also happy for companies to collect their information under certain conditions — vs over a third (39%) saying they are not happy for companies to collect and use their personal information.

Those conditions look to be key, though — with only small minorities reporting they are happy for their personal data to be used to program content (17% of adult Internet users were okay with this); and to target them with ads (only 18% didn’t mind that, so most do).

Trust in online services to protect user data and/or use it responsibly also varies significantly, per the report findings — with social media definitely in the dog house on that front. “Among ten leading UK sites, trust among users of these services was highest for BBC News (67%) and Amazon (66%) and lowest for Facebook (31%) and YouTube (34%),” the report notes.

Despite low privacy trust in tech giants, more than a third (35%) of the total time spent online in the UK is on sites owned by Google or Facebook.

“This reflects the primacy of video and social media in people’s online consumption, particularly on smartphones,” it writes. “Around nine in ten internet users visit YouTube every month, spending an average of 27 minutes a day on the site. A similar number visit Facebook, spending an average of 23 minutes a day there.”

And while the report records relatively high awareness that personal data collection is happening online — finding that 71% of adults were aware of cookies being used to collect information through websites they’re browsing (falling to 60% for social media accounts; and 49% for smartphone apps) — most (69%) also reported accepting terms and conditions without reading them.

So, again, mainstream public awareness of how personal data is being used looks questionable.

The report also flags limited understanding of how search engines are funded — despite the bald fact that around half of UK online advertising revenue comes from paid-for search (£6.7BN in 2018). “[T]here is still widespread lack of understanding about how search engines are funded,” it writes. “Fifty-four per cent of adult internet users correctly said they are funded by advertising, with 18% giving an incorrect response and 28% saying they did not know.”

The report also highlights the disconnect between time spent online and digital ad revenue generated by the adtech duopoly, Google and Facebook — which it says together generated an estimated 61% of UK online advertising revenue in 2018; a share of revenue that it points out is far greater than time spent (35%) on their websites (even as those websites are the most visited by adults in the UK).

As in previous years of Ofcom ‘state of the Internet’ reports, the Online Nation study also found that Facebook use still dominates the social media landscape in the UK.

Though use of the eponymous service continues falling (from 95% of social media users in 2016 to 88% in 2018). Even as use of other Facebook-owned social properties — Instagram and WhatsApp — grew over the same period.


The report also recorded an increase in people using multiple social services — with just a fifth of social media users only using Facebook in 2018 (down from 32% in 2018). Though as noted above, Facebook still dominates time spent, clocking up way more time (~23 minutes) per user per day on average vs Snapchat (around nine minutes) and Instagram (five minutes).  

A large majority (74%) of Facebook users also still check it at least once a day.

Overall, the report found that Brits have a varied online diet, though — on average spending a minute or more each day on 15 different internet sites and apps. Even as online ad revenues are not so equally distributed.

“Sites and apps that were not among the top 40 sites ranked by time spent accounted for 43% of average daily consumption,” the report notes. “Just over one in five internet users said that in the past month they had used ‘lots of websites or apps they’ve used before’ while a third (36%) said they ‘only use websites or apps they’ve used before’.”

There is also variety when it comes to how Brits search for stuff online, and while 97% of adult internet users still use search engines the report found a variety of other services also in the mix. 

It found that nearly two-thirds of people (65%) go more often to specific sites to find specific things, such as a news site for news stories or a video site for videos; while 30% of respondents said they used to have a search engine as their home page but no longer do.

The high proportion of searches being registered on shopping websites/apps (61%) also looks interesting in light of the 2017 EU antitrust ruling against Google Shopping — when the European Commission found Google had demoted rival shopping comparison services in search results, while promoting its own, thereby undermining rivals’ ability to gain traffic and brand recognition.

The report findings also indicate that use of voice-based search interfaces remains relatively low in the UK, with just 10% using voice assistants on a mobile phone — and even smaller percentages tapping into smart speakers (7%) or voice AIs on connected TVs (3%).

In another finding, the report suggests recommendation engines play a major part in content discovery.

“Recommendation engines are a key way for platforms to help people discover content and products — 70% of viewing to YouTube is reportedly driven by recommendations, while 35% of what consumers purchase on Amazon comes from recommendations,” it writes. 

In overarching aggregate, the report says UK adults now spend the equivalent of almost 50 days online per year.

While, each week, 44 million Brits use the internet to send or receive email; 29 million send instant messages; 30 million bank or pay bills via the internet; 27 million shop online; and 21 million people download information for work, school or university.

The full report can be found here.

BBC and Discovery team up on a new streaming service focused on factual programming

Discovery and BBC this morning announced an extensive,10-year content partnership deal for a new streaming service focused on natural history and factual programming. The subscription video service is expected to cost under $5 per month, and will be owned by Discovery. It will operate in all territories outside the U.K., Ireland and China when it launches in 2020.

This will make Discovery’s service the exclusive subscription video on demand (SVOD) home to series like “Planet Earth,” “Blue Planet,” “Life,” “Dynasties,” and others, in addition to future BBC-commissioned shows from BBC Studios after they air on linear TV.

These will be combined with Discovery’s lineup including “MythBusters,” Deadliest Catch,” “Unsolved History,” “Shark Week” and others, as well as hundreds of hours of BBC programming which Discovery now has the SVOD rights to stream.

In addition, Discovery and BBC Studios will again work together to fund the development of new wildlife series along with other travel, science and natural history content, for both linear and digital distribution.

The two companies also came to an agreement on how they’ll split up the shows from broadcaster UKTV, which Discovery acquired when it bought Scripps in 2018. Discovery will take control of lifestyle channels including Good Food, Home and Really to add to its existing portfolio of 16 channels in the UK.

BBC Studios, meanwhile, will take ownership of the other seven entertainment channels – Alibi, Dave, Drama, Eden, Gold, Yesterday and W – as well as the UKTV brand and digital service, UKTV Play. BBC Studios agreed to pay $225 million for the channels and assumed $91 million in debt, financed by Discovery.

Discovery will also receive an additional £10 million from UKTV, as both parties will share the existing cash on the company’s balance sheet,

“From the planets to the poles, and documenting every species in between, the world has always been part of Discovery’s DNA. It is who we are. Telling these stories is our mission and it is more important now than ever before,” said Discovery CEO David Zaslav, in a statement. “The new platform will be the first global direct-to-consumer service with the category’s most iconic IP including the Planet Earth series, future sequels and spin-offs to all existing landmark series, and new exclusive natural history and science programming coming in the future. There is tremendous value in the marketplace for these programming categories which have broad appeal and strong multi-generational engagement, and we hope to fill the void in the global marketplace for a dedicated high-quality product.”

“The BBC makes outstanding natural history and science programmes. They are ground-breaking and demonstrate the quality and depth of our know-how. It is vital that we keep investing and growing them for the future. This is our largest ever content sales deal,” BBC Director-General Tony Hall, added. “It will mean BBC Studios and Discovery will work together to take our content right across the globe through a new world-beating streaming service,” he said.

According to The WSJ, which reported on the deal this morning, Zaslav has plans for other streaming services, as well, including those focused on food, home improvement, golf and cycling.

 

BBC: And then we strapped a helicopter rig to an elephant

20160726-Elephant Rig Imagine being part of the BBC’s natural history unit, traveling the world to create some of the world’s most beautiful documentaries. Sounds like a dream job, right? I sat down with Huw Cordey, the producer on a ton of the Beeb’s best-loved shows, to find out more about the technology and gadgets the team deploys to capture the beasties in action. Read More

Torturing the ghost

satoshi-mystery So we probably have our Satoshi. The Economist, GQ, and the BBC have all posted semi-breathless stories on their personal interactions with Craig Steven Wright, an Australian computer scientist and inventor. Dr. Wright was unmasked last year by Wired and Gizmodo who pointed to leaked emails and keys. Now Wright himself has come forward to claim the mantle of the most mysterious instrument… Read More

The BBC makes ‘broadcasting history’ as it beams live rugby match to outer space

Tim Peake @ International Space Station

The BBC will make broadcasting history this weekend when it live-streams a rugby match to International Space Station (ISS) 400 kilometers about Earth — this marks the first time the BBC has ever broadcast to space.

The request was made by the European Space Agency (ESA) on behalf of Tim Peake, the British astronaut who has called the ISS home since mid-December. Tomorrow marks the opening of the annual Six Nations Championship, with Scotland facing England in the inaugural game — and Peake won’t miss a minute.

“We’ve always tried to push the boundaries of broadcasting at the BBC, and streaming to space is an exciting first for us,” explained Philip Bernie, head of TV Sport for the BBC. “We knew Tim was a massive rugby fan and now he can join the rest of the nation watching Scotland v England in the Six Nations.”

As Peake prepares to watch 30 athletes battle for the prestigious Calcutta Cup, the astronaut is also preparing for an epic athletic feat of his own — he’s currently training to become the first human to run a marathon in real-time from outer space.

 










BBC reveals plans to launch a new video-subscription service in the U.S. in 2016

BBC iPlayer

With the BBC facing increasing criticism over its publicly-funded model in its native U.K., the broadcasting giant today revealed plans to boost the coffers of its commercial “BBC Worldwide” arm by launching a new video-streaming service in the U.S.

Speaking at the Royal Television Society Cambridge Convention in England today, BBC Director-General Tony Hall said that a new over-the-top (OTT) subscription service would arrive for American viewers in 2016. While details are still scant, Hall says it will offer “BBC fans programmes they wouldn’t otherwise get – showcasing British actors, our programme-makers – and celebrating our culture.”

BBC abroad

The BBC offers licence-fee payers in the U.K. an online linear and catch-up TV service called iPlayer, which is hugely popular across the country. The broadcaster has introduced international versions of the service in the past with varying degrees of success, but has yet to formally launch a streaming service in the U.S.

However, last year US network AMC revealed it taking a 49.9 percent stake in BBC America in a $200 million deal. BBC America is available in 80 million American homes through satellite and cable. It’s not clear yet whether the new OTT service will come with the iPlayer brand, but the BBC does say it won’t impact current programming at all — it will be used exclusively for BBC content that doesn’t already have a distribution channel in the U.S.

Elsewhere, the BBC recently launched a new UK premium drama channel called “BBC First” in Australia, and it has signed a deal to launch a BBC Earth channel in India. By looking to International markets, the BBC says it hopes to increase commercial returns from BBC Worldwide to $1.9 billion over the next five years, equating to a rise of 15 per cent than the previous five years.

While the commercial-free BBC remains a widely respected media brand both domestically and abroad, it has faced mounting pressure in the U.K. in an age where consumers have a myriad of alternative entertainment options, from Netflix and YouTube to cable and satellite. Indeed, anyone in the U.K. that watches linear “live” television is required to pay an annual $225 fee — irrespective of whether they ever watch the BBC.

“In today’s financial climate, everyone is being asked to deliver more for less, so we need to have a commercial strategy where BBC Worldwide delivers as much as possible back into public service programmes,” said Hall.

And that is the crux of the problem the BBC is looking to fix. By boosting its commercial income from international viewers, it hopes to help supplement the domestic licence fee and ensure the current cost of it doesn’t rise even further.