⚒ Controlling the means of DISTRIBUTION

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So it’s been a WHILE. I’m pretty sure the last email started that way too.

Let’s think of Wakeword as more of a sporadic email that goes out when I’ve thought of anything interesting to say.

It’s just been the Voice 2019 conference over in the US of A. I didn’t go because I work at the coal face, shovelling news into the UK’s smart speakers, but a few of the people who work in my overall division (BBC Voice and AI) went along.

They talked about some of the BBC’s big voice tech successes including the BBC Kids app which won a Webby and our experiment with covering the latest Indian election on Google Assistant.

One of the panels that I found interesting was all about how public media broadcasters are responding to smart speakers/devices.

It’s worth a watch over on YouTube.

PSBs are in a weird place right now because traditionally they control their own distribution, save for having a contractor actually keep the transmitter masts from rusting over and falling down.

But it’s Amazon, Google and Apple who are the gatekeepers to (shudders at the word) content if you want to reach people over smart speakers and it has some worried.

What if your content gets chopped into bits and the meaning gets changed? What if you get put alongside someone else’s material that is wildly different to your own? Would people even realise that it’s your providing that news story?

The PSBs are seemingly the first to notice, and probably the only ones with another clout to do something about it.

Link to this page with no comment.

The latest listening figures for UK radio were released this week.

One of the lines that the UK papers and industry sources are running with is that smart speakers have helped to pull listeners away from BBC stations to commercial radio.

me, working on a bbc smart speaker service:

Homer Collar GIF - Homer Collar Tug GIFs

First thing to say. Numbers go up and down. But second thing, it does look like there’s been quite a jump in reach for Online/Apps over the past six months or so.


While that’s most likely to be smart speakers, it could also be apps like BBC Sounds.

And it’s not a zero-sum game, people don’t automatically head for commercial radio because smart speaker. It’s really just equaling the playing field when there’s no such thing as keeping your radio tuned to one station, whether that’s commercial, BBC, community or local, and never changing it again.

It’s another reminder that in Voice searches, there’s only one winner - the service that gets given to you by your device.


  • I got added to this Twitter list of people working in smart audio, which is kind but they’ll have to put up with a lot of Eurovision tweets in about nine months There’s some interesting people talking in there.

  • Newsreaders, we’re human after all. My personal take on this is that I’ve been suffering from London’s pollen/pollution when it comes to reading bulletins recently and my nose sounds very blocked all the time. So sorry about that.

  • ★★☆☆☆ So much public love still for the flash briefings I work on. It’s worth pointing out that none of the UK broadcasters’ flash briefings do particularly well in Alexa Store feedback - and that public ratings tend to be self-selecting leading to feedback coming from one extreme or the other. My DMs are open if you have specific things you REALLY HATE about them and I’ll get what you’re saying to the right people.

  • 🚷 voice tech companies: we’re probably not having humans listen in
    media: yeah, you’re most probably listening in
    apple and google: ok, we’re going to stop as many people listening in now

Lots of love - keep an ear open in August 🤞.