The BBC is using AI to improve its content

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The BBC has announced a five-year partnership with eight universities in a bid to use machine learning to improve its content.

The iconic broadcaster is going through a difficult period. It’s facing stiff competition in the entertainment sphere from streaming services, its news coverage has been subject to calls for investigations following claims of breaching impartiality rules, and it’s been at the center of controversial scandals.

A difficult period

Increasing adoption of streaming services from the ‘cord-cutting’ generation is having a knock-on effect of a greater number of viewers choosing not to pay a TV license. Fewer people willing to invest in broadcast TV means a reduced ability for broadcasters to remain competitive.

As a taxpayer-funded service, the BBC is required to remain impartial and give equal coverage of views on all sides of arguments. In recent years, it’s come under increased scrutiny for a failure to do so. Some MPs have even called for it to be investigated.

The most notorious recent scandal involving the BBC was that of disgraced presenter Jimmy Savile. Members of the BBC allegedly knew about, and covered up, the presenter sexually abusing children as young as nine.

Needless to say, these factors have impacted the BBC’s once highly-regarded reputation.

Using AI to improve the BBC

Rather than remain on course towards oblivion, the BBC hopes new AI technology will help to steer it back on track to delivering content taxpayers deem worthy and prevent wasting precious funding on unwanted content.

“As we reinvent the BBC, we can see the opportunities that data and machine learning are opening up for us, our creative talent, and our audiences,” says Matthew Postgate, the BBC’s Chief Technology and Product Officer. “This partnership will help us break new ground and ensure we continue giving audiences the very best in public service broadcasting well into the future.”

The BBC has identified four main areas it wants to use AI for:

  • Understanding audiences: Use data to better understand what audiences want from the BBC, why they want it, and what impact these programmes or services have on them
  • Understanding content: Explore what machine learning can teach the BBC about its programmes and services, and what it stands to gain from it
  • Curation and personalisation: Create a more personal BBC, designing tools and algorithms to help programme makers with editorial and commissioning decisions
  • Content of the future: Design future audience experiences, based on BBC R&D’s object-based broadcasting concept, and new forms of data journalism

UK data scientists from the universities of Bristol, Manchester, Edinburgh and Surrey, Imperial College London, Queen Mary University of London, Ulster University, and University College London, will be involved in achieving the BBC’s vision.

“Machine learning is going to play an increasingly important role in the world. Together with our partners and funding bodies, we want to apply these advances in data science to the media industry and make a real difference to people’s lives,” comments Samantha Chadwick, Head of Partnerships, BBC R&D. “The partnership will also train a new generation of data scientists on real media problems to create new audience experiences that don’t even exist yet.”

Find more of our machine learning coverage here.

Do you think AI will improve the BBC’s content? Let us know in the comments.

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