BBC chooses ‘warm’ male Northern accent for broadcaster’s voice assistant

Amazon AlexaAmazon Alexa
Amazon Alexa
The BBC has opted for a “warm and friendly” male northern accent on its new voice assistant Beeb, developers have revealed, as it goes into public testing for the first time.

In its first version, users can ask Beeb to get live and on-demand radio, music mixes, podcasts, as well as news and local weather updates, jokes from The Mash Report and quirky facts by QI. The technology is being made available as early test software on PC first in partnership with Microsoft.

“We’re really conscious of the sort of the problematic associations that exists between female voices and assistants, in that they’re sort of deemed to be being used in that sort of subservient way so we really wanted to make ... a point and to put a male voice in there at the start,” Andy Webb, BBC’s head of product for voice and AI, said. “Secondly, it’s not from down south, it’s from up north.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“We wanted to make a break from that traditional southern RP (Received Pronunciation) that is traditional with all broadcasters.

“What we really find is, when it’s warm and friendly and kind of welcoming and it’s easy on the ears ... it actually becomes quite pleasant to listen to, so we worked hard on representing the diversity of our audience much more by making it from outside of that London southern RP.” BBC bosses insist it is committed to continuing work with Amazon on its Alexa voice assistant and says it has no plans to launch a physical device for Beeb later down the line.

“We can be a receiver of voice technologies from the big tech giants or we can seek to have a little bit more control and frankly have a little bit more of that public service ethos and that UK cultural impetus into this new technology developing,” Grace Boswood, chief operating officer of design and engineering at the BBC, said.

“It’s not either/or. We’re absolutely still working with Amazon.” Last year, there were concerns about tech giants recording conversations between users to improve their voice assistants, but the BBC’s team said it will not follow this approach by default.



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.