BBC Shifts from TuneIn to Custom Alexa Skill, Amazon Preemptively Warns Users and Inadvertently Reminds Them it Knows How They Use Their Smart Speakers

The number one smart speaker use case for consumers is audio content listening. Streaming media such as Spotify and Amazon Music are the top sub-category with radio and podcasting both in the top 5-10 as well. Several studies have shown a significant portion of this listening is incremental while some is displacing listening that previously went to traditional radios or smartphones. However, smart speaker based listening is a significant enough trend that media companies have to consider how they should manage their content portfolio in the voice era.

For BBC, the shift is a catalyst for changing its relationship with at least one content aggregator of the mobile era, TuneIn. As of today, BBC will no longer be available on TuneIn which provides access to over 120,000 live radio stations. This impacts smart speaker users because TuneIn is the default radio offering for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. BBC is providing another option for Alexa users in the UK with its BBC skill. It does not provide a live radio option for Google Assistant but does have other services such as BBC Minute and Headlines from BBC News.

It’s About the Data, But Also Control

BBC published a blog post in August announcing the changes and focused on the need to collect data uniformly across its distribution channels to better serve its audience and mission. The blog post stated:

“We want our programmes, products and services to be the best they can be. And a major way we ensure that is by using meaningful data. Data is more and more important – as it helps us to make more types of programmes we know people like, and equally importantly, identify gaps in our commissioning to ensure we’re making something for all audiences….When we make our programmes available via third parties, we ask that those platforms either allow you to sign in to your BBC account – or provide us with meaningful data directly. Unfortunately, TuneIn doesn’t do either of these, so we couldn’t reach a data-sharing agreement with them.”

In addition to data, you can see BBC taking other steps to assert more control over its content portfolio. The broadcaster recently stopped allowing Google to index its podcasts for example. And, the company plans to launch its own voice assistant next year in order to provide more features and user personalization.

BBC has invested and experimented more with voice assistants more than maybe any other media organization. Throughout that process, the broadcaster has learned that voice assistants have different characteristics than mobile and the web and the company needs to adjust its policies to reflect those differences.

Amazon Takes Steps to Warn Alexa Users, Reminds Them What it Knows

This transition for Alexa users should not be a big deal. In theory, they could simply shift from asking for BBC through TuneIn and instead go to the BBC skill directly. Amazon could even facilitate this by auto-enabling the BBC skill for all UK users and funneling near-matches around skill invocations to the skill. However, there is an issue.

Amazon has enabled TuneIn to work with routines, alarms, and multi-room music but these features are not extended to other skills such as BBC. That means some user routines today will no longer start BBC and alarms set to start the live radio broadcast will default to a tone. Amazon is concerned this will lead to user displeasure and Express is reporting that the company has preemptively emailed users of the features that are going away.

“As a past user of BBC radio as an alarm via TuneIn on your Echo device(s) and user of user of Echo Sub, Echo Link and/or Echo Link Amp, we wanted to make you aware of this change. Moving forward, any alarm with a BBC radio station will automatically default to the standard alarm tone.”

Voicebot noticed a similar posting on Reddit over the weekend but could not verify its authenticity. However, it appears that Amazon has taken this step in order to offer a warning that nothing is wrong with Alexa but rather a policy decision by BBC is behind the changes. This is an example of unintended consequences that will surely accompany many changes that alter distribution rights for content. Amazon may be smart to get out in front of the inevitable complaints storm. However, by doing so, the company just reminded consumers that it knows precisely how they are using the devices.

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