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James Purnell reveals a new public service algorithm for BBC Sounds

PRESS RELEASE — May 16, 2019

London, UK—James Purnell, BBC’s Director of Radio and Education, speaking Monday May 13th at the Radio Festival in London, revealed details of a new public service algorithm to improve BBC Sounds.

Purnell said: “Algorithms can be positive. They learn from what you don’t like and stop recommending you the wrong things. And they can surface things similar to what you are listening to that you would not otherwise have found.”

He went on: “That’s why we are developing our own: a public service algorithm. This is not an algorithm that just gives you more of the same, but an algorithm built to surprise you, to direct your attention to new information, to different points of view, to pop your bubble.”

The Director says the BBC wants to make sure it is recommending radio programmes, podcasts and music to listeners not just based on what they already enjoy but also in a way that meets our public service values.

Purnell added: “This ultimately is the promise of Sounds: not to replace radio, but to find ways to bring the same experience to new audiences who will not find it at a radio-set. When we launched Sounds, we knew that we were taking on the biggest businesses in the world, and that we were going to market late. We also know that the best way to launch a product is to test and learn from what does and doesn’t work - then respond to feedback and change.

“But as with any product, you launch, find ways to improve, and learn. The app, for instance, is built for personalisation, but is not yet fully personalised. This means that right now a user sees programmes that have not been curated for them. That is changing, as of this month in fact. By the autumn, Sounds will be highly personalised.”

Purnell also called for greater industry collaboration: “So we want to open BBC Sounds up to podcasts made outside of the BBC. And we are in discussions about opening the app to commercial radio too. We’ve seen this play out in other industries. The incumbents failed to collaborate, which allowed the new entrants to aggregate their content and walk off with the audience. We mustn’t repeat that mistake in audio."

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