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BBC beefs up its voice-activated Alexa news service

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BBC beefs up its voice-activated Alexa news service

The U.K.'s leading public service broadcaster the British Broadcasting Corp. is adding interactive news bulletins to its BBC Alexa skill for Amazon.com Inc.'s Echo smart speakers.

Users can now ask the voice assistant to play specialist reports, longer stories and delve into the BBC's radio archive, which contains more than 90 years of clips and interviews. Support for additional platforms will be added.

The broadcaster says the upgrade gives users more control over the content they want to hear, whether it be rapid-fire headlines or in-depth coverage from select reporters.

Amazon Echo owners can activate the bulletin by saying: "Alexa, ask the BBC for the news." Listeners can find out more about specific stories by saying: "Give me BBC News."

After creating its first Alexa skill for radio and podcasts in 2017, the BBC launched a full-fledged "voice + AI" department dedicated to the emerging tech the following year.

Its audio experiments have seen it dabble in sports and kids content, including highlights and quizzes, and interactive dramas.

The BBC said in January that it had served 265 million audio streams and 18 million news summaries on Alexa-enabled devices over the span of 12 months. In August, it announced that it was developing its own digital voice assistant designed to work on smart speakers, TVs and mobiles.

Weeks later, the broadcaster courted controversy by moving its live radio streams from Alexa's default music app TuneIn to its BBC skill in an effort to gain more data.

As a result, users lost out on specialist features such as multi-room playback and the ability to use the radio as an alarm. The BBC subsequently published a blog post claiming it was in talks with Amazon about introducing these options to its skill.