Horizon Blog

An introduction to ‘Adaptive Podcasts’

The Adaptive Podcasts project started on the 1st of May and is a collaboration partnering the BBC R&D and Lancaster University.

Over 48 million podcast episodes were published worldwide up to the year 2021, so it is easy to see why they are now one of the “most important audio initiatives” used by media publishers. Podcast listeners in the UK alone have increased year-on-year and reached an estimated 15.6 million in 2020.  With over 1.3 billion podcasts played by BBC listeners alone in 2021 (up 25% from 2020), podcasts have become a major area of media consumption and development.

In collaboration with the European Broadcasting Union and partners, BBC R&D is currently developing an open-source platform that allows the production of ‘adaptive’ podcasts. These are podcasts in which content changes in response to interactions by users, or in response to user or sensor data.  Moreover, these podcasts can leverage users’ services and sensors to create more immersive experiences (think controlling lights, fans, screens, speakers, and so on).

Podcasts will often be listened to socially, for example by more than one user in a household.  We are interested what this will mean, and how we must consider platform design in relation to user negotiation around the data and sensors used to enhance adaptive podcasts.  Underpinning this work is an assumption that data is processed locally in a participants’ environment, to support data privacy.

To explore this issue, we will be using a mobile design fiction platform, developed by researchers at the University of Lancaster and the University of Nottingham. The platform provides a sensor-rich ‘living room’ environment and tools that enable rapid simulation of new household experiences.  We will be integrating the platform with BBC’s own adaptive podcast platform to understand how we might exploit sensor-based devices and co-owned personal data in ethical, privacy-preserving ways.

We recently held our first meeting and our first activity will involve preparing a scoping document for professional script writers at the BBC.  The script will be used to produce a podcast that leverages (real) user data and a set of sensors in our mobile design fiction platform.

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