BBC Global Upfronts 2019: The power of authentic voice

IAB UK

BBC Global News’ second Digital Upfronts opened with a clear message: ‘The power of an authentic voice has never mattered more.’ From the declaration of World War Two to the fall of the Berlin Wall to the Brexit result, delegates at Broadcasting House’s Radio Theatre were given a powerful reminder of the BBC’s distinctive voice throughout history.

BBC welcome logo projected onto a stage

What followed was an insightful look at how it is evolving in an age of AI and digital audio, with plenty of advice as to how advertisers can get involved and a little bit of Louis Theroux along the way. Here’s what we learned:

Voice is the new frontier for media

With the BBC having recently launched digital voice assistant Beeb, the power of emerging voice technology was central to the morning. Andy Webb, Head of Voice and AI, told the audience how the BBC is tapping into this space and exploring synthetic speech generation via its Songbird initiative to create a more natural experience for users. The text-to-audio tech will allow visitors to access text files as audio and will be available for commercial partnerships.

By harnessing the ambient domain of voice, rather than solely relying on surface engagement via touchpoints such as mobiles, BBC Global is aiming to build more conversational interactions – and give advertisers a new way of speaking to its audience. As news presenter Lucy Hockings said, voice really is “the new frontier for media.”

BBC Journalist, Lucy Hockings, wearing an orange dress and giving an opening speech

If you don’t have the right story, it won’t go anywhere

Up next was straight-talking documentary maker and star of the show Louis Theroux, who shared his secrets on keeping it real. With his new beard, Desert Island Disc stress and questionable merchandise also on the agenda, Theroux said that much of his success comes down to putting a “tumbling shambolic figure at the middle of the story, or even in the margins… people feel they’re right there with you”.

This is helped by the fact that his first encounter with his subjects always makes the final cut – building a strong “flavour of reality” from the start. Yet, in the end, it all comes down to the storytelling: “If you haven’t got the right story, you can work as hard as you like and it won’t go anywhere.”

Lucy Hocking interviewing Louis Theroux on white chairs

BBC Global News’ Daniel Christie and Alessio Nesi later showed delegates how they’ve applied this story-first approach to a documentary-style brand campaign for Emirates – drawing on local voices throughout Africa to celebrate the continent.

Speak the language of the tribe

Finally, how advertisers can unlock the potential of podcasts to tell authentic brand stories was a central theme. With a wealth of podcasts on its roster, BBC Global News’ Programmatic Trading Manager Emily Roberts announced that the team are working with Acast to extend its programmatic audio offering to include the private marketplace and programmatic guaranteed solutions.

Meanwhile, Head of Insight Hamish McPharlin debuted neuroscience research Audio:activated, proving the high level of emotional engagement and long-term memory encoding podcasts create, particularly among ad avoiders. To get the most out of the medium, McPharlin advises advertisers “speak the language of the tribe” and “be part of the conversation, not just the sponsor”.

Blonde woman wearing green jacket and pink bandanna surrounded by friends and taking a selfie

Also announced at the event:

  • Two new content platforms – Future You (focused on mindfulness) and Future Planet (focused on climate change). They will allow brands to target engaged audiences in an evidence-led environment

  • Science of Engagement – the BBC’s propriety research tool – is now available for all branded content deals

Read more about the research and all the initiatives mentioned above here.

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