VRT organises Voice hackathon for delegation of European broadcasters


On the 17th and 18th of June, VRT hosted a hackathon for the EBU VOX group, a member-led expert group from the Digital, Radio and Technology & Innovation departments of the European Broadcasting Union. The group includes representatives from member broadcasters who have strategic interests in the future of audio and video, with the arrival of voice-controlled digital assistants. The hackathon offered the opportunity for members to collaborate, innovate and share information relating to smart speakers, voice control and digital assistants.

The hackathon brought together 35 enthusiastic participants from 8 countries: Norway (NRK), Germany (SWR and BR), Switzerland (RTS), Great Britain (BBC), Sweden (SR), The Netherlands (NPO), Finland (YLE) and Belgium (RTBF and VRT).  The main theme of the hackathon was voice user interface, with a focus on using voice control in the car, fictional content and storytelling, across video and for improving the accessibility of content.

Picture by Alina Cristea

After forming different teams and refining their ideas by making them more user-focused, all members worked on the concepts for two days. Towards the end of the second day, each team gave a demonstration of their idea to a panel of 3 judges drawn from EBU members. These were the ideas that were pitched:

  • The passenger (BBC, YLE, VRT)
    An interactive tool that would help to inform, educate and entertain audiences during long car drives. ‘The Passenger’ would ask about the people in the car and their destination. Based on this input, it would create a quiz, feeded by information from Wikipedia.

  • Radio Waves (SR)
    This Google Assistant action would use speech-to-text in order to automatically chapter a radio broadcast. You would be able to follow a broadcast on your screen and see words or tags that could help you select the parts that are most relevant to you.

  • Who’s Who (RTS)
    This hack would use facial recognition in order to determine the person on camera, when a programme is playing on Apple TV. This information would also be available on a smart speaker. As such, you could simply ask who the person is that you are seeing.

  • Little V (SR + NPO + BBC)
    This idea focuses on voice and social artificial intelligence as a means to make your car drive more interesting and safe. Whether it is a short drive to work or a long one to your vacation destination, you would be able to have a personalised ànd safe experience. The AI would also assist in helping you plan your route and provide you with additional information about your destination.

  • My TV Bud (BBC + RTBF)
    'My TV Bud' would offer you an interactive programme guide for an ideal evening in front of the television. If you are wondering when the next episode of your favorite programme is being aired or which shows are playing at the moment, you would be automatically notified.

  • Fantorangen (NRK)
    The Norwegian broadcaster NRK has a famous character called ‘Fantorangen’. This hack proposed to create an interactive voice-controlled experience for children based on the character. Children would be able to play several games with a Google Assistant and a screen.

  • Next News (NPO, YLE, BBC, BR)
    The news app 'Next News' would allow user to decide which news items should be offered more in-depth and which ones more briefly. As a listener, you would be able to choose your news experience by giving simple commands such as ‘next’ and ‘more’.

  • Super Sport Buddy (BBC + VRT)
    This voice app would offer sports updates based on the context of the end user. For example, if you’re at home, you would be able to receive a longer video report on soccer results. If you are at work and asking the same question, you would only receive a short audio report.


Picture by Alina Cristea

The overall winner was a team drawn from BBC, VRT and Yle with 'The Passenger'. The judges assessed it based on innovation, implementation and presentation. The judges remarked that it was something that could be deployed now, and showed strong potential for showcasing content and opportunities for partnerships with other organisations.

Picture by Alina Cristea

You can find out more about the EBU VOX Group here.

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