“Alexa, what’s the news ?” VRT is experimenting with voice-controlled radio and news

Floris foto

To listen to a VRT radio station, or relisten to the latest VRT news, you no longer need to use your hands. The arrival of smart speakers allows you to access media content simply by using your voice. Communication with such smart speakers is currently mainly still in English, but the VRT is already hard at work exploring the possibilities, focussing so far on voice-controlled radio and news. In this way, the VRT intends to be immediately ‘up and running’ when Dutch-language smart speakers become commercially available.

In the wake of keyboard, mouse and touchpad, the voice is thus becoming an increasingly important way for people to communicate with machines. By simply speaking to the virtual assistant on your smartphone or smart speaker, you can set tasks and ask questions, and thus also access media content.

Explore the VRT with your voice

Internationally, audio is becoming increasingly important way of transmitting information and entertainment. At the VRT we have strong, radio-based audio content that we would like to convey to the public ever more effectively. In the run-up to dedicated Dutch-language offerings for smart speakers, we are therefore already innovating with voice control and voice guidance.

Since recently, for instance, you can voice access the most recent radio news and voice access not only your favourite VRT radio stations, but also their digital extensions, such as MNM hits, MNM UrbaNice, Klara continuo and Ketnet Hits. To facilitate this, the VRT has developed a few ‘skills’ on Alexa, the virtual assistant you can find on Amazon's smart speakers. We are also simultaneously working on content for Google Assistant, which will likewise be rapidly available in Dutch.

According to international research, the majority of people now use their smartphones to listen to the radio or to request the news, two areas in which the VRT is very strong. With that knowledge in mind, we as a broadcaster are capitalising on the possibilities of this new medium. We not only want to make radio more voice accessible, we also want to explore the next steps. We are examining in-car applications, for example, via which different functionalities can easily be voice activated, and we are experimenting with the targeted retrieval of played-content info, such as the song title or the name of the artist. The value of such a smart speaker is obvious: they are easy to operate, even when you are busy with other things and can’t use your hands for a moment, and they allow you to get specific answers quickly. 

From virtual assistant to smart speaker

Every time you ask Siri for the weather forecast on your iPhone, or call ‘Hey Google’ to an Android device, you are talking to a virtual assistant. You now have a choice of several virtual assistants, including Siri (Apple), Google Assistant (Android), Alexa (Amazon), Bixby (Samsung) and Cortana (Microsoft). Apart from on smartphones, virtual assistants are mainly installed on smart speakers, such as Echo (Amazon), HomePod (Apple) and Google Home. The degree to which smart speakers can help you in everyday life depends on the skills your virtual assistant possesses. The more skilled it is, the better it is at answering your questions and fulfilling your requests. Just as you can update an app, you can also let your virtual assistant acquire new skills.

smart speakers

Virtual assistants now work with artificial intelligence. What I’m particularly looking forward to is the expansion to AGI (artificial general intelligence). With this enhanced superintelligence, a virtual assistant will also be able to answer questions and meet requests for which it hasn’t been programmed. The scope of the current generation of smart speakers is limited, but with AGI they will be able to do very much more. They could compile a news summary, for instance, that is relevant to your specific need and interests, or suggest alternatives in a recipe for which you don’t have all of the ingredients.

Floris Daelemans - Radio innovation researcher 

VRT NWS and VRT Radio can now be discovered via the following skills on Alexa (Amazon): 

Radio 1:                      https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07H31VMZG

Radio 2:                      https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07J9N4WYQ

Klara:                          https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07HQ9K3FT

Klara Continuo:          https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07J27P6GN

MNM:                          https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07J1TBJVY

MNM Hits:                  https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07J1FBCGR

MNM UrbaNice:         https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07J18P13J

Ketnet Hits:                https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07J1VZMVK

Studio Brussel:           https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07HN22WYK

VRT NWS:                 https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B075FQ1HZQ