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BBC R&D looks to AI to help programme makers

The BBC’s research and development department (BBC R&D) is developing Artificial Intelligence to help programme makers and schedulers unlock valuable resources from its extensive library.

The news arrived as BBC 4.1 Artificial Intelligence TV brings two nights of experiential programming including a series part-made by AI on September 4 and 5.

There will be new and classic programmes exploring AI, including Made by Machine: When AI met the archive, and The Joy of AI, which is partly made by it.

AI was also used to help discover a selection of hidden footage from the BBC’s vast archive that will be shown as part of BBC 4.1 AI TV.

The AI learnt what BBC audiences might like, based on the channel’s previous schedules and programme attributes, and then ranked programmes it thought were most relevant.

Doing this manually would be impractical as it would take hundreds of hours, but the AI gave BBC Four a more manageable selection in a fraction of the time. This enabled researchers and schedulers to uncover programmes they may never have been able to find, and will broadcast a selection that haven’t been seen in years.

As the BBC becomes more digitised, this is something BBC R&D is developing for across its content. Relevant clips retrieved by AI can be used to enrich news and factual programmes, for example.

Cassian Harrison, channel editor at BBC Four, said: “AI and Machine Learning sit at the centre of a huge ongoing debate. With its brief to experiment, BBC Four is grasping the nettle by the hand with this bold experiment to investigate just how AI might open up new creative opportunities.

“In collaboration with the BBC’s world-beating R&D department, AI TV will explore the cutting edge of this new technology and demonstrate just how AI and Machine Learning might inform and influence programme-making and scheduling, while also resurfacing some gems from the BBC Four archive along the way. It’s telly Jim, but not as we know it…”

George Wright, head of internet research and future services at BBC R&D, said: “Helping BBC Four scour the BBC’s vast archives more efficiently is exactly why we’re developing this kind of AI. It can find very specific pieces of content in large libraries of programmes, which has massive benefits for BBC programme makers and audiences.

“BBC Four’s experimental night of programming is a great example of this, and Made by machine: When AI met the archive gives people an unprecedented look under the hood.”