Bringing characters to life through a prototype voice experience for Amazon Alexa
Created for Amazon Alexa, the CBeebies experience was one of the first children’s entertainment skills to be developed by a major brand.
We worked closely with a multi-disciplinary team within the BBC, to consult on scripting and flows. This ensured that the branded content was optimised for an interactive voice skill and offered young children a great experience.
With few existing entertainment skills to benchmark our work against, we explored the psychology and structure of children’s entertainment shows to develop ideas to maintain engagement and interest throughout each experience.
Children’s answers are stored and recalled later in the experience, letting them know their answers matter and investing themselves more in the choices they make.
To ensure each child is offered a complete and frustration-free experience, the narrative is designed to ‘fail forward’. If Alexa fails to detect a valid answer it will proceed to the next action, preventing the skill from becoming stuck in a loop or closing the skill by mistake.
We introduced an innovative navigation structure to allow the BBC to maintain multiple shows and experience types within a single skill. The navigation also helps to guide children in the range of shows and experiences available to them.
We developed a ‘story mode’ specifically for narrative entertainment skills. Story mode ensures that a user cannot accidentally trigger another intent when in the middle of a narrative experience.
We randomised elements of the intents on each playthrough to deliver different experiences each time and encourage prolonged engagement.
A rich media experience
We used recorded audio from BBC talent to replace Alexa’s voice entirely with the voices of the shows' characters and hosts.
The skill offers a mixture of play types, from taking part in a singalong to going on a time travelling adventure.
Giving children choices reinforces the idea that their answers matter and builds the connection between the child and the character.
These questions are backed by extensive slot choices with fallbacks in place if a child selects an answer not included in our slot ranges. This allows open ended answers to be stored and recalled later in the experience.
The skill asks children to clap, stamp their feet, or shout out answers, with the skill pausing to afford the child time to complete their action before applauding them and continuing the narrative.
We upskilled BBC content writers on best practice writing for voice interaction models and developed the navigation model to allow the BBC to add more shows and play types over time.
We also recommended and developed a roadmap with the project team for the skill to connect to other media formats, including Cbeebies radio and magazine. This would give children and their caregivers a more cohesive brand experience, and allow collectables such as badges earned within the skill to be displayed or used on web and mobile.
To maximise the entertainment value of our skill, we drew on our experience in voice, cloud, and narrative development.
The best practice standards we established for voice development have gone on to be used in our future entertainment skills, like Channel 4’s The Human Test.
Hosting our solution on Azure ensured the solution was stable, and our work integrating Alexa with Azure was vital in creating further entertainment skills.
The BBC tested our prototype skill with real families to great results.
Parents loved the imaginative play the skill encouraged in their children, as well the reduction in the amount of screen time their children had. Parents also felt the skill encouraged better speech and pronunciation . Children also loved the skill, with high rates of engagement and retention recorded across all families taking part in the trial.
The prototype phase is now complete, and the skill has been accepted by the BBC into their roster of considerations in developing their ongoing digital engagement strategy.