BBC Pilots Automatic Translation Tool

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is piloting what it calls virtual voice-over’ technology that can translate broadcasts into other languages using machine translation, subtitles, and computer-generated text-to-speech voices.  

The first language for the pilot, Japanese, went live Dec. 15, the pilot will be expanded to include Russian in January. After the initial pilot is completed in April, the BBC will look to add other languages.

The technology is being developed by the BBC’s in-house News Labs Division.

The BBC attracts a weekly global news audience of 283 million people to its international news services, including BBC World Service, the BBC World News television channel, and bbc.com/news.

"Technology like this means we can bring more of our international journalism to more people," said the BBC's digital development director James Montgomery, the BBC’s digital development director, in a statement.

The new production tool will produce voice-overs and subtitles in multiple languages for short video news packages online.

At present, the technology does not involve speech recognition, so journalists will still need to provide written scripts. Once the computer has translated the text, journalists only need make the necessary corrections and select the synthetic voice to use. The chosen voice then replaces the original English voiceover.

Audiences already have several free tools to translate online news articles, including Google Translate and Microsoft’s Bing Translator.

Several people have expressed concerns that as the BBC faces sizeable budget cuts, the shift toward automated translation could be used to justify job cuts. The BBC, however, has said that it instead intends to free journalists from some of the administrative tasks involved in translating their reports.

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