Advanced Television

BBC R&D: Amazon Alexa interactive drama

November 27, 2018

By Colin Mann

BBC Research & Development has launched a new interactive drama for Amazon Alexa – The Unfortunates – a reworked version of a BBC Radio 3 play, starring Martin Freeman, and is based on the experimental 1969 ‘book in a box’ by BS Johnson.

The book was designed to be read in a random order, and the new skill version innovatively sticks to that spirit by randomising every single time it is listened to – meaning that it is different for everyone who experiences it, giving everyone a unique perspective on the same story.

The content is free to download, and can be found either by asking the Alexa device to enable The Unfortunates, via the Alexa Skill store or via the BBC Taster website.

The story of The Unfortunates follows a sports journalist whose memories of a dead friend are triggered when he is sent to report on a football match. The original book had 27 unbound chapters, which were designed to be read in a random order as chosen by the reader – to best represent the ‘mind’s randomness’.

The BBC Radio 3 play stuck to this spirit by choosing the order of the acts by a random draw and broadcasting a linear version based on that draw. The new version for voice devices randomises the order every single time, for every listener, better keeping to Johnson’s original intention of the book, ensuring that everyone experiences it differently.

The latest smart speaker technology enables people to control The Unfortunates using spoken commands to shape their experience.

In creating the drama, the team at BBC R&D has built on its work in 2017 with smart speakers, when it made the sci-fi interactive drama The Inspection Chamber.

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