American public broadcaster NPR is hoping to "find a new audience" with the launch of what one analyst has called a "very clever" personalised radio app.
NPR One, on Android and iOS, combines on-demand news and feature material from the broadcaster's national operation with local content at partner stations and uses a recommendation algorithm to serve material based on listener interests.
The free app aims to introduce NPR content to people who might not have discovered it before – and also includes a built-in donate function to help raise money for the listener-funded stations.
NPR mobile technology manager Jeremy Pennycook said the app was "a re-imagining of radio".
"What we really wanted to do was not just create a shuffle-type experience but really blend machine learning and algorithms with a human touch," Pennycook told Journalism.co.uk. "We want it to feel hand-crafted – a human made this for you.
"If you are sending us signals that you really like science stories, we're not going to only play science stories. That's not what we're here to do. We want to make sure we don't create a filter bubble around you – that you are still going to get things that you didn't ask for."
He added: "We want to go after people who I think of as the disenfranchised – the people who never really gave us a try. Maybe their parents listened or their friends listened but they don't have that habit any more.
"This is not designed to replace that live terrestrial experience but to go out and find us a new audience."
NPR has more than 800 partner radio stations across the States and part of the challenge with the app is encouraging each station to use it to its full potential.
Pennycook said: "We have to show the value to the network and get them to follow our lead – we can't coerce them into doing anything."
A similar idea was drawn up five years ago by then-BBC executive James Cridland under the working title "BBC Radio Me" – combining the best of the corporation's national, local and themed content.
Cridland, now a radio futurologist at Media.info and co-organiser of the Nextrad.io ideas conference, said the NPR app had been created "in a very clever way. It's no mean technological trick to be able to pull all this content together in such a seamless way."
"The concept of broadcasting one to many is brilliant and we shouldn't lose sight of that," he told journalism.co.uk. "But all of us are different – all of us want slightly different things.
"We've been doing personalisation for a while in terms of music, but once you start looking at personalising speech content, that really changes the game.
"Different broadcasters are looking at how they can use technology in this way to change what they're doing. I would suspect that in 10 years time we're going to see much more of this personalisation - expecting my radio station to be much more reflective of the type of content I want to hear."
Hear the full Journalism.co.uk podcast on this topic at this link.
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