So, as Sarah mentioned in her post early this week, Turner Hopkins has been on holiday. As it happens I was back in the country for about 24 hours then was straight off to Glasgow – fast becoming my second favourite UK city – as part of our ongoing work reviewing the BBC’s Connected Studio initiative.

We’ve written about CS here before, but just to recap. The Connected Studio is essentially the latest in a series of of initiatives the Beeb has run over perhaps the last 15 years aimed at creating an innovation process for independent producers and technologists – working, of course, with the BBC’s talent, brands and infrastructure. I myself had the privilege of taking part in an earlier iteration – the BBC Labs process – when I was Head of Interactive at Somethin’ Else. That was getting on for a decade ago now, so the problems CS is setting out to address are plainly long-standing ones.

But I digress.

We first checked in on Connected Studio almost a year ago, with the inaugural session in Salford, which looked at the the Search, Homepage and Navigation “product”. Now, a year on, all but one of the ten products (which include News, Childrens, Weather and so on) have had at least one Connected Studio session, but this one was somewhat different. For rather than addressing one of the products, it looked instead at ideas for next year’s Commonwealth Games, which will take place in Glasgow and are a major editorial priority for BBC Scotland.

Given that both innovation in general and the building of relationships between large companies and small suppliers are notoriously thorny areas, the CS process is relatively straightforward. A one day “Creative Studio” (of which this is an example) is an intensive session aimed at selecting a handful of potential projects to take through to the second stage, the “Build Studio”. Teams may come to the day with an idea more or less fully formed and are on the lookout for collaborators to finesse it; others may come with only the vaguest of ideas and need collaborators to build the idea from the ground up. In either case, they have just one day to pull together a two-minute pitch which will be delivered in a fast and furious pitch session at the end of the day. Along the way the BBC supply briefing sessions to set an editorial and strategic context, and training and advice on pitching.

Here’s how the day panned out.

We kicked off with a general CS briefing from Robin Cramp, talking us through the process and outlining the day. Robin also went through the judging criteria: relevance to brief, distinctiveness, innovation, value, BBC public purposes and Connected Strategy (that is, how well does the idea support the organisation’s “One Service, Ten Products and Four Screens” strategy.) And he stressed: disrupt! Be big! (Something of a mantra for the morning, as you’ll see.)

We got insight on the Commonwealth Games more specifically from Bruce Malcolm, Head of BBC CW Games, who was interviewed by Claire White, Development Producer for BBC CW Games. Bruce made it clear that they would love Connected Studio to provide them with a significant part of the Games’ coverage; he again said that are they are looking for big ideas out of CS – and specifically ways to reach youth.

Eddie Morgan, Director, Northern Town (and, as former Head of BBC College of Production essentially one of our former clients) talked about The Space – the BBC and Arts Council’s online arts portal – as a way of framing the kinds of approaches which would work for the Games. He was admirably frank in talking about what hadn’t worked on the project and that a big failure had been around its promotion. This was borne out that only about 5% of the room had heard of The Space – a genuine shame. And lessons for CS? Once again: be big, bold, audacious, simple, memorable.

Becky Highby from BBC Audiences gave us some insights into arts and culture consumption. Among her observations, my ears pricked up at the fact that art consumption is heavily skewed towards “better off” women, that Sky Arts is now seen as a threat to the BBC, and that the latter’s arts coverage is considered often rather niche, with TV audiences around 500k. However, Becky went on to say that the organisation is bullish about taking arts mainstream with such shows as Climbed Every Mountain, Maestro at the Opera, and Fake or Fortune. (All new to me, I confess, but I guess the BBC would have me pegged as niche. Oy veh.)

The ever-inspiring Chris Sizemore, Executive Editor at for Knowledge & Learning gave us a sneak preview the K&L “product” – which may or may not be called “BBC Curious” or “iWonder”. In essence it consists of interactive guides to help users delve deeper into the “spark moments” provided by radio and TV; having been round some of the early thinking on the initiative I was delighted to see how far the ideas have come and what a clear and attractive proposition they are. I’m truly looking forward to their launch in the autumn.

Our old friend Jem Stone, Social Media Editor in Radio & Music, talked through the huge weekend BBC had just had in terms of radio and online – Glastonbury, F1, Wimbledon. (This included full video sets from 120 acts at Glasto, which are online for 30 days if want to check them out.) Jem’s headline recommendations were:

  • “Big isn’t a barrier”
  • “Simple works”
  • “Learn from the past”
  • “Know your audience”
  • “Don’t make assumptions”

Jem also pointed out the genius “Shit social media in Radio” facebook page, somewhat ruefully.

The final BBC presentations of the morning came from David Gallagher – User Experience & Design – who talked through some design principles (including “create emotional connections – think about what your idea does for people”) and Si Lumb, Senior Product Manager in Games and Play – who talked about the strategy for games on bbc.co.uk (which at last count apparently had over 1700 of them!)

After lunch, Linda Cockburn revisited the excellent presentation we’d seen her give in Salford last year: “”How to create the perfect 2 minute pitch. In essence, her key points are:

  • The hook – what’s your opening line?
  • Audience – who’s your idea aimed at?
  • Benefits – what does the audience get from this?
  • Approach – how does it work?
  • Close – what’s the last thing you’ll say?

She also stressed the importance of rehearsing presentations – over and over! – something with which I heartily concur.

So the rest of the day saw teams forming and getting on with the real business of putting to together and refining their ideas, and preparing their end-of-day presentation. Various BBC team members, including all the morning’s speakers, were on hand at any point to advise or generally act as a sounding board.

And then… the presentations. 33 of them. Two minutes each with 30 seconds’ Q&A. Over two hours in total. Now, by rights, this should be a daunting prospect for anyone to sit through, but it was, in fact, a blast. This is in good part down to Robin’s excellent chairing of the session (he’s a natural – very funny, and always putting the presenters at ease). And the fast and furious nature of the sessions (as the two minute rule is very strictly policed) really helps. But it’s also down to the quality of the presentations themselves , and the thinking behind them. Given the strict time limit, there’s also a surprising variety of formats, from fully worked up on-screen visuals to paper sketches and even a couple unadorned talks (very brave, I thought).

Now, this is already a monster post, but at the risk of making it more so, I thought it would be good to present the notes I took while the presentations were taking place. Bear with me: again, this was fast-paced – and long – so these are the briefest of outlines. And I may have missed something; if you were there on the day please get in touch with any clarifications/ommissions/corrections, and I’ll publish them immediately. So, here goes…

  • MyLights – an interactive personalised montage of events, generated off twitter profiles
  • Sports manager – a game which manages not a team but a whole sport.
  • Sportspace – a game to design a sport from the ground up
  • Commiepatois – “gather and share commonwealth patter”
  • BBC My Commonwealth – a personalised dashboard
  • Commonwealth Roots – an online community bringing together genealogy with BBC archival content
  • Two Big Ears – an audio-enhanced and possibly gamified timeline exploring the history of the CW Games
  • Conversed.net – a white labeled second screen app aggregating conversation around the Games
  • Live Music Stage – a two-way streaming app that puts users onstage with their favourite acts.
  • Embassy office – a virtual point of contact for visitors to the games
  • Longest catwalk in the world – a celebration of Glasgow fashion – on the underground!
  • Commonwealth dollar – teaching children about the value of currency
  • Glimpse – getting people into physical activity through online tutorials
  • An online guide to the East African slave trade/
  • iAir – a TV studio app for tablets
  • OurCommonwealth – a mobile app which crunches country-level stats to supply a picture of Commonwealth countries, enabling Top Trumps-like gamification.
  • Common Senses – a persronalised app aggregating stories from around the Commonwealth.
  • Commonwealth SportsDay – a multiplayer game creating a virtual international school sports day
  • A reimagination of the BBC Homepage, using the Games as a framework.
  • iMoments – an aggregator of social media commentary, using BBC content as a hook
  • Culture Chuck – an app for the sharing of cultural activity
  • A social media app to tell personal stories about the Games.
  • iExperienced – a tool for crowd-sourced commentary and cature of events
  • Commonhealth – a cross-platform initiative tracking nurses around the world fighting non-communicable diseases.
  • My Commonwealth Cousins – an online animated guide to the Commonwealth
  • Commonwealth Boardgames – bringing together children’s games from around the world
  • Gecko – engaging games for kids across devices and platforms based around a journey across the commonwealth and themed by nations.
  • Commonwealth Me – an app aggregating personalised CW Games content
  • A way for amateur film makers from across the world to collaborate.
  • Commonwealth of games – a games aggregator helping kids explore the Commonwealth.
  • Commonwealth Explorer – an app using either a timeline or interactive globe to explore Commonwealth content
  • The Village – A satirical, animated take on the Games, made almost in real time and updated daily

I’ll be genuinely intrigued to see which ideas go forward to the next stage. In the meantime, congrats to the CS team and the folks at BBC Scotland for bringing together such a fascinating and enjoyable day.

Simon