Last week Sarah and I attended the second BBC Future Media Indie Briefing events of the year, once again held in the Radio Theatre at Broadcasting House, or New Broadcasting House as it seems it must now be called. Last spring’s event was hosted by Kirsty Wark; today it was the turn of Fiona Bruce, who was fantastically charming and smart – and a great anecdote spinner.

The first of the day’s speakers was BBC FM director, Ralph Rivera, who talked us through what his area had achieved over the last few months and where they were headed next (indeed, his presentation was simply titled “Where Next?”) Last year’s full digital service for the Olympics had inevitably led to lots of BBC teams asking for “the Olympics treatment”, and that treatment – now branded BBC Live – was rolled out this year to Glastonbury and Wimbledon. The next few months will see even more BBC Live moments, including the World Cup, the Winter Olympics and the Commonwealth Games.

In the meantime, FM are still executing the 1-10-4 strategy (1 Service, 10 Products, 4 Screens) and Ralph gave several examples of success arising from that strategy, including the CBeebies app (1.4 million downloads, effectively doubling CBeebies’ traffic) and BBC Weather.

However, Ralph admitted that so much of what FM does is still a digital extension of what’s already happening of BBC Radio and TV; his ambition is still to make “new stuff” in “new ways”. They’ve already made some strides here, including iPlayer-premiered Dr Who mini-episodes and the recently launched Playlister, which adds BBC radio editorial curation to the algorithmic and social recommendation normally found in such music services as Spotify (and apparently Spotify are very happy with it).

Alerts are going to be a big thing in future developments and the iPlayer catch up window is going to expand from 7 to 30 days – which is unquestionably a major deal.

Lastly, the future vision for the production was one of “continuous delivery”: Build > Deploy > Test > Release > Build and on and on. This is all about reducing time from idea to implementation and crucially, Ralph concluded, none of this could be done without partnerships – something no doubt most of the room would be relieved to hear.

Next up was the turn of a former colleague from my days in BBC Radio and Music Online: Tim Plyming. Last time we hooked up with Tim he was doing great stuff at the British Museum, but now he’s back at the Beeb as the digital exec leading the massive World War 1 Centenary. I say “massive” because, as Tim said, the centenary is going to be “the biggest season the BBC has ever done”, following WW1 in “real time” across 4 years.

At its heart the season is going to be about personal and locational connection to the war, and will be driven by online (the centenary has a recently relaunched website). Previous views of this war have tended to look at it through a particular prism, portraying it as four solid years of horrendous trench warfare. But there’s so much more to it than that, and digital only content will, over the next few months and years, start to tell rather different stories, not least about life on the home front (it was new to Sarah and I that Brighton Pavilion, just down the road from us, was used for treating injured servicemen).

And once again, partnerships were going to be key to making this successful. There’s already one up and running with the Imperial War Museum: “WWI at Home” which will eventually be home to over 1500 individual stories.

The opening session concluded with a presentation from BBC Audiences, represented by Carmen Aitken, Head of Audiences and Research Manager Simon Kendrick. Here are some of the headlines from their presentation:

  • 30% of UK homes has 5 or more connected devices.
  • 55% of digital consumers still access online only on a desktop PC (so rumours of the PC’s death have been greatly exaggerated, it seems)
  • The screen is not the biggest determinator of choice. Actually it’s more likely a combination of location, mood and content
  • “Time Rules All”; understanding the shape of people’s day is crucial to understanding their media use.
  • Upcoming demographic change meant that yes, the audience would be getting older – but there is going to be a lot more young media consumers too.
  • Kids: always online, always multitasking, on mobiles, but also – still watching TV and still reading books, apparently
  • (I was struck – though hardly surprised – that mostly what kids do on tablets is play games.)
  • Developers need to make stuff simple: don’t make things challenging
  • Despite all this, kids apparently aren’t going to have very different “basic human needs” from their predecessors (something I’m not so sure about, but that’s another issue.)

The pair took questions from the audience, with Sarah getting straight in with a question about how they arrived at audience insight. The answer it seems, is through a whole host of measurement methodologies.

We had a short break, then it was the turn of the Connected Studio team, with whom we’ve been working pretty closely over the last year, one way and another. The presentation opened with Robin Cramp who talked us through the 7 projects that are going through to production from the Build Studio phase (remember: 5 had been promised, so delivery is outstripping expectation). The projects included:

  • Perceptive Audio App, made by Aardman and Profero
  • Predicto Machino, from Leeds’ MadeByPi
  • EEZL, by Peekabu in Edinburgh
  • Virtual Crowd, also from MadeByPi
  • Pocket Pundit, from Aerian, Wiltshire

sportTwo things struck me about the projects: firstly, and mostimportantly, I really don’t believe these projects would have arisen from “business as usual”. And secondly, it’s great to see the geographical spread of the companies whose work is going through.

We were also given a couple of demonstrations. John Davison of Kanoti talked about the HTML5 “photographic comic” they developed for Inside No 9 at the Comedy Lab. And Matt Shearer from BBC News presented the work done at the BBC News Labs. #newsHACK was a 2-day event held at Shoreditch Town Hall that brought together 10 news organisations and 6 universities, and opened up APIs on over 400,000 articles. The event has led to collaborations with both Sky News and the Financial Times and a follow up is planned for spring.


Connected Studio’s chief, Adrian Woolard, finished up the CS presentation with a round up of some of the lessons learned, some examples of other people doing well in this space, principally because they are allowed to fail (including govUK and Makeshift), and finally a look at some upcoming initiatives, including a News Archive CS in Northern Ireland, a Classical Music CS in Wales, #newsHACK 2, more studio sprints and the relaunch of the CS online presence.

From our point of view, as strong supporters of Connected Studio, it’s great to see it take centre stage at this event once again.

Finally, Ralph took the stage again, this time with Jane Weedon, Director of Business Development, to take questions from the audience. I’m afraid I got in with the second Turner Hopkins question of the day. I wanted to know about the fate of the Digital Public Space in all of this – the answer to which seems to be that rather than an initiative in its own right, its become a kind of defining ethos behind a lot of other BBC FM activity, from CS to the WWI season.

All in all, another fine event, and a great window on the work BBC FM is doing with the external sector. Congratulations to all those who put in the evident hard work to pull it off.