Archives for category: convergence

Last Monday (June 9th) saw the 6th BBC Online Briefing, outlining the organisation’s digital activity for external stakeholders and suppliers. I was lucky enough to be asked along again so as ever, I thought I’d report back (and, yes, it’s taken a week but what can I say, we’ve been busy).

Once again we were in the BBC’s storied Radio Theatre, and the event was hosted by the thoroughly charming Fiona Bruce, who seemed to be relishing this second appearance and generally got under the skin of the discussions more than last time (sometimes provocatively so, but we’ll get to that later).

BBC Online’s current priorities – BBC iPlayer, myBBC, innovation at scale, “the BBC, online” and continuous delivery  – were emblazoned on a banner by the side of the stage and in his opening key note,  BBC Future Media Director Ralph Rivera outlined these through a series of concrete examples from across “the products”, including:

  • the roll out of the Knowledge and Learning “iWonder” guides (a huge task involving the consolidation of material from over 200 existing sites)
  • long-form journalism in News (in which I gather our good friend Paul Finn of Fitzroy and Finn had a major part in designing)
  • the new iPlayer, launched in BETA in March
  • the re-tooling of “below the waterline” features such as metadata ingest
  • the ongoing development of Playlister
  • ditto with BBC Live, which will give, over the summer, “the Olympic experience” to Wimbledon, Glastonbury, the Commonwealth Games and of course the World Cup, which I gather is happening as I write

Ralph went on the discuss the importance of working with external companies. He admitted that it was still difficult for outsiders to work with the organisation, but that the development of the new roster, broken into Testing, Design and Services, was hopefully going to be a big step in improving things. He also pointed out that the external quota is “a floor, not a ceiling”; the impressive fact that last year’s external spend in digital was 30% – around £19.5 million) suggests that this is more than just rhetoric.

Robin Cramp was up next, talking though Connected Studio‘s work over the last six months (much of which, of course, we’ve reported on this blog). Robin first introduced Matt Shearer, from BBC News Labs and Chris Rush, of the agency Realise who talked us through Referend-erm, an interactive hub about the upcoming Scottish independence referendum, aimed at 16-24 year olds, where “no question is to big, to small or too stupid to ask”. I was pleased to see that the team had opted to to create an app but rather a mobile-first, fully responsive website. Matt described the work as a “speedboat project” – enabling the the team to build something outside the organisation’s usual roadmap.

Robin was joined by CS Head Adrian Woolard. The two talked through upcoming CS projects, which would include working with the Natural History on their next behemoth series, One Planet, as well as with Radio 3, building on the work already done around classical music, and the World Service. Adrian also discussed a project encouraging coding for teenagers and hinted at a new platform to enable “innovation at scale” – but couldn’t say what it was jut yet…

John Page from R&D then presented a range of work that showed just how BBC R&D was “at the heart of reinventing our industry”, looking ahead in time frames of 3, 5 and 10 years. “Broadcast as a system” had traditionally been Create>>Deliver>>Consume, but several factors were disrupting the model, including end-to-end IP, data-centrism and new devices and interfaces. R&D are currently responding to these shifts by concentrating on projects that are:

  • immersive (a project using Oculus Rift and binaural sound to present chamber performances by members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra)
  • data-centric (overlays on sports event)
  • interactive/personal/adaptive (personalised sound mixing of live events)

John also discussed the importance of collaboration with outside agencies including tech manufacturers, SMEs, digital agencies (I was pleased to see that they’ve been working with my old firm Somethin’ Else) and academia.

The final presentation of the first half came from Carmen Aitken from BBC Audiences, who came to talk not about “the death of TV” – but rather its future, based on various in-depth audience research methods. TV, however it’s consumed, continues to satisfy four key needs: sociability, sensory stimulation, synchrony and relaxation. Interestingly, research shows that most viewers generally know what they want to watch, and find it via EPG, PVR and VOD – very much in that order. As for those of us who have given up on the TV as a device entirely – well, we are still very much outliers, although it’s worth noting that we tend to use laptops to do so rather than tablets.

Carmen posited three scenarios for the future of TV, using car-based metaphors:

  • Flying Cars model – a completely disrupted landscape
  • Horse and cart model – business as usual
  • Modified car model – some hybrid of the present and new forms of consumption

She made a cogent argument for the likelihood of the last one, of course. I personally emain unconvinced, and, as I’ve said before, when thinking about the future of media generally, we’d all do well to think about Nasseem Taleb’s “turkey graph“.

After a brief break, the stage was taken by polymath Dave Birss, who’d been asked to think about what he would do if given a digital-only network to run (one couldn’t help but think of BBC Three here, but that was never made explicit). Dave set out to test a series of assumptions, in each case taking them part fairly comprehensively. These included:

  • Assumption – “The success of a programme = the number of viewers.” Dave – why couldn’t we use the number of interactions as a success measure? Wouldn’t this tell us more about how an audience really felt?
  • Assumption: “We make programmes for people sitting on the settee.” Dave – really? Tech gives us the ability to make location-based, context-appropriate content.
  • Assumption: – “Digital stuff should be an extension of TV content.” Dave – why not start “in the real world”? What about “player-written drama” or “social-guided programming”?
  • Assumption: “Content needs to be edited to fixed lengths.” Dave – why not have expandable content”, content which might initially appear as a 3 minute stub, which might expand to 90 minutes if the viewer wanted to see, say, a whole interview.

This last point was the most compelling for me, but interestingly it’s where Fiona Bruce came in, making the observation that from her experience, lengthy, un-edited interviews led to “crapitude”. Well, I think it’s a question of intention: if you go into an interview knowing that you can fix things in the edit there’s no real jeopardy – no incentive to make a good long-from interview. But speaking as podcast junkie, I have to say that the scene is pretty inspiring – and I rarely, if ever, come across a dud. (Note that Dubner & Levitt and are doing the rounds at the moment, promoting Think Like A Freak; most of what I’ve heard on the radio so far has been soundbyte-y, but not this fabulous hour-long conversation on the Tim Ferriss podcast. Most definitely not an example of crapitude.)

The session was rounded off with a Q&A with Ralph and Matthew Postgate, Controller of R&D. Questions covered included:

  • What tech gets you most excited? Matthew – broadcasting data sets and the Internet of Things; Ralph – truly interactive, immersive video.
  • What the role of UGC? Ralph – something we can draw on, but not our core mission nor a strength; “we are the signal in the noise”.
  • What are the key qualities you’re looking for in a collaborator:P Ralph – creativity, diversity, a focus on delivery – and tenacity.
  • Will the licence renewal process affect innovation? Matthew – yes, but positively, driving innovation in areas like personalisation.

Once again, it was a thoroughly engaging afternoon, and a revealing one two. Congratulations to all involved and I look forward to the next one…


Tuesday was a busy (and long) one, then. We kicked off in Kings Place in the morning with the TSB briefing then started all over again in the same room that afternoon with the launch of the TSB’s Digital Strategy for the coming period.

The afternoon was introduced and generally hosted by Frank Boyd, one of the directors of the newly formed Knowledge Transfer Network, who briefly talked us through the KTN’s work before handing over to the TSB’s Head of Digital, Nick Appleyard who presented the organisation’s current and upcoming position on the digital industries. Some headlines, then:

  • The stakeholders in the digital space the TSB seeks to link up are the development or tech community and the businesses on whom an impact has been made by digital. The latter group often struggles to understand digital but the former group, as steeped in it as they are, struggle to find a route to market.
  • The TSB achieves this “joining up” with its IC Tomorrow team and via the KTN.
  • The principal elements of the idea cycle are conception, IP, business models and technology. But all too often the missing piece is the user.
  • So the TSB really seeks to fund projects that are user- and market-led.
  • UK is a great place to build digital technology businesses because of users’ expectations and behaviour: we’re Europe’s leaders in online and mobile penetration and the world’s leaders in terms of online transaction.
  • The TSB has launched the Connected Digital Economy Catapult in order to provide a platform and tools to help tech SME’s reach new markets.
  • Collaboration is hugely important to the TSB, and current partners include Nesta, ESRC, Creative Skillset, UKTI, and on and on…

Nick handed over to KTN’s CEO Chris Warkup whose opening remark struck a chord in the room: that the UK is great at innovation but not so good at the exploitation of new ideas. He then talked us how the new KTN was going to work. Here are some headlines:

  • The new company merges 14 previous KTNs.
  • Knowledge Transfer isn’t something that can simply be conducted virtually; rather, it’s a “contact sport”.
  • Often businesses have lots of information and knowledge to hand, but can lack wisdom.
  • The KTN seeks to drive cross-sector collaboration, join up business, technologists and funders, build multi-disciplinary teams and help the TSB in ths scoping of competitions.
  • He ended with a line of Matt Ridley’s, which I’ll paraphrase: “The future’s most limiting resource won’t be water or oil, but good brains.” (Matt, of course, is, in his own terms, a rational optimist; being rather more of a glass half full guy when it comes to civilisational development I think I’m rather more with Jared “Collapse” Diamond on the lack of water front, but still, I take his point.)

Chris was followed by the first of two talks from companies who’d received TSB funding. Jeff Clifford and Graham Jack represented Double Negative, the largest visual effects company in Europe, and often in the world. They discussed the huge changes in their field over the last decade, with the requirement for CG increasing dramatically – a real headache both in terms of logistics and the use of artists’ time. They went on to illustrate their work with a showreel of scenes from the upcoming Thor 2, which showed pre-VFX shots with finished ones; they were, of course, barely recognisable from each other.

They went on to say how innovation in workflow was absolutely essential for them, and that’s where they’d focussed for their TSB-funding work. SIM, a project run in collaboration with FilmLight and Surrey University sought to address these issues, and a project about to start is ASAP : a Scalable Architecture of Production.

Next up was Pilgrim Beart, founder of, and the chief architect of Hyper/Cat, a TSB-funded project looking to create interoperability standards to join different verticals all working in the Internet of Things space. He opened with the fascinating observation that as the number of connected devices on the planet grew to outnumber, vastly, the number of people, then devices were going to have to start “looking after themselves”. And what was getting in the way of the IoT actually happening? Interoperability between verticals.

So Hyper/Cat sought to crack the problem, or at least examine how it might be cracked down the line, with a multi-party demonstrator. The outcome had plainly been successful, and Pilgrim outlined the chief drivers of its success:

  • Learning by doing
  • Strong relationships
  • An early market
  • The development of a process for coming up with a spec
  • Global potential – the UK can truly lead here.

He finished with the observation that in 10 years the very term Internet of Things would be long gone; we’ll simply talking about “The Internet”.

The day ended with a panel discussion on the challenges facing digital innovators, hosted by Jon Kingsbury, currently at Nesta but about to come over to the KTN as Head of Digital Economy. Jon was joined by Allesandro Guazzi of Sentimoto, who are developing smart wearables for older people; Emer Coleman of TransportAPI, who make apps based on public data made available through APIs; and Databarta’s Jane Lucy, a specialist in the use of digital media to deliver campaigning. The panel took questions from the floor and debated a range of issues, including:

  • The desperate lack of tech talent, especially devs and most especially Ruby devs.
  • The importance of the engagement with Europe and the Horizon 20/20 project.
  • The difficulty of actually doing x-disciplinary collaboration.
  • The value of mentoring.
  • The importance of “social”.

Jon put a final question to the panel: what could the TSB do to improve the situation. Three answers came through loud and clear: skills development; help finding the right collaborators; and a push for open data standards.

It was a nice, sparky ending to a generally lively and hugely informative afternoon.


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 (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
  • – 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.


I mentioned last week that I’d been in London at the Wallacespace for the third and final briefing in the TSB Convergence competition briefings. Well here’s a video of Jeremy Silver’s excellent – and thorough – explanation of the call, in which he talks about its background and rationale before going to explain the technicalities of the application process.