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BBC Online Briefing – Interactive video & 4K at the Commonwealth Games

As usual, the BBC is doing some exciting things in digital. On 19th November the great and the good from the BBC’s digital agency roster (including ourselves!) gathered together in their Radio Theatre to get the latest on the digital projects they’ve been working on.

Row of theatre seats

First up was an interview with Ralph Rivera, Director of BBC Future Media. In a pre-recorded interview, we were taken through the progress made over the last six months in starting to meet the key priorities for the department.

Tim Plyming followed with a fascinating overview of the recently launched World War 1 Our World War interactive video project.   Interactive video may feel slightly old-hat to anyone that’s taken an interest in it over the past few years (remember this from 2009?), but the BBC seems to be having a serious look at how it might be an effective tool for them to start to create new formats for digital storytelling online that offers the same production values as traditional broadcast media while presenting users with a more immersive experience.

What I think works really well here is that this episode formed a part of an existing TV series and was treated with the same importance as part of that same series. What you end up with is a project that feels part of the whole broadcast experience rather than a digital bolt on or added extra.

Chris Sizemore followed with a compelling speech about the BBC’s work on iWonder – their (relatively) recently launched knowledge and curiosity bank. I use the word curiosity advisedly as Chris described in detail how this was a central pillar to the approach of iWonder as a whole, using the audience’s innate curiosity about the world around them to explore ideas and concepts and ultimately create insights into ourselves. I think this platform has the potential to really grow as part of the BBC’s offering as it finds its audience, and the key to unlocking this curiosity seems to be around finding the right formats – such as interactive timelines – to inspire and engage users.

Recently launched as BBC Education’s 2015 focus, the ‘Make it Digital’ campaign will run throughout the year and will aim to introduce and harness digital creativity from the UK audience at large. Martin Wilson, Head of Digital Creativity, was on hand to introduce the programme and let us know a bit more about what we can expect over the coming months. Jon Howard, Executive Product Manager, Digital Creativity, presented alongside Martin showing us some of the work they’ve already been doing, including the recently launched The Doctor and the Dalek game that sneakily brings in basic coding into its game mechanics to introduce players to programming skills in order to progress through the levels. It’s worth a play and there’s some great insight into how the game was developed from Paul Bennun at Somethin’ Else on the BBC internet blog too. There have been some interesting events with kids trying to experiment with component based game programming already, and with the BBC pushing the programme hard through broadcast shows such as Technobabble and Appsolute Genius, it’s going to be fascinating to see how this programme unfolds over 2015 with the BBC adding it’s heft to a burgeoning group of other existing digital campaigns like the Year of Code.

One of the most interesting talks of the morning came from Jon Page, Head of Operations in the R&D department. He spoke about far too many amazing things to fit into this blog, but some of the work covered looks to be potentially game-changing for broadcast and digital. It’s definitely worth a look at his presentation when it’s up online (see below) or digging into it in a bit more detail here. There were a lot of things being trialled at the Commonwealth Games this year from UHD broadcasting that allows for a full stadium zoomable experience (named the Venue Explorer), to the creation of a fully dedicated IP studio allowing for entirely digital controlled broadcasting with the ability to have entirely remote production teams directing or sound mixing from completely different cities. Also at the games the BBC set up full 360 degree video and audio capture that, once paired with Oculus Rift, has allowed them to create a completely immersive video broadcast experience. The results are mind-blowing.

Potentially revolutionary work into Augmented Video or Data Driven TV was also shared. Essentially, this is the provision of extra data and rich content that sits behind the visuals you see and that can be used to provide an enhanced experience for users. The example we were shown was of a gymnast vaulting. Using various technologies the video data could include live information about the heart rate, speed of approach and even the selection of twists and somersaults chosen by the gymnast. All this data is coming live from the video feed as it happens, providing an extra layer of information for the viewer. This kind of data rich viewer experience has the potential to really disrupt the way we experience broadcast, not just of sports but of drama or other events. Imagine, for example, being able to see the heart-rate of a politician and some live economic data as he struggles to answer a particularly tricky question about the economy!

Finally, Carmen Aitken took us through some fascinating insight that the research team have been looking at recently about identifying human and digital needs of users. As digital media has moved from portals through to search and social, its purpose has elevated up Maslow’s Hierarchy from the fulfillment of functional lower needs to those higher and more emotional needs.

Early in the day, Ralph Rivera mentioned one of the key challenges facing the BBC now and moving into 2015 is to make their online presence become a broadcast medium of itself and move away from it being viewed as solely a distribution platform. Clearly great strides are being made towards this with their work at the Commonwealth games and reinventing interactive video in Our War, but it will be interesting to see how this continues to take shape over the coming months with landmark events such as the General Election.

A huge thank you to the BBC for sharing the great work that they’re doing.
The event will shortly be available to view in full on the BBC internet blog, or search #bbconline for the tweets from the day.


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