BBC Online Briefing at Media City
Last week I had the opportunity to visit Media City UK, the new Salford home for six of the ten BBC products.
The offices at Media City are shinier than a really shiny thing. Nearly every static vertical surface is covered in whiteboard material, there are bare concrete pillars and grey felt-covered chairs with brightly coloured furry buttons and zips. I was really struggling not to touch everything. Oddly, the lifts have the floor selection buttons on the outside of the lift, I assume possibly serving as a constant daily reminder to staff that user journeys and choice are very neatly intertwined.
The day started off with a rapid and tantalising tour of the R&D department. We were whisked through listening rooms, labs, user testing suits and shown a flashed ankle of what the R&D team is up to. Frankly, I want to go back and spend a whole day (maybe 2) badgering the staff about what they’re doing and why and how and … I digress. The highlight for me was discovering the Universal Remote Control API which has been developed to solve problems of accessibility but potentially has a wider scope, giving viewers the opportunity to control and interact with their TV screens from their phone or tablet, and the possibility for programme makers to add an extra character to your living room.
The rest of the day revolved around the BBC’s vision for our four screens – TV, Computer, Tablet and Mobile.
Based on the fact 97% of homes have a TV and there are 1.3 mobile phone contracts per person in the UK, the assumption is that quite a lot of us are at least two screen people. Our consumption of media is not limited to those two screens though so adding in desktops, laptops and tablets means that the BBC’s digital output will now cover four screens.
My favourite presentation of the day was from Holly Goodier, Head of Audiences, who presented results of her teams extensive research. They’ve been listening to how we say we interact with our screens, but also looking at how we actually interact with those screens given the data trails we all leave behind us. Basically it comes down to context and interaction level. We love our phones; they are our limbs and our hearts. We see Tablets as frivolous entertainment and in many cases they’re now being used as personal TV’s. Most people associate their desktops and laptops as a work space. TV is divided between different generations, older people see it as the hearth of the home, younger people see them as background noise.
She explained that about three or four years ago they were wondering when screens would become ubiquitous – At what point would there be a screen everywhere? In a very short time that has become a reality. Holly also hinted towards a concept that has been buzzing around my brain after reading this blog post. She asked, “When will the glass disappear?”. Sadly she didn’t take a punt at answering the question.
So the BBC have set their stall out. They’re going to be creating digital content across all four screens for all ten brands. Even if that means some forms of interactive media are going to look ten years behind others. At the time I raised this point in an ill thought out tweet. Actually, after talking it over with some of the BBC staff and considering the issue of “Is HTML5 ready?”, I think it’s a very brave move that’s been forced by events they have no control over. Considering the lack of knowledge and experience in these new areas but recognising a shift in the way we use our screens, they are starting and supporting a move over to looking differently at the ways in which we can produce digital content.