March 16, 2015
New Yorker, BBC Director of Future Media and #RethinkMedia keynote speaker, Ralph Rivera, discusses the ‘inevitability’ of BBC channels eventually becoming iPlayer-based, how traditional media can get the most from digital, and why the Holo Deck from Star Trek is the ultimate goal.
I’m really focused on something that Tony (Hall) referenced in his speech last week, which is the shift to an ‘Internet first’ BBC, and not least of which is transforming our relationship with audiences to create even more personalised experiences.
I also want to make sure that we continue to be a platform that enables the broader UK creative economic system; we’ve done that in radio, we’ve always done that in TV, and we’ve always done that in the digital age as well.
It comes back to this point about the Internet being a medium, can you tell stories on the Internet that you wouldn’t be able to tell on TV and radio.
When you’re doing that, you know you’re being Internet first. When what you’re doing on the Internet is what you already did on radio and TV, then almost by definition, it’s not Internet first.
One of the things that most distinguishes the online and connected from your TV or radio is the fact that you can know who that person is and interact with them as individuals.
So something we’ve recently launched is the BBC News app, and within 2 weeks of the news app launching close to 2 million peronalised their news experience by following topics that they were particularly interested in, and that resulted in 1.1 million different permutations of combinations of BBC news.
Before that, the app was putting out one permutation, just one version of BBC News for everyone. So that’s just an example of how we can better personalise our experiences to be even more relevant to people’s interests.
Compared to e-commerce, the entire media industry is playing in catch-up mode with personalisation, but I think it will catch-up quickly.
The first thing that media companies need to look at, is that the Internet is a medium unto itself, not just a distribution platform for the stories created for the medium of radio, print or TV.
As a medium, the Internet is social, interactive and non-linear, and storytellers need to figure out how to best tell stories using just what the Internet has to offer.
This has historically always been true, in the early years TV was essentially radio with a camera on it, early radio was essentially theatre with the blinkers on it.
So the internet thus far has been TV online or radio online or magazines and newspapers online. We’re just getting to the point where people, specifically creatives, will start to embrace and use what online has to offer, which is unique in itself.
In terms of interactive media, and the data that comes along with it, we are just scratching the surface in terms of the possibilities there are there.
Trends that come to mind are around the Internet of Things, and that includes the creation of big amounts of data, which we should be able to use to create better programmes for arts and services.
The other thing that I’m exited about is immersive and interactive media, things like Oculus Rift and Magic Leap; all early incarnations of Star Trek’s Holo Deck!
Before being at the BBC, I was at AOL where I ran the games division there, and when you look at the games industry, it doesn’t refer to itself as the ‘games industry’ as much as the ‘interactive entertainment’ industry.
The notion of being able to go from 2D to 3D and be totally immersive in a virtual world, we’re going to see that in games first, but that will generalise into storytelling overall.
Absolutely, I think about our wildlife and history programmes, things like Blue Planet or Frozen Planet, then imagine being there, or being able to have a seat at the Proms and be able to look around and get a 360 degree view.
It applies to a lot of different genres and spaces; the notion of being able to feel like you’re there. That will require a whole new way of looking at how you introduce those experiences. It isn’t just about distributing it, you’re going to actually have to think it through differently.
I have a different perspective on it, being from the US where there is no BBC and local newspapers and media are doing just as bad, if not worse.
So my thinking is that the impact isn’t that of the BBC on local news, it’s the impact of the Internet on the local news business.
I think that the challenge is there, and is much more intrinsic to the overall business model and function that the Internet has had on things like classifieds, advertising and so on.
I really don’t recognise the BBC as being the issue, the Internet is what people need to be focused on, not just how to meet that challenge but the opportunity that it creates.
I would look at how you can perpetuate the existing business model when that model has been disrupted. I would look at being able to provide local news, local entertainment and local commerce with the Internet in mind, and there are examples of folks that have started to crack that.
In the US, Craig’s List has reimagined the classifieds and local commerce business. It’s about looking again at how we can look to do the same things we were doing in the world before the Internet, but with a pair of fresh eyes.
The other thing that the Internet does is that it enables people to connect with others in a way that they couldn’t before; how do you engage with those people formerly known as readers? How can you engender those connections?
I also think that there’s an opportunity to connect with other companies, the notion of the hypertext link means you don’t have to do everything yourself. You do what you do best and then you link to the rest. There’s an opportunity for media companies to work more with each other by linking to each other.
We do to an extent now, and I believe we can and will do more in the future.
That said, it will always be a compliment to, and not a substitute to our trusted, editorial judgment and voice. That’s true for us, as it would be for any other newspaper or radio.
It’s important to know that the Internet enables a lot of different voices, and raises a cacophony of voices, but can then generate a lot of noise in the system. The greater the noise, the greater the need for someone to sort through that noise.
All things in moderation, if you want to engender an ecosystem you want to get more of these voices, but you’ve got to modulate that, and you have to utilise the editorial expertise, to calibrate those stories. It’s curation rather than aggregation.
It’s premature to speculate on others before we’ve even tackled the first one.
That said, I think eventually all channels, not just BBC Three, will be iPlayer-based, that could eventually take 10-20 years but I think it’s inevitable.
It’s not that BBC Three is just going to be on iPlayer only, it’s more about BBC Three moving to online primarily, and that goes beyond iPlayer.
First of all, it’d be beyond iPlayer, you have to look at BBC Three as a brand that resonates with a specific audience that we have to look at in terms of a brand and have it expresses itself in its own destination on iPlayer and wherever it makes sense to engage with its audience, it will contribute to have a distinctive, creative voice.
Of course it would continue to tell great stories, it would engage with an audience online that’s not possible with audiences on TV. It would come to be seen as an Internet medium, and not a broadcast transplant, it’ll take some time to achieve that.
The most important thing is that it’ll have a positive impact on younger audiences, that’s it’s role in the wider universe, regardless of the means of transmission.
It depends on what you mean by media, I have a simple definition for media; it’s the intersection of stories with the technology, where the technology enables more immersive, pervasive experiences.
That was true with papyrus, the printing press, radio and TV and it’s true now with the Internet. It will contribute to be true as the technology evolves and storytellers make use of what’s available.
So, I don’t know about in 20 years, but we’ll eventually get to the Holo Deck!
Ralph is speaking at #RethinkMedia 2015, on 18 March 2015 at Birmingham City University
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