A British Chapter of Media Convergence (I) – BBC R&D

Liz Valentine is one of the many outstanding women I met at the BBC Future Media’s Women’s Networking Event on 14 September this year. I recalled Liz and her colleague from BBC R&D gave a good introduction about a female Dalek robot that can interact with the Doctor Who TV content to me, telling me how they conducted user-involved test-driven development. I immediately thought that it would be such a good idea to have Liz coming over to speak to our CVG students (about agile production management and test QA management) and BATAR students (about innovative technologies for driving media convergence).

Liz kicked off her lecture by explaining the role of BBC R&D (as one can see from their website they are award-winning enterprising innovator now) and her role as research scientist. She then introduced three projects (Production Labs: Storycrate and Ingex Logger, the free/open source software Universal Control: Accessible TV Clients, Second Screen Companions) to exemplify the innovation processes usually experienced within BBC R&D – how prototyping, user-centred development, trials and data analysis were conducted.

Despite the availability of digital technologies, the most commonly used devises / tools for conducting trails / testing are still paper, pen and stopwatch. And card sorting remains the most effective method for grouping and prioritising user requirements (and features on demands). Testing is an important part of technological development, and it’s even more important to document the contexts where the testing is being carried out. To meticulously document the testing, usually there are so many circles of observers: people who observe the users, and people who observe how those users are being observed (for example the testing for a future production tool Storycrate). And because of the amount of people involved in testing, it takes lots of efforts to arrange testing (including scheduling, running the test, managing all materials required and communication between departments).

The testing for 2-screening (or dual-screening or multiple-screening) is a classic example – researchers would like to know the viewers’ attention span, where their attention falls, how to measure the impact of a product in a 2-screening environment, or how to automate things on iPad.

In addition to understanding BBC R&D’s innovation processes, we also learned what future media technologies will be (or some have been) implemented or be trendy – such as the forthcoming YouView system, Set Top Box, Universal control clients. These new technologies drive (and perhaps their innovations are also shaped by the expectations of) media convergence. The future of content consumption and production is going to be ubiquitous computing, re-mediated by a robot dalek (an embedded device with Universal Control Clients installed that moves around a house, to facilitate the audiences’ 2-Screen experiences). Shame that it’s just been announced that the Dalek will not appear in Doctor Who for a while because they were overdone.

Students were interested in knowing how testers were recruited (some were recruited through marketing agencies with requirements of types of players clearly defined in advance), and how the needs of disabled audience are fulfilled (because disability is not often discussed when we talk about games development, and
Liz covered how to make games more accessible to audience/players with disability (through the set-top-box) – for more info see http://www.gamebase.info/ and http://www.specialeffect.org.uk/).

I’d like to thank Liz Valentine for delivering the guest lecture (twice! – on 15 and 17 November) to two different cohorts (level-5 CVG students and level-4 BATAR students respectively) so that we understand what cutting-edge media technologies we’ll be experiencing in the future. Her talk simply demonstrated that BBC is not just a public broadcasting service whose remits are entertaining, informing, educating the audience. The uniqueness of BBC is that it has been an active innovator that encouraged the advent of many important media technologies (including the much loved BBC Micro computers) and will always be (at least in the following decades to come).

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