iCreate can deliver tv gold, says Younge

Pat Younge Pat Younge, Vision Productions chief creative officer: 'I know a good idea when I see one. Even if it needs other people to add to it to bring it to life'

Having an idea is just the beginning. Pat Younge, chief creative officer for Vision Productions, reckons 99% of the suggestions for programmes that people come up with don't even make it onto the drawing board, and he's on a mission to change that, using the latest crowd sourcing software designed for BBC Production, called iCreate.

This week sees the first of around 2500 staff working in in-house production begin their training on the software, which will enable anyone in any department to both submit their own ideas for content and comment on those of their colleagues.

Younge believes there is a general naivety about the challenges that development teams face in transferring a concept into a piece of television or radio. Creating our Future, as his project is called, will address that by training people about the process - whether or not they work in a programme environment - and tapping into the collective brain of the BBC in a truly collaborative way.

Start Quote

People tend to come up with issues rather than stories... Acid rain is an issue, but a farmer whose crop has been destroyed by acid rain is a story”

End Quote Pat Young Chief Creative Officer, Vision Productions

'We can't just send the software out there; the key to making this project work is to ensure people understand how ideas get developed,' says Younge. 'People tend to come up with issues rather than stories, that's problem number one. Acid rain is an issue, for example, but a farmer whose crop has been destroyed by acid rain is a story.'

Ideas leaderboard

iCreate will also help staff identify the importance of thinking who the audience is and what channel might be appropriate for their idea, if it's to have a chance of being commissioned.

Younge will also have to manage expectations. 'If we do pick up an idea, it doesn't mean you'll get to work on the show,' he says, 'but you will get the chance to stick with it. We're introducing a gaming element as well. There'll be leaderboards showing who are the most prolific ideas generators and who are the most active people in terms of commenting on other people's ideas. Ultimately, when we are looking for new people to join development teams, this will be one of the things we look at.'

In a previous pilot, Christian McNally, who works in Health & Safety, suggested a programme about single Dads that he called 'Mr Mum'. It wasn't continued in its purest form, but when Anne McNaught from BBC Learning, Scotland, added her ideas to his through the virtual space of iCreate, the potential for a show did catch the eye of the developers.

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If we do pick up an idea, it doesn't mean you'll get to work on the show, but you will get the chance to stick with it”

End Quote Pat Younge

It's now being made into a half hour radio sit-com with the working title 'Domestic Science'. McNally and McNaught have met the head of radio comedy and a producer and submitted a treatment and radio comedy are now commissioning a writer to pen a pilot.

Book readers

Crowd sourcing is increasingly common in large organisations as a way of engaging staff. Recently departed DG George Entwistle made a commitment that the Corporation would 'put the emphasis where it belongs - on creative people doing creative things'. As such iCreate is being introduced specifically to generate ideas, but in future it could be used to save money or simplify process.

'The BBC is big and up until now we've struggled to leverage the advantage of scale - a problem the indies don't have,' says Younge. 'What we're doing can work across all our output - take drama for example. iCreate gives us access to 2500 book readers. If all they did was use the system to mention a novel they've read and why it was interesting, it might help drama developers to identify books that aren't in their normal line of sight, yet might make a great series.'

Younge is hopeful the compulsory training will eliminate a potentially inefficient, massive inpouring of what he calls 'undercooked' suggestions.

Man versus Food The Travel Channel's Man versus Food

'I know a good idea when I see one,' he says. 'Even if it needs other people to add to it to bring it to life.'

Man versus Food

In his pocket Younge still carries around the pitch document for one of those ideas that he identified as television gold the moment he heard it. Running the Travel Channel in the USA, a colleague put forward 'Man versus Food,' and some months later, small town America was hooked once a week, on watching a minor celebrity take on a food challenge in a restaurant in their neighbourhood.

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In Buffalo, New York, there's a diner that does atomic hot wings. They're so hot the chef has to wear a facemask to cook them”

End Quote Pat Younge

'In Buffalo, New York, there's a diner that does atomic hot wings,' says Younge, recalling the first episode. 'They're so hot the chef has to wear a facemask to cook them. In that particular challenge our guy had to eat six and not wipe his mouth for five minutes afterwards. Then he got his picture on the diner's Wall of Flame.'

The show ticked all the boxes - and it's because, Younge says, his colleague understood the process. He'd thought about the type of 'red steak male American' for whom food is a major issue when he travels. There was a competitive element, a presenter under pressure, and crucially, after the show, the audience could try out the challenge themselves.

'They were queuing round the block at some of those establishments,' Younge chuckles. 'If iCreate can help us get the plumbing right, there's no reason we can't look forward to a spike of similar breakout shows on our own output in future.'


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