I'm writing this on Sunday 27th January. I was supposed to write it earlier in the week, but we launched Upstaged on Tuesday and we’ve been ironing out a few issues since. To be honest, it has taken up a quite a lot of my time ever since I started my job as Multiplatform Commissioning Executive at the BBC last June - it was pretty much the first project to appear in my inbox.
The idea was to create a site which allowed the audience / users / acts / people / whomever to show off their talent - not to a panel of experts, but to the public. That in itself is not that new - we have been voting on talent competitions for decades. But the guiding hand of the TV producer was always there to find the cream of the crop. Teams of researchers scoured the country a hundred times over to give us a chance to vote for the next Will Young, Leona Lewis or Girls Aloud. In this instance, we chose to leave it up to the audience to decide who should have the chance of fame, notoriety or infamy.
At this point I could go on to describe what the show is all about, what you have to do and how to sign up, but I think Scott Mills does it much more succinctly here.
I could also discuss at length how the idea fits into the Vision Multiplatform Strategy and the BBC THREE re-launch, but Simon Nelson has that covered.
What I think is most interesting about Upstaged is how it challenges the traditional talent show format. The show is unique. In the ten week run, only the last three will be on TV. The previous seven weeks will exist online only and behind the red button from February 4th. Creating a new online talent show with a user vote has been made all the more challenging in the light of the recent concerns around voting and competitions.
We have developed Upstaged at the same time as the BBC's new voting guidelines have been written and we have had to ensure that we adhere to them. The whole premise is to use social networking to get as many fans as possible to look at and rate your act. As I write, one of the most popular acts is a group of YouTubers who have used their extensive networks to garner a great deal of support. Their pitch is well made and humorous. But how well they will fare when if they have to entertain the nation in a Perspex box for a whole evening? I am pretty certain they wouldn’t make it past a traditional panel of entertainment “experts”, but in Upstaged that doesn’t matter.
The whole project is a risk for the BBC. We have no way of influencing who goes onto the stages or what they do when they are in there (as long as it is safe, meets the taste and decency guidelines and doesn’t use animals).
On the other hand, after just five days the site already has a plethora of talented, entertaining and possibly insane acts so if you would like to see six hours of The Scottish Falsetto Sock Theatre or hear The Mandibles play, then you just have to show them your support because no-one at the BBC is going to (unless I just have).
I believe that in a new period of openness in the media, Upstaged is an important project - but what do you think? I would certainly be interested to hear your thoughts on giving control of BBC web and TV space to the audience...
Martin Trickey is Commissioning Executive, Multi-Platform, BBC Vision.