Peter Salmon, Director, BBC North

Date: 02.11.2010     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 18.01

The Digital Media Future at BBC North
Speech given at University of Lincoln
Tuesday 2 November 2010

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UK Profile

Good evening and thank you to Barnie Choudhury and The University of Lincoln for inviting me to your impressive campus.

Once upon a time you felt isolated in Britain when there was fog in the channel. Now, as we found out just this weekend, it's when your broadband connection goes down as it did for much of the north of the UK when an Edinburgh exchange crashed. It felt like a mini national emergency.

And how early – and young – when we now become dependent on technology. Listening to BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, I heard Deputy PM Nick Clegg choose Shakira's Waca Waca World Cup song as one of his tracks on the basis that his one-year-old son kept punching up the tune himself on his wife's iPad. Imagine, a toddler with an iPad – today's must-have nursery gadget!

Also last week, engineers connected us to the most hostile and most isolated place on Earth when they finally secured a good mobile phone signal to Mount Everest. Weird – I can't even get my own kids to call me on my birthday!

All signs of the times we live in, I reckon. Not good, not bad – just the reality of our digital age.

Anyway, it's a pleasure to be back in Lincoln. A few weeks ago I attended an event at RAF Scampton to pay tribute to the heroes of the Operation Chastise, more famously known as the Dambusters. On a more heroic scale, these remarkable and brave men helped change the course of history over 60 years ago, using some remarkable engineering and innovative technology – including the bouncing bomb.

We may need a little bit of their guts and ingenuity soon because I believe that the north of England – my new patch – has a vital role to play in this country's future, a digital future that is inextricably linked not only with Lincoln itself but the entire region. A role that may help the whole of the UK as we face unprecedented economic challenges.

If the UK fulfils its ambition, by 2015 we will have the best superfast broadband in Europe. And, according to a survey by Broadband Expert, Lincoln is one of the top five areas in the UK in terms of connection speed, with Liverpool coming in first.

So, enjoying content online as well as on television and radio is now a daily habit for the majority of people – according to the Office for National Statistics.

For example, 77 per cent of the UK population – just over 38 million people – have access to the internet and 30 million people access it every day. However, about 9 million people have never used the internet, and people over the age of 65 account for almost two thirds of this group, so there are still considerable challenges.

Over 17 million adults now watch television or listen to the radio online, an incredible 11 million more than in 2006. And because of the huge advances in mobile technology, the percentage of people who use their mobile phones to access the internet has also increased, from 23 per cent to 31 per cent. Not surprisingly, this is mainly due to people between the ages of 16 and 24.

And, of course, social networking is another key driver with 43 per cent of internet users regularly using a social networking site. And while 16-24-year-olds might be leading the way, with 75 per cent of them using a site and 50 per cent of them uploading user-generated content, over a third of 45-54-year-olds are now poking, growing crops on FarmVille or playing MafiaWars and just under a third of this age group are uploading content.

Yet there are strong variations. In the North East specifically only 59 per cent of homes have internet access and while 71 per cent of people use the internet this isn't as high as some other parts of the UK. While some said they didn't feel they needed it or that cost was an issue, just over one in five people said a lack of skills prevented them from getting online.

And that is why a few weeks ago partnership with Race Online 2012, UK online centres and the Post Office, the BBC launched First Click, with Sir Terry Wogan and Gloria Hunniford as two of our ambassadors.

This is a major new campaign that hopes to encourage the 9 million people who have never used the internet to take their first digital steps. We have just finished Get Online Week and I am pleased to say that BBC Lincolnshire – which celebrates its 30th anniversary this month – got behind the campaign.

Presenter Melvyn Prior broadcast his show live from the Birchwood Access Centre and invited a series of guests, including Jonny Ball, on to the programme. In the same week, BBC Lincolnshire also highlighted some great local stories. For example, artist John Pooley from Lincoln Art Works in West Parade who trained at Birchwood, is now using the internet to talk to other artists around the world. It just goes to show how the digital age is bringing people together not only locally but globally to share ideas and learn from one another.

They are real innovators here and BBC Lincolnshire continues to perform consistently well so I am pleased to say that we are working with them on a very special festive project. It's all a bit of a secret for now but keep tuning in to find out what they have in store this Christmas.

Digital Media in the North of England/BBC North Projects

And we are beginning to see a shift in focus in terms of the number of digital media production companies being founded outside London and I am glad to see that the North of England is at the forefront.

There are literally dozens of digital production companies in this region of England that are leading the way when it comes to making content – be it short form programmes, films or games – for people to watch, listen or play on every platform.

It is one of BBC North's key objectives to support local companies and find new ways of working with them. And to break down the traditional barriers between content and technology. As parts of the BBC's Future Media & Technology division will be based at MediaCityUK it is only natural that a key focus is exploiting the latest technology to create new content for all our audiences in partnership with these local companies.

At the end of last year I announced @North, a £500,000 commissioning fund for digital media companies specifically in the north of England to produce new interactive content BBC Children's. Working with regional Screen Agencies it wasn't simply a case of just awarding commissions to companies with the best ideas. @North presents an unique opportunity for the BBC to try a different approach – to engage with local companies and share and learn creative and technical development expertise. Since the launch of the initiative we have held a series of networking events with over 50 companies and we plan to hold more events moving forward.

In September we announced the first wave of companies that we will be working with – Numiko and Brass from Leeds; The Workshop from Sheffield; Amaze from Manchester and Th_nk from Newcastle. I was very impressed with the digital joke factory they are working on and even lodged my top wisecrack with them when I visited their offices – you know - "Why don't people play cards in the jungle? Because there are too many cheetahs."

My seven-year-old loves that joke.

Each of our @North commissioned companies came up with fresh, new ideas that would connect with CBBC and CBeebies users in new and innovative ways. In total, we have awarded £270,000 of the total fund so far and I hope to announce the next wave soon.

Sumo Digital is a game development studio based in Sheffield that we are also building a strong relationship with. Earlier this year Sumo developed four interactive episodes for Doctor Who made by BBC Wales. Steven Moffat, executive producer of the series, said that people didn't want to just watch Doctor Who, they wanted to join in. And join in they did - thanks to Sumo. There have been 2 million downloads of the first three adventures to date and the fourth instalment is due to be released later this year.

Here are the guys from Sumo Digital on a visit to our new site last week to say a few words about the project.

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Based on the success of the first commission, Sumo Digital has been recommissioned for a further set of digital interactive adventures for the series that will be available for download in 2011. Geronimo!, as the 11th Time Lord might say.

If you haven't already played these adventure games by the way then I encourage you to visit bbc.co.uk and become The Doctor yourselves. You don't need to wear a dickie bow.

And last week BBC North and Conker Media announced the launch of the Digital Fiction Factory. Owned by Lime Pictures, the home of Hollyoaks and based in Liverpool, Conker Media is one of the leading digital production companies in the UK with a string of awards and successes under their belt including a Rose D'Or and an Emmy-Award nomination.

The Digital Fiction Factory will be a completely new kind of development and production centre. Focusing on contemporary, short-form digital fiction content for drama, comedy and factual entertainment for all audiences, it will be physically based with us at MediaCityUK and will open its doors in Spring next year.

The content that it makes will not only for existing platforms including TV, radio, iPTV, online mobile and connected devices but our digital Factory will firmly keep one eye on the future. As new platforms emerge, the Factory will ensure that the content it makes is available wherever people are and whenever they want it.

At launch we will create a series of prototypes and our long term ambition is to remove the boundaries that have traditionally constrained broadcasting and share these models with the wider creative community not only in the north of England and across the whole of the UK. This will create a virtual network of companies, writers, producers and directors that will make and publish digital content.

This is a really innovative project but I have every confidence that working with Conker Media and other parts of the BBC including BBC Children's and BBC Three will result in really creative and ground-breaking content and help create a new approach to working and sharing ideas across the industry.

If you don't believe me, here is what Lee Hardman, from Conker Media has to say on Digital Fiction Factory.

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And Conker Media and Sumo Digital are exactly the sort of new media companies that BBC North and the whole of the BBC want to forge strong and lasting working relationships with.

Training and Development

In the short time I have been here at the University of Lincoln today, I have been impressed by what is being done across the campus in terms of support and training to prepare you all for when you graduate.

Enterprise@Lincoln and its Sparkhouse Studios are fantastic examples of developing businesses for the future and is something that you can all be incredibly proud of. Harnessing the power of entrepreneurship, working with local businesses as well as companies across the UK to support, mentor and foster students through initiatives such as the Knowledge Transfer Partnership is something my team at BBC North can and should learn from.

I am particularly impressed that since Sparkhouse fully opened in 2003 it has been such a success story, supporting the creation of 104 new businesses, with 53 specifically involved in digital media production and that it has helped these businesses create over 200 new jobs.

And, on a more personal note, it is always great when I see that recent Lincoln University alumni have been able to get experience at the BBC – people like Lucy Madge and Richard McCormack who gained what I hope was valuable experience during their time at Radio 5 Live and BBC Entertainment respectively.

And this year Dane Vincent won the BBC Partnership Award for Journalism for his film All Bonged Up and Melissa Rudd was one of eight successful students who won a World Cup placement with Radio 5 Live. Well done all!

For me, local employment, training and development are key pieces in the jigsaw of BBC North's future success. We all know that we are facing tough economic times and in particular the North of England will be hit hard by the recent Spending Review. I am not saying that BBC North is the answer to the challenges that the region faces, but as we integrate ourselves into the Salford community and the wider community of the North of England, we can be part of the long-term solution.

There will be up to 2,300 BBC roles in MediaCityUK including hundreds of new vacancies at various levels and across all the departments that are moving to Salford Quays – in television and radio sport; children's; Radio 5 Live; religion and ethics; marketing; communications; future media and technology and news. In fact, since the BBC North jobsite launched over 30,000 people have registered their interest in working for the BBC. Naturally, we cannot hope to fulfil everyone's dream of working for the BBC but as well as the immediate employment opportunities we are committed to training and recruiting people for the future. Broadening the spectrum of people we employ and train will also help to strengthen and enrich the DNA of the BBC itself.

We have already created partnerships with 30 organisations across the north of England and, to date, 2,200 students have attended events and 228 have completed work placements.

In our back yard, we have worked with Salford University to create work placements in CBeebies and are working on a project with the University's world-famous Acoustics Department.

More recently, we announced three traineeships in our digital media division in partnership with Vision+Media North West. Starting in January next year, these paid placements will be in the areas of Software Engineering and User Experience and, throughout their time at the BBC, the candidates will be involved in a working prototype, receiving mentoring and guidance from senior BBC staff.

But I recognise that we should and can do more. So we are putting the finishing touches to a major new initiative which we will shortly announce more formally.

We will be launching a new apprenticeship scheme – based on the traditional model of training, work experience and qualification, but adapted and updated to fit the new careers in digital media. These apprenticeships will be offered to people who have the motivation and potential to build a career in the creative industries – even where their background and education wouldn't automatically fit the more usual stereotype of a BBC recruit.

Our ambition is to offer at least 100 of these apprenticeships during the formative years of BBC North, and it will become an ongoing source of fresh talent in future years. Some of these jobs will initially be recruited within the North West, as we are committed to supporting the local community, but, ultimately, I would want to see this scheme expand to the whole of the north of England to reach people who would not necessarily consider the BBC as a training opportunity.

Conclusion

So, it is through a new approach to collaboration and partnership, harnessing new technology and helping to nurture incredible local talent together with a clear commitment to comprehensive and real-time training that we can find a solution to the immediate economic challenges we face. And, ultimately, we can build a long-term and sustainable digital future not only for the north of England but for the UK as a whole.

I hope that this is a journey that University of Lincoln, BBC North and, in fact, the whole of the BBC can embark on together. From what I have seen today, this university clearly has its sights on the future and the welfare of its students at its heart.

So, before I finish and answer any questions that you may have, I want to leave you with a short film that BBC North made about recruitment. And don't forget the jobs site is still open, so if you think you have something to give that will make BBC North and the BBC as a whole a more creative, risk-taking organisation just click on Apply Now.

Thank you for listening.