BBC R&D

Posted by Adrian Woolard, Brendan Crowther on , last updated

Last week, BBC Research & Development launched its latest research partnership at the BBC buildings in MediaCityUK, Salford. The BBC User Experience Research Partnership will be a long-term collaboration programme between the BBC and six leading universities in the UK. The short film below gives a brief outline of the event and what we hope to achieve with the partnership.

Our partners (in alphabetical order) will be the University of Bath, University of Dundee, University College London, Newcastle University, University of Nottingham and Swansea University. I am fantastically excited to announce that all the partners have committed to support the initiative for at least four years.

This partnership builds on BBC R&D’s strong history of industry and academic collaboration, which includes the Audio Research Partnership and a strategic partnership with University College London, by establishing another centre of excellence for research into areas of strategic importance to the BBC and the wider industry.

The BBC UX Research Partnership launch event brought together BBC staff and academics to discuss research opportunities

The BBC’s Director for Future Media, Ralph Rivera formally launched the partnership in front of an audience of invitees from industry and academia.  We had presentations from our academic partners, lightning talks, technical demos and posters from the BBC and its new partners.

The beauty of this partnership is that it also provides us with another opportunity to work ever more closely with our colleagues in FM. They can help us in R&D to scope the research objectives of collaborative projects at the start, so that they remain relevant for our audience, and by feeding the outcomes through our FM colleagues, we know that our audience will stand to benefit.

We had a rousing keynote on behalf of our university partners from Prof Richard Davies, Vice Chancellor, Swansea University on what they wanted from the BBC and what they were collectively bringing to the party. We were also fortunate to have a stimulating set of panellists provide their views on the BBC working with academia:

  • Professor Alan Newell - a retired Professor at Dundee University, who has spent over forty years conducting HCI research, primarily into supporting elderly and disabled people.
  • Professor Steve Benford - the Partner lead from University of Nottingham who recently spent four months as our first visiting professor here in North Lab.
  • Adam Todd -Creative Director from Magnetic North, a highly successful Digital Agency specialising in building user experiences across multiple devices. Magnetic North worked with the BBC previously on the Desert Island Discs Archive and mobile services for the Olympics. Adam also sits on the BBC’s online advisory board representing digital suppliers.
  •  Jane Murison -  the Head of UX&D for BBC’s Children's and Head of User Services and Design Research Teams within Future Media. Jane has significant experience on designing for all major digital platforms the BBC is present on.

The BBC UX Research Partnership will eximine the possibilities for BBC services across a range of devices

This launch marked the culmination of over a year of meetings, shortlisting, workshops and planning sessions between BBC R&D and the UK’s top universities in User Experience and Human Computer Interaction research. The UK has some of the very best university research and the BBC is joining an already active and internationally respected network of first class work.

What I believe the BBC offers to this partnership is a set of real world, large scale challenges. We have an excellent team based around increasing expertise in perceptual and behavioural science, accessibility, user research, interaction technology, design research and product design expertise, all closely tied to BBC R&D’s vast experience in internet and broadcast delivery of rich media experiences. Working with our partners we will be aiming to to help the BBC deliver the very best future services to the Licence Fee Payer. Also as Head of the BBC Connected Studio innovation programme I am confident that we will find greater ways to work with other industry partners and start-ups.

It is clear is that this challenge is not getting any easier. Future digital services(multi- screen/multi-device, ubiquitous, personal/social and fully accessible) will require us to know much more about users’ physical and cognitive capabilities, address issues of attention and behaviours as well as gaining more understanding of their values and capacity for creativity. What is increasingly apparent is that this is as true for producers and distributors of media as much as consumers meaning this partnership should be crucial to both the BBC and the wider industry.

So, what are we going to work on? We have identified the following four key themes with the partners:


The User Experience of an IP Broadcasting System
Developing future services across multiple platforms and creating public service broadcasting for the digital age. An example project in this area will be looking to define new formats and methods for designing user interactions across multi-device experiences through iCase and EPSRC/ AHRC project bids.

Designing for New Interactions
Moving beyond gesture and voice to develop new ways of controlling and displaying digital content for more natural and engaging interfaces. One of the projects will aim to create tools and applications to assess and define best practice in interaction design for areas such as the Internet of Things or non-screen displays through PhD’s, internships and TSB projects.

Sustainable Approaches to User Capability
Allowing the industry to meet the changing needs of older users, young children and people with disabilities in accessing digital media. Long term cohort PhD studies will study the effects of aging on capability to use BBC services on devices such as mobiles and tablets.

New Production Interface Technologies
Using interface and interaction technologies in new ways to give production teams the most creative and effective tools to craft new forms of content. We will be carrying out research into scalability and interaction challenges for object-based media workflows & tools in production through variety of grant applications, internships and joint projects.

Through this research our ambition is to deliver the following:

  1. Audience benefit through compelling and sustainable new experiences
  2. Ensure excellence in access services for all users of the BBC
  3. Have a positive impact on the New Production Tools and methods required to realise our vision

By sharing our knowledge, academia and BBC staff will give the UK media industry the best opportunity for understanding future formats and platforms

I’d like to thank my BBC colleagues who have worked hard to bring the collaboration together, particularly Dr Mike Evans who has overseen the development of the partnership, and Samantha Chadwick, our Head of Partnerships. There are numerous key members of R&D research community who have been highly active in drawing up an ambitious work-plan with the partners. I’d also like to thank ouruniversity partners who have enthusiastically embraced the initiative.

With the launch of the BBC User Experience Research Partnership, we are ready to take the next step in delivering high impact research that I believe will have a major positive impact on the BBC and UK industry in the years to come!

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