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What's on the menu? BBC Taster explained

Will Saunders

Editorial Lead for BBC Taster

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As Creative Director in BBC TV Production, I take the lead on digital development projects as varied as establishing the new Digital Innovation Unit in Birmingham, to big campaigns and events like Comic Relief and, launched this week, BBC Taster. As BBC Taster is new, I wanted to use this to post to explain what it is, why we think it’s important, and to run through some of the things we’re experimenting with which you can test out for us. For those looking for more insight into how we made Taster happen technically, Adrian Woolard, the technical lead from BBC Future Media will be posting about the subject on the BBC Internet Blog.

You may have seen some articles this week describing the likes of Idris Elba, Lena Dunham & Simon Reeve as being ‘beta tested’ by the BBC – an opportunity for you to get early access to projects in order to help our developers sort issues with bugs, code and such like. Equating these A-listers with games like Minecraft might sound a little odd, but bear with me. The testing of new ideas is nothing new to the BBC: I’ve piloted a fair few radio and TV shows which never saw the light of day. On Monday though, we launched BBC Taster and for the first time put some of our prototyping into the public eye. BBC Taster is a place for us to try out new ways of telling stories, develop exciting new talent and put nascent technology through its paces.

We already have a mix of content specifically developed to explore new storytelling opportunities. One of our early areas of focus is around interactive video. Idris Elba’s Story of Now which we released today is a 20-part interactive series that explores some of the fundamental questions about the human condition. We've also developed interactive videos that let you decide what subjects Lena Dunham & Jennifer Saunders talk about in an intimate interview, take you backstage at the hottest hip hop gig of last year and give you your own private view of the Tate's Turner exhibition. We're also giving new talent like poet Hollie McNish, comedians The Noise Next Door and street chef John Quilter their first outing with the BBC. We are even unlocking our news archive and working how to make it relevant to you, all over again.

And we’re not just sharing these new ideas, with you, we want you to rate them and give us valuable feedback on experimental stuff we might previously have kept behind closed doors. People seem to have responded really well to this, and as they tell their friends and colleagues on social media I’ve seen it called anything from a ‘digital sandbox’ to a ‘conceptual beauty contest’. I’m not so sure that’s how I’d describe it, but Taster is exciting. It’s also unchartered territory for the BBC. It’s important too because in a world of Netflix, Buzzfeed, Instagram, Snapchat et al, there are now new technologies, new methods of distribution and newer ways to consume media that have caught the attention of our audiences. They are hopping from screen to screen and we need to keep up.

This is only the first release of Taster. Over the coming weeks BBC R&D, BBC Entertainment, Radio 1, The BBC Natural History Unit and the BBC Future Media Connected Studio team all have projects they are getting ready to test. There's interest in this project from right across the BBC because of the exciting opportunities it offers storytellers.

As a programme maker what excites me so much about Taster is the way we’re experimenting beyond the linear TV experience. It's about us having a more direct relationship with our audience and a changing relationship that lets us build communities of interest around what we make. If we get it right, Taster should be the place where we can be brave and develop everything from new TV formats, performers and writers, to apps and how we recommend content to you.

CBBC Controller Cheryl Taylor told me when we both used to work in Comedy together "you've got to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your Prince Charming", whatever you do in this organisation, hits are hard to come by. To know what to make and what our audiences want from us in fast changing world we need to kiss a lot more frogs. Welcome to our new pond.

Will Saunders is a Creative Director in BBC TV Production & the Editorial Lead for BBC Taster.

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