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Introducing BBC Ideas

Lloyd Shepherd

Product Lead, BBC Ideas

Introducing BBC Ideas

You may have read reports of the BBC launching something called ‘the Ideas Service’, which was mentioned in the BBC Online Creative Review Bold British Creative in 2015.

We’ve been talking about what this service might be, and we’re now building it. We’re calling it BBC Ideas, and we’re planning to be writing about the work here for anyone interested in following our progress.

What people seem to want

Like many other online publishers, we’ve noticed a definite trend in recent years — people seeking out and sharing particularly interesting things, often in quite a random way. There’s a special form of pleasure that comes from watching something online that introduces a new idea or way of thinking — especially when it’s something you have, seemingly by accident, stumbled upon.

Some people call this stuff intelligent content — we’ve been using the phrase thoughtful content in our own discussions.

Whether it’s reading a longread on Brainpickings or watching a video on Ted Talks or listening to a podcast like The Allusionist, people are finding content which can be about pretty much anything, but is characterised by making people feel more connected with the world and more aware, while being entertaining.

One stat we found interesting: in 2012, the percentage of UK adults who agreed with the statement ‘entertainment should be about learning new things as much as having fun’ was 56%. In 2016, it had gone up to 68%.

So our task was this: how to assemble a BBC proposition that was entertaining and informative and, above all, ‘particularly interesting’?

Factual content for people on the move

The BBC has been making radio and television content that falls squarely into the thoughtful content space for decades — everything from Tomorrow’s World to The Mark Steel Lectures to In Our Time to James Burke’s Connections.

A lot of this content has already been put online by the BBC. The trouble is, it’s now quite hard to find; in many cases, it’s easier to find on YouTube than it is on the BBC. At present there is no simple way for a user to say ‘right, BBC — show me something interesting. I’ve got 10 minutes to fill. It can be about pretty much anything, as long as it’s interesting.’

Our user research found that this is exactly what a great many people are doing. In the morning before work, in the evening on the way home, at lunchtime, and just before going to bed — people want to consume something intelligent, interesting, informative and insightful. They don’t necessarily know what that is or what it will be about; which is why we talk about things being particularly interesting rather than for a particular interest They don’t want to watch an hour-long documentary at these times — they haven’t got an hour. They want it on their mobile — because they’re often on the move. They want to get to the content quickly without messing about too much with menus and searching. And they want it to be fast, direct and fascinating.

That’s what we are trying to build. We’ve decided to focus our work on shortform video — that means, for us, pieces which are 2–15 minutes long. We’ll be finding the best content that’s already on, and we’ll combine it with great films we’ve found in the archive and new videos made alongside our TV and radio productions. We’ll combine all this content into playlists — collections of shortform videos that are either about a particular concept, or are simply collected by our editors into things designed to be interesting and accessible.

We’ll be blogging about all this here — talking about technology, product, content, marketing and even contracts. And we hope to have some things to show you soon.