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The Future of TV: Between Voice and Choice?

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Max Gadney | 13:16 UK time, Tuesday, 18 November 2008

A few of us recently got together at a very lo-spec sharing of projects and ideas called Beebcamp. Roo Reynolds of BBC Vision wrote up some of it on his blog and I thought I would expand on some of what I talked about.

I mentioned that different BBC departments will need to collaborate in the the grey area between the need for a Voice and the wealth of Choice - when it comes to defining how people will consume video in the future.

FM&T's blogger in residence Steve Bowbrick has interviewed Matt McDonnell about search here and their discussion is obviously technology led - so in what follows I'm trying to open up the debate to include all parts of the business.

There could be a tendency for traditional television executives to depend on the Voice - e.g. established TV Channels and Programme brands.

On the flipside, the technologists could believe that this will all be solved by the algorithms and interfaces of on-demand technology - The Choice.

The answer is somewhere in between, so lets have a look at what the qualities are of 'Choice and Voice':

Photo by aemkei on Flickr.


Voices include the BBC Television Channels of BBC One, Two, Three and Four. They have traditionally helped people to decide what to watch. They are brands - they are a promise, frequently fulfilled, of what you will get.

For a brand to succeed you must get something you want and expect from them. Established Voice brands are having to compete in a fragmented market- where people are only loyal to the brands that frequently satisfy them.


Our most obvious Choice product is the very successful BBC iPlayer, allowing people to catch up at their convenience. In addition to this, the BBCis developing recommendations systems - allowing you get options more relevant to your interests anywhere on the BBC online. Choice is about relevance of content and convenience of the distribution. The danger is when these suggestions become the only means of consumption - and people require other suggestions outside the areas that are already known to or selected by them.

The area between Choice and Voice

If TV executives and technologists can appreciate the strengths of what each can offer - the (still) dominance of linear television brands and the emerging sophistication of on-demand technologies will compliment each other.

What will these new forms of suggestion be? What are the new Choices? What are the new Voices? Who and what will people trust to filter their options? How will our models of trust change?

Are Choice & Voice the right areas for us to be considering or do you think that we missing something here? Should we tear it all down and start again? What do you do and what would you like to see us do? Any thoughts welcome.

Max Gadney is Channel Editor, Multiplatform, BBC Vision.


  • Comment number 1.

    With iPlayer providing Choice, if you have powerful search tools then potentially third parties will be able to provide "Voices", or remixed voices (choirs?!) that for whatever reason the BBC might not want to promote on *.bbc.co.uk?

    For example, I have been experimenting with an OU/BBC "Voice"/channel:


    that provides a 7 day catch-up service for Open University co-produced programmes broadcast on the BBC.

    As Coast seems to be on a lot at the moment, I've also started looking at a "Going Coastal" site that wraps Coast programmes with other content- eg photos from flickr, local goecaches, local walks, etc etc.

    It would be nice to be able to also pull in content from other BBC programmes that are about the same area (will BBC programmes be geocoded at some point?!) to create "location based" themes.

  • Comment number 2.

    Interesting post. A few points:

    1. Programme brands. TV series themselves are starting to undermine the "voice" bit though aren't they? Think of the landmark series the BBC produces (and Eastenders etc) and you have brands which are not so much promises of the types of content but of an experience. From research we've done recently, younger people were often unaware of the channel a particular programme aired on, but were very much aware of the programme 'brand', enough to allow them into consuming the content wherever and whenever they wanted to. These are not sub-brands, they seem to be brands in their own right.

    2. Authority and risk. So what are the new Voices? Who and what will people trust to filter their options? How will our models of trust change?"

    Again, from our research recently, we've found that peer groups, near-friends and strangers you share an exprience with (online gaming etc.) become different authorities on and recommenders of content. How well you know someone or how well you understand them to be an 'authority' is important but I think trust also correlates with 'risk'. When the risk of consumption is great - for teenagers seen to consuming content that could jeopardise their consciously constructed 'image' the risk is quite high. For a (slightly) older me getting recommendations to watch The Wire and finding a torrent file, for that the risk is not so great, just a bit of time. Teens perhaps trial only a narrower range of content as a result of this.

    3. A final point is that whilst people are not overly good at understanding how to negotiate with technologies. They are however, pretty good at that 'blink', gut reaction to knowing if they should trust the opinion of *somebody*. Filters such as ratings and comments help, but often require validation in the form of (on travel sites) looking at images to *see* the thing for themselves, checking multiple review sites and forums. The things that makes all these filters and ratings not-quite-good-enough is that they tend to be 'extreme' reactions (you get a lot of 'outliers'). We're getting better at reading that but it's still a fact in some existing recommendation systems failing. Perhaps what we need to design for is making the kind of recommendations that are made "in passing", with little self-interest, the sort of spontaneous things that crop up in conversations. You get that sort of serendipitous experience using last.fm occasionally, based as it is on your consumption rather than your opinion.

  • Comment number 3.

    From the blog:

    'It is the role of tech teams not to say “Telly’s dead. Knob off”.'

    To me this implies:

    1) You are stuck with defending conventional TV, as all this analysis hasn't actually caused you to make conclusions, decisions or a change.

    2) Web technology was absorbed into BBC TV News (and not the other way round) so even strong technical imperatives aren't going to change the existing inertial self-interest.

    3) The BBC is stuck in the grey area between staying the same and changing! TV channels complement the iplayer in the same way the typewriter complemented the word processor. (conventional TV might move more towards live, big events)

    4) The problem with the existing models of trust is that the output is controlled by so few and lots of good stuff is filtered out, based on irrational criteria.

    On a positive note, greater transparency is the key because people can then verify that
    there's some rationale and objectivity behind actual decisions.

  • Comment number 4.

    Cheers for the responses - here are some points that answer some of the above.

    The OU work is a sound example of the middle ground that I alluded to. Some will centre around more specific interest groups and it will be up to us how we either get involved with them or they get involved with us (if you see what I mean there.)

    I would say that rather than undermining the Voice aspect, programme brands are sometimes an important way that people will navigate - to some programmes - not all. To use another media company as an example, Wife Swap was a strong programme brand but it complimented C4, not undermined it. In the fully digital future, (rather than the partially digital present) I still think that it is likely that people will understand that a new programme is released because of the showcasing abilities of something akin to a 'channel' - but yes - they may also just have (example)a feed of related programmes where they find it too.

    (the typewriter analogy is sound when discussing timeline for this - i believe a fully digital mass market media will take longer than we think)

    You are right though that there are increasing ways to navigate and they all will need to work together. (and presumably we will not use the ones that don't work)

    As regards being stuck defending conventional TV, it is rather that it is my job to look for the positives (aqnd negatives) in both the Choice and Voice aspects of our business and to get those teams working together for what will be a long term project for everyone in the UK.

    There is a bunch of work on to define and deliver these ideas and it wouldn't be right for me to start mentioning other people's projects before they are ready- but they are good and they are coming.

  • Comment number 5.

    I would have thought that the "Voice" bit is of more importance to people who work for the BBC. The sub-brands give people who work in them a sense of place and community, even though programmes get repeated on other sub-brands.

    It is the repeating ("for analogue viewers") that distorts the value of the sub-brands. For example if you only ever watch BBC three for the EastEnders repeart, you will just see BBC three as a "repeats" channel, despite the fact that is not the purpose of the channel.

    The iPlayer, under "Choice" is undermined by having a "short tail" and, to be frank, the rather mixed-up way that it presents programmes from the "Voices" sub-brands.

    At the very, very, very least the BBC iPlayer should have a 1% hold rate. Each week at least 1% of the programmes on the iPlayer should be allocated "archive status" (there is the BBC Local TV money to pay for this now).

    Programmes should be chosen because they are "significant", either because of exceptionally high viewing figures or contain important content.

    This would make the "unmissable" really "unmissable" by being part of a long-tail integrated archive.

    The iPlayer brand needs to be sorted out - for example programme trailers do not follow the channel of current broadcast, but the original.

    (For example, the Doctor Who repeats on BBC three show the BBC one trailer).

    Either the original sub-brand should be erased or proper co-sub-branding should be used.

    This could be done by either having a set of iPlayer trailers, or by remixing the trailers to iPlayer them.

    *How about putting up all the current BBC idents in nice high quality and then having a public video remixing competition?*

  • Comment number 6.

    Footnote - the BBC can do sub-branding really well, Def II and Ceefax spring to mind.

    I still don't get why the Digital TV text service has not been granted the name of Ceefax, or the more voguish iCeefax (I See Facts!) which seems better than BBCi or BBC Red Button...

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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