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Making great TV even better: The BBC's approach to companion experiences

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Victoria Jaye | 14:00 UK time, Thursday, 3 May 2012

I'm Victoria Jaye, Head of IPTV and TV Online Content, BBC Vision, and today I'm presenting an overview of our editorial approach to companion experiences at the Connected TV Summit in London.

First, what do I mean by 'companion experiences'?

Broadly, this means additional content offered on a companion screen (PC, mobile, tablet or even the same TV), related to and synchronized with the programme you're watching on TV. This could be further information, a play along experience, social or control features - the overall aim being to enhance the audiences' TV viewing.

This isn't a new idea for the BBC or our audience. We've been offering simple, easy to access and entertaining companion activity via BBC Red Button for well over a decade. In fact, Red Button is the BBC's most successful companion experience to date, attracting 20 million viewers a month - but it's one that's confined to the TV screen.

As more and more internet connected devices enter the living room, we can extend entertainment beyond broadcast and the TV screen, bringing our shows to life for audiences in ever more exciting ways.

Our editorial approach to companion experiences is three fold:

• Build on existing audience needs and behaviour

• Go beyond broadcast

• Drive creative renewal and innovation

We want to immerse our audience in the programme they're watching even more by building on the existing needs and behaviours the show inspires. We've learned a lot about this from years of programme-related experimentation on BBC Red Button and BBC Online.

We also want to satisfy audiences' interests and passions sparked by our programmes, by creating rich and compelling journeys beyond broadcast TV that connect audiences to related content across the breadth and depth of our BBC Online portfolio -TV, News, Knowledge & Learning, Radio & Music, Sport, and Children's.

We want to creatively renew the audience experience around loved and established programmes, as well as enable brand new formats to flourish.

We want to deliver a better public service in the round and we want to get this right for our audience.

Over the course of the next year, we'll be piloting companion experiences around a handful of our programme titles, to explore the key features and functions that genuinely make watching great TV an even better experience. We want to drive mainstream take-up, so we'll look to pilot experiences that appeal to more traditional TV audiences, as well as tap into the entertainment needs of audiences more at home with companion activity.

We've already completed closed pilots around two BBC One TV series - Secret Fortune and Frozen Planet.

Secret Fortune "play along" pilot

Secret Fortune is a Saturday night quiz show, and we've offered audiences a very satisfying play along experience around this show on BBC Red Button for a number of years. We wanted to build on that, by developing a mobile and tablet play along that could support single and multiple players and that enabled the audience at home to go on their own personal journey through the format to find out what their own Secret Fortune might be.

The pilot built on the established behaviour around a quiz show - audiences shouting out answers at the TV screen. The response was positive: playing along at home led to real excitement in the living room. Audiences felt highly connected to the show, thinking and behaving as if they were contestants in the studio, which was further heightened by the tactile selection of answers on their mobile and tablet screens.

Frozen Planet companion experience

Frozen Planet companion experience pilot

For Frozen Planet, we tried something different. Frozen Planet, with its awe-inspiring cinematography, invites the audience to be a passenger on a journey into the wonders of natural history. Our closed pilot was about enhancing that journey, offering viewers synchronous information about the animals and habitats featured in the show, along with the opportunity to 'Favourite' that content to consume later. One of our participants in the trial was impressed at how this delivered "a new way of viewing my docs"

Now, for our first public launch, we want to take the lessons learned from both Secret Fortune and Frozen Planet.

Antiques Roadshow two screen experience

Antiques Roadshow on two screens

In September, we'll be launching a companion experience for Antiques Roadshow on BBC One.

Antiques Roadshow has established a special place in living rooms across the country over the 35 years it's been on our screens, with audiences shouting at their TVs, guessing the value of the antique items brought in by members of the public for valuation, and delighting in their extraordinariness and the stories that lie behind them.

This year, we're going to tap into that audience behaviour by offering a companion experience that combines: guess the value play along (and compare your score), with the ability to go beyond broadcast to find out more about the antiques featured in the programme, with exclusive content and information drawn from across BBC Online and trusted sources from the wider web.

The project combines fun with learning and performs an important media literacy role in showcasing to mainstream TV audiences the potential for companion experiences to increase their enjoyment of a much-loved BBC programme.

We're going to use familiar language and our trusted on-screen talent to welcome audiences into the experience. Playing alongside the live broadcast or on-demand, and at expert or amateur level, audiences choose from four value ranges for each antique item featured on the show. They make their valuation against the clock, before the answer is revealed on the TV. If viewers need help in their valuation, they can see what others playing along are estimating using the 'Ask the Nation' function. At the end of each episode, audiences receive their final score, and find out how they ranked compared to the nation.

The companion experience also invites audiences to explore featured antiques in the programme and the historical stories that lie behind them, with content and onward journeys crafted by Roadshow experts and the BBC production team. Audiences can enjoy this content while they watch, or 'Favourite' it for exploring later.

The experience will be available across smart phones, PC, and tablet devices. A version of the play along will also be available on broadcast BBC Red Button.

Victoria Jaye is Head of IPTV and TV Online Content, BBC Vision


  • Comment number 1.

    So now an audience who are only half concentrating on the first screen can have their attention further eroded by more information in a second companion screen. The material on this second screen must surely impact on the budget of the main output. As budgets are always tight does this mean that the first screen output will suffer?

    A better investment could well be to improve the first screen content to such an extent that it is so gripping that the audience need no more.

    This all sounds as exciting as reading a factual book whilst constantly cross referencing to other books. Great....

    And once again everything is an "experience". Oh dear.

  • Comment number 2.

    Sounds interesting. Doesn't really sound my sort of thing in these examples, but I'd be really intrigued to see where this goes. I can imagine it being really interesting for life sport, watching stats fill out as the game goes on.

  • Comment number 3.

    Sorry, "live sport". Not quite sure what "life sport" would entail, but it doesn't sound particularly exciting.

  • Comment number 4.

    That sounds really interesting. We are trying something with a second screen at ZDF right now - but for a drama series. Since three episodes we have a companion experience with an html5 second screen. In this series in every episodes goes someone missing and a police unit is looking for this person. In our second screen every character of the episode appears in the same second as on the TV screen and you can put this character in a matrix judging if this person is a friend or an enemy of the missing person and if he is a victim or an aggressor of the story. You get an immediate heat map feedback where you can see what the other users think and you can chat with the other users and see the twitter posts with #letztespur. As you see we want to enhance the live and the community experience for the viewers using ther tablets and notebooks anyway. Now they can even have a more immersive experience within our drama series. It is only in Geman but you can take a look the next three Fridays at 9:15 pm CET under letztespur.zdf.de.

    It is still the time to make new experiments and to share the outcome. Exciting times...



  • Comment number 5.

    It may be interesting to remind people that my company InTime Media between 2006 and 2009 worked with the multiplatform teams in BBC Factual, Entertainment and Drama to produce prototype second screen apps for Top Gear, How To Improve Your Memory, Heston Blumenthal, Strictly Come Dancing and Eastenders. The apps were all synchronised in real time to the running order of the shows. In 2011 we secured a multi-year deal with BBC Worldwide to provide the official app for Strictly Come Dancing/Dancing With The Stars, which we piloted last year in Greece and Cyprus. Most excitingly, our app, which includes, Voting, Quizzing, Judging, Social hookups, as well as support for text, image and video content is going live on the next season of Dancing With The Stars in India on June 15th. Given the size of the Indian TV audience, our app could well be the biggest second screen app event ever seen. We'll keep you posted.

  • Comment number 6.

    Very exciting, truly interacting with the TV show will make it very engaging. What TV shows will be produced to use this technology in future?


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