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Looking at the BBC's role in data-led services

Matthew Postgate

Chief Technology and Product Officer, BBC D&E

It’s been a busy time in my team over the last few months – with updates to BBC Sounds and iPlayer, 5G trials in Orkney (and in London), UHD trials for the FA Cup, Doctor Who launching in Virtual Reality and those teams behind the scenes that keep our broadcast and online services going day-after-day.

But one area that keeps on coming up when I’m out and about speaking at conferences, or at meetings with our partners - is the question of data – how we use it, how we share it and its potential to help us understand the world around us.

Not a week goes by without stories about data. There are negative stories, about data being used to target you with specific messages or sell you more, or leaks of personal data to third-parties. But there are also positive stories, like using big data to help reduce carbon emissions or helping the justice system work better.

This has made me think about the BBC’s role in this new ‘data economy’ – and what that should be.

How we use your data

At the BBC, we use data to make what we provide you, our viewers, listeners or readers, even better. It helps us tailor our products and services to be more about you – recommending programmes or content we think you might like, or alert you to the fact your favourite sport team has just scored (or lost a match). We also use it to ensure we’re making something for all audiences – and helps find gaps when we commission programmes and services.

But is there more that we could be doing to ensure data is used for good – that the data you give organisations is not just used for commercial gain but is used in a way that helps you and potentially your wider community? We think, potentially, yes.

That’s why we’ve started to work with teams here at the BBC and other partners on specific projects to help us identify what public service value we can bring to these new markets driven by data.

To be clear – we’re experimenting at this stage, and we will learn what works, what people might like – and what areas we think the BBC can help with, as we go along. We’re particularly interested in learning about how organisations can share data to get new insights and how people can safely move their data around. And, we know that when it comes to data, people are rightly concerned about privacy, safety and security. That’s why these trials will start small and controlled, so participants will have signed-up clear in knowing what, why and how their data is being used.

So what have we been up to?

Late last year, the DCMS published a report which looked at the potential of personal data portability to stimulate innovation and competition in the UK. It found that the ability to safely and securely move personal data around could unlock huge economic and societal gains, but that there are big practical issues (both in the way organisations share data and how consumers use it) to resolve first.

Following this, (and with DCMS, ICO and CDEI as observers), we’re involved in two controlled trials of data sharing by 25 individuals. These trials tests how it could be practicality possible to put a person in control of the data they share about themselves with other companies and what concerns this brings up.

The first trial is cross-sector, with the participants signing up to share data from a range of commercial companies – as well as the BBC. You can find out more about that here

The second looks at bringing together data from media providers into a BBC data store (or what we’re calling internally a BBC Box) to improve people’s experiences when watching or listening to programmes. Bill has blogged about this here.

What’s next?

Over the coming months, we’ll continue looking at this area – with more experiments and closed trials.

We’ll be sharing more about what we learn – and look at what value the BBC can bring you – ensuring this market develops in a way that maximises the huge potential benefits of data and shares them as widely as possible.

I'll be in touch.