We spoke to BBC R&D Development Producer Nick Hanson about Instagramification and data-driven storytelling.
Can you sum up Instagramification?
It’s a data-driven documentary about one of the world’s biggest social media platforms devised and made by and independent company called Spirit. Each viewer experiences the documentary based on a combination of their mood, personal preferences and the choices they make, seeing a slightly different version of the story assembled just for them.
Why have you made this?
Most of us are now familiar with the concept of interactive storytelling where the viewer ‘chooses’ their own path, and there are elements of this within Instagramification, however we’re less familiar with stories that intelligently adapt to us based on our data. This is what we’re excited to explore.
We also know that our audience is incredibly diverse, especially those aged under 35. We want to know if different pieces of the same story can be rearranged and re-sized without the need to shoot and edit lots of expensive extra content.
In the future, as the BBC learns about individuals through their interaction with BBC platforms, we will be able to curate the viewing experience around their preferences, needs and unique personality traits. It’s exciting, but there are so many questions about how and even if we should do this. Instagramification allows us to answer some of these questions.
How was it made?
It’s powered by BBC R&D’s StoryFormer, a web-based tool for authoring responsive stories. A lot of consideration was given to diverse personas within the target audience. Sometimes the viewer might want to be entertained, whilst other times they will want to learn something. Some viewers like sport, others prefer celebrity culture, and so on. Through breaking these preferences down we were able to shoot and edit slightly different versions of what is fundamentally the same story. Using StoryFormer we were then able to build multiple routes through the documentary. The viewer only sees the content that fits with their preferences or the choices they’ve made along the way.
Sounds exciting, but how does it work?
Before seeing the documentary, viewers are asked to complete a short survey before the film commences. This is where we gather the ‘data’ from which your version of the story is generated. In the future however, we wouldn’t expect everyone to complete a survey before watching a programme, instead, data could be taken from your past interactions with the BBC. This might be from the programmes you watch on iPlayer or the radio stations, podcasts and music you listen to on BBC Sounds. By building up a profile of each viewer, not only can we can recommend the type of content they might like, but also how they might experience that content.
What do you hope to learn?
There are so many things we can learn from this pilot. This includes production considerations such as how much extra material we need to shoot and how the process differs from traditional television workflows. There are also big editorial questions such as does playing with the components and structure of a story actually lead to more meaningful, personalised experiences?
These are big questions. We don’t want to create echo chambers or dumb down content because the data tells us that viewers might prefer it. Personalised, data-driven storytelling only has value if it helps us to better meet the needs of our diverse audiences. We hope Instagramification is a step towards understanding this better.