BBC Connected Studio Radio1 Hack Days close

Mark McDermott
Mark McDermott
In Codegent News, Online Innovation
20th March 2014
BBC Connected Studio Radio1 Hack Days

In December and January we participated in our second BBC Connected Studio, this time for Radio 1. Last week we heard that our project “1Stream” was selected as a pilot product which means (so far) we have a 100% record of making it through to that stage.

What is Connected Studio?

Connected Studio is a new approach to delivering innovation across BBC Future Media. The goal is to add a range of new functions, features or formats across BBC online services through a more radical commissioning approach. Experimental ideas are pitched, built and delivered in an open and collaborative environment.

The process starts with a 1 day Creative Studio where we hear about objectives, meet staff from the BBC and focus groups of target audience. It's an intense day of brainstorming around a subject matter to conceptualise a high level product for a 2 minute pitch. From the 20-odd pitches 7 make it through to the Build Studio.

Build occurs over 2 days where the purpose is to define the core feature set and build a prototype proof of concept for a 10 minute presentation at the end. At that point the most worthy make it to pilot where there is budget for an 8 week design & build project followed by a period of user testing. If that goes well the project evolves into a full BBC product.

Having completed the process twice we thought we would write about how we've approached Connected Studio and tell you a bit more about 1Stream.

Establishing a real problem

In both cases we've arrived at Connected Studio with an existing problem in mind rather than wait for inspiration on the day.

For Cbeebies it was:

How can we help kids search and discover new content when they can't type or spell and have a natural tendency to just repeat what they've already seen?

And the result was Playroom

For Radio 1 it was:

With Radio 1 digital content so dispersed across social networks and channels how can we expect listeners to keep up and stay engaged?

And the result was 1Stream

1Stream means Radio 1 listeners can now keep up with and discover associated content, news and music because it’s all being show in a single stream.

We think having an opinion on the issues as we arrived gave us competitive advantage as we could immediately start to thrash out a solution and get feedback from the BBC staff in attendance whilst other participants decided on what topic to focus on.

In both cases our first run of ideas initially seemed good but simply didn't hold up to scrutiny. Thankfully we had built enough time into our day to limit the scope a bit more and come up with a tangible solution.

Another rule of thumb was that we decided to only focus on existing problems, not nice to haves. As much as completely new ideas are encouraged an organisation like the BBC is far more likely to want to focus on solutions to current areas of perceived weakness, rather than something totally new.

Project management

In both the build studios we brought with us a strong project management approach. Most recently using agile. To get started we quickly established these processes in the setup of our work environment. This was undoubtedly a case of less haste, more speed for us.

During the process we had hourly catch ups and if anyone had a spare moment they could easily pick up the next task in the queue. Agile helped give us overall perspective when the inevitable prioritisation decisions had to be made on the second day of build.

Creative developers

We are fortunate enough to have some very creative developers here at Codegent. Connected Studio gives you a limited number of spots on your team so we chose to double up on development resource and fall back on interface frameworks like Bootstrap for look and feel... plus a little polish from our guys.

Demonstrating value vs hinting at it

When it came to UX we picked out certain key features to genuinely try and finesse whilst relying on native behaviour for less important aspects. This definitely gave us more edge in terms of the amount of functionality and features we could demonstrate. Additionally we opted for the smoke and mirrors approach for the least important elements of our demo by literally inserting images of screens in some cases and using a small loading animation to make them feel real.

Building around a story

Demonstrations of new products are typically a tidal wave of information for an unsuspecting audience. As exciting as they may be the actual amount of information subsequently retained is very small. They need clarity.

To help the audience along we've found that the best way to demonstrate is in the form of a simple narrative. If the audience can relate to the people and circumstances of your story they are more likely to believe in the product and visualise it as part of daily life. It also proves that the target audience has been at the heart of your thinking.

Jessica - 1Stream Persona


Finally for both build presentations we ended on a future vision for the product with a roadmap on where it could be taken and how it could compliment or integrate with more BBC services. This is bonus point scoring really.

There is a lot to be said for this type of approach to innovation. Obviously there is inherent risk in going into a competition style event like this although it is good fun and a lot is achieved under pressure.

Increasingly we are working with clients and partners in a similar (if less stressful) manner. The quality of the work is notably better because our team get to take more ownership of the end product and are more focussed on the critical elements due to the short length of iterations. They also prefer a less prescriptive brief than your typical agency job normally allows for. Thus far it seems to be win-win.