BBC Innovation Labs – Accelerating Good Ideas into Profitable Opportunities

17 05 2007

BBC Innovation Labs

Not Your Dad’s Same Old News

Besides Gannett (who we featured in an earlier post this week), the BBC in the UK has become one of the most innovative news, information and entertainment operations in the world today. The BBC turnaround story is a fascinating one which was featured in Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s book “Confidence” and illustrates how important developing systems to manage intangible assets are to innovation, collaboration, initiative and trust. More on that later.

Today we showcase their Innovation Labs. What are they?

Innovation Labs is a program for “commissioning and developing innovation projects with independent third parties by creating an “innovation community” to explore near-term product research (1-3yrs) that can have commercial application. These Labs help BBC learn how it can collaborate with outside creative, content or production talent.

In essence, this is a faster way to tap the community for user contributed ideas that meet BBC needs and then turned into rapid proto-types that can have a business case developed for it.

Innovation Labs use a three stage process:

  1. “Launch Days”– meetings with interested third parties to share BBC strategies and briefs
  2. “Idea Filtering” – scoring “idea” submissions from the website and selecting teams to invite to the Labs
  3. “Labs” – are a five day rapid prototyping workshop that end with third parties presenting their pitches on the last day

Third party ideas are “IP protected” and give BBC an exclusive three month first look.

The BBC partnered with several regional creative agencies who shared in the funding and ideation process.

In 2006, BBC conducted three pilots in different regional locations – Yorkshire, North-West and London. Over 170 ideas were submitted to the website with 29 ideas chosen for invitations to the Labs. Twelve were later invited for further development following the Lab pitches.

Some of these included:

  • Technophobia – A CPS tool to help local sports clubs feed info to

  • i-Tabloid – A navigation tool to help users with learning difficulties access content using visual icons/imagery

  • aMap – An argument mapping tool to illustrate complex arguments

  • Ymogen – A set of geo-mobile tools to capture and illustrate athletes training

  • Bleep/Synergy – A “track by track” music education/making tool/platform

  • Luckybite/Kidsize – A set of tools to make CBBC content more accessible for the under 4’s

  • Coolbook/Headshift – A social bookmarking game for teens

  • Dubit – Visual navigation/contextual search application

  • Poke/Amberlight – Recommendation engine base on ‘taste profiles’

  • StarDotStar – A tool to capture and illustrate feedback via mobiles in real time. A prototype is planned for Eurovision 2007

Can you imagine asking your own internal IT department to design and deliver these product concepts? Can you imagine being able to develop such ideas to enhance your own member experience in so short a time?

What Innovation Labs gives BBC is a chance to tap the best creative and technical people to innovate new value that can be integrated into new or existing BBC customer experiences. They have streamlined the first phase in product development “ideation” and brought outside innovations inside to meet stated plans.

Lesson Learned

The Labs were a very effective way to see lots of ideas in a short period of time.

The better the brief and contextual information they provided, the better the ideas.

The Labs were creative, collaborative and stimulating – a good opportunity to just focus on ideas for a long period of time, but the ideas have taken too long to get to next stage. They feel this can be improved.

Plans for 2007

BBC added a major new partner the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts which is the UK’s largest single endowment devoted exclusively to innovation.
They will provide business growth and professional advice to all invited third parties.

Four Labs will cover twelve regional development areas in the UK.

The Labs will focus on the following BBC priorities and seek submissions to meet these needs:

  • Localness on – There are currently 55 separate Where I Live websites on containing a mix of local news, sport, information and community content from across the UK. How can BBC offer local content in more innovative and flexible ways to engage and reflect the relevant local content and conversations taking place on the web?

  • News services for young people – BBC News currently has a declining reach amongst 14-24 year olds, and wants to grow this reach via innovative new products. How could BBC deliver BBC News in an engaging and interactive way to this audience via the BBC News website and platforms like mobiles, online games, public screens or social networking sites?

  • Real-Time Sport – BBC Sport is looking to increase its interactivity around the major events in the sports calendar (eg Wimbledon, Rugby World Cup, Euro 2008, Olympics, etc). In particular BBC is looking to provide innovative services to enhance its coverage of the live action, in real time. BBC seeks to increase its reach among younger (15-24) audiences and are exploring opportunities on the BBC Sport website, but also on mobile platforms and on the wider internet beyond

  • Cross platform/location navigation – The BBC is looking for more ways to move users between interactive platforms where there is complementary content and experiences available. How can BBC move users between various media platforms and physical locations to increase the quality of their BBC experience by delivering them relevant content?

  • Interactive Drama & Entertainment – The BBC is looking for new ways to tell stories online. It is looking for ideas aimed at young audiences who are familiar with the web (13-19 year olds) and at older, more mainstream audiences who are becoming more comfortable with the technology. Successful proposals will have an understanding of:

  1. how new web technologies can add depth to the storytelling process,
  2. how gaming elements can be incorporated,
  3. how social networking elements could be incorporated.

This case study is a good reminder on the importance of several factors needed to initiate and sustain innovation: being open to new approaches, tapping ideas from the outside, leveraging partnerships, using a product development process that is common across your business, and maintaining a culture and staff competencies to manage same.




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