Outside Innovation at the BBC

Q&A with Matt Locke, Head of Innovation, BBC New Media

October 5, 2006

As the BBC attempts to reinvent itself as a digital media company, the company developed an externally-facing, open innovation strategy. Experiments with four types of stakeholders—lead users, digital independents, academia, and corporate peers—have yielded impressive programs and results.


Spotlight Venue: MIT Innovation Lab Meeting, September 2006

Sloan School Professor of Innovation, Eric von Hippel convened a meeting of research sponsors and user-led innovation practitioners on September 7th and 8th on the MIT Campus. Although the meeting was closed and the discussions were private, I had an opportunity to catch up with Matt Locke, the Head of Innovation for BBC New Media, whose work I had profiled in my book, “Outside Innovation.”

I asked Matt to review my notes from his presentation and let me know what he was willing to share publicly. This spotlight, profiling Matt’s team’s work at the BBC on user-led innovation, is the result of our post-conference collaboration. (Some of my questions/interjections are actually paraphrasing of the questions and issues raised by the other participants of the Innovation Lab. Others were added to turn a discussion into a logical flow.)

Background: BBC and New Media

Matt Locke has been at BBC New Media and Technology for five years. His background is in digital media and art, including creating public art works. Here is Matt’s story about the work he has been doing at the BBC.

PATTY SEYBOLD. Give us some context and background for the New Media initiative at the BBC.

MATT LOCKE. BBC has around 25,000 staff. The organization has been producing television and radio programs for 80 years. Our former Director General, Greg Dyke, formed the New Media division, but he was a TV guy at heart. The budget of the BBC is ?2 billion a year from license fees and our self-generated commercial income, but only a small proportion of this is spent on New Media at the moment.

Shift in Broadcasting Models. Note that the first wave of the digital transformation of broadcasting was about digital television. The U.K. and Europe have led in digital TV, with Sky Digital, Digital Terrestrial TV (Freeview) and so on. This new delivery approach increased choice and control, but didn’t change the broadcast one-to-many paradigm.

The second digital wave to affect broadcasting was networked media. It is more nonlinear and very participatory. This DOES change the broadcast paradigm, and introduces new players and formats, like Google, Yahoo!, MMORPGs,[1] etc.

Requires Shift in Our Operating Model. BBC’s operating models have been rooted in the broadcast world. Now we’re going to need to become a digital business. We need to change the culture of our business in response to that shift.

Here are some fairly recent examples of BBC’s attempts to reinvent itself:

* We recently reorganized. There’s no department called “TV” and no department called “radio.” That has caught the attention of a lot of people as an indicator for where we see the broadcast industry moving.

* We are doing a strategic review of what we do online. For example, our Web site is fantastic, but what we’ve been seeing is a bigger revolution in how people have designed Web sites as more iterative, flexible entities than ever before.

* In May-June 2006, we launched an external contest: “Reboot BBC”[2] to get ideas about how to redesign our business from our lead users at BBC Backstage and from other interested developers (see Illustration 1).

“Reboot BBC” Contest
Illustration 1. The BBC New Media group ran a “redesign the BBC Web site” contest in the spring of 2006. Hundreds of customers submitted their design ideas and rationales. This was the winning submission.

We have a new Director General, Mark Thompson.[3] He has been at the helm for going on two years. Mark has a clear vision of how critical Internet-based digital technologies are to the future of the BBC.

Shift in New Media Group’s Charter to Stimulate Open Innovation

PATTY SEYBOLD. So it was in response to this changing environment that you decided to develop an externally-facing, open innovation strategy?

MATT LOCKE. Yes. We had been operating as an innovation consultancy within the BBC to get the internal teams to be better at innovating with their own staff. But about two years ago, we developed an open innovation strategy in BBC New Media. We pitched an open innovation model. We could point to enterprise-level tools from Google, Yahoo!, eBay, etc. that lower the barriers to innovation. We’re all seeing much more innovation in content creation and production, innovation among users.

BBC’s Open Innovation Initiatives: Engaged with Four Different Audiences

PATTY SEYBOLD. So based on what these other “media” players were doing, you could make the case that the BBC should be opening up to enable outsiders to co-create and innovate in content, programming, etc. What outside audiences did you target?

MATT LOCKE. We decided to try outside innovation experiments aimed at four external audiences/networks of stakeholders:

  • Lead users
  • Digital independents
  • Academia
  • Corporate peers

These experiments are leading our strategy. We’re making sure key commissioners inside the business are involved in these pilots. So people are starting to see results and are taking these strategies seriously.

PATTY SEYBOLD. Could you provide a summary of the initiatives for at least three of these target audiences: lead users, digital independents, and academia?


Lead Users: BBC Backstage

MATT LOCKE. BBC Backstage is our version of other lead user projects like Yahoo! Developer Network. We provide content feeds and APIs (application programming interfaces) to our content and services. These are mainly RSS feeds categorized by news, travel, weather, entertainment, programming schedules, and so on...


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