When I returned to the UK in the 2000’s, my primary professional goal was to work with the BBC. In 2008, I was fortunate enough to get that opportunity when I was asked to help the in-house interactive team develop new concepts for a commissioning round.
I stayed on to jointly lead a newly formed in-house TV development team, with a brief to integrate people and processes across linear and interactive programmes and platforms. We developed some amazing interactive content, and established a rapid prototyping team within the editorial group in an effort to bypass the cumbersome BBC tech product hurdles and pitch with sizzle reels and working demos – the early days of multi platform commissions. The result was a mix of TV brand extensions like Tracy Beaker’s ‘Beakeriser’, allowing kids to create their own persona in Nick Sharratt’s distinctive illustration style and become part of the Beaker world, and stand alone interactive brands such as ‘Cartoonworks’, a game world that happened to feature animated show screenings as part of the experience.
The in-house team successfully developed dozens of multi platform experiences for CBeebies and CBBC – all built with Flash and hence lost to us today. Read my blog about this to know more about the demise of Flash (link to Flash blog HERE). We also explored emerging technologies with a small innovation team. My favourite resulted in CBBC StareOut. Producer Ben Courtney was experimenting with facial recognition and we noticed we could tweak the tech to focus on eye blinks… enabling the ultimate kids game, the Staring Contest! Your webcam would capture the moment you blinked, so there could be no cheating or debate.
My role was not only to build bridges between traditional linear TV and new interactive teams, but also to reach out to other parts of the BBC for collaborations. Unlocking the power of the BBC often lies in breaking down silos that naturally develop around genres and specialisms, so all audiences benefit from unique expertise. One result of this was a collaboration with BBC Comedy to produce 13 episodes of Spencer Jones and Jon Riche’s ‘Big Babies’ for CBBC. I executive produced the series with Jack Cheshire. It features the voice talents of Doc Brown, Sharon Horgan, Nick Helm, Matt Steer and more, and stars Spencer Jones and Martin Collins as Brooks and Rocco, with Dan Kirwan as the Gonch.
CBBC interactive app
Our team developed early prototypes for a CBeebies world to explore, an experiment that would lead to the hugely successful Playtime app. For CBBC, I proposed to build a series of apps based on the key programme brands, as well as a ‘master’ app that represented CBBC as a whole. The challenge was to create a playful interface that would also serve as a bridge to iPlayer and the CBBC desktop experience, and that could incorporate an enormous range of content in a mobile friendly form. We wanted the app to combine games, hidden treasures, the latest Newsround bulletin, updates from the CBBC Office, and links to favourite TV episodes – a mobile treasury of your CBBC favourites. The solution was 3D blocks used in a grid that you could slide about, turn around, even shake and replace. It was called GoCBBC.
My last major undertaking at the BBC was to make the case for, and launch, CBBC and CBeebies channels on YouTube, where young audiences were increasingly congregating by 2014. More needs to be done today to bring kids back to the BBC. The BBC urgently needs greater funding and broader vision to support digital natives as they grow up across the UK. I remain incredibly proud to have worked on content for public service content with my colleagues at BBC Children’s.