Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

BBC’s Taster of things to come

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast January 29, 2015

Online initiative is a brave attempt at a tough task, says Kate Bulkley

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there were two warring factions in the BBC (a bit like the Starks and the Lannisters in Game Of Thrones) and their battlefield was the internet. The techies and the creatives found it tough to work together (or even speak politely at times) as the Beeb attempted to find a way to get the iPlayer project off the ground, among other things.

Nowadays, however, earlier characters in this drama have left the stage, broadband capacity has increased, smartphones and tablets are all the rage and the techies and the creatives have begun to kiss and make up. This week they were even in the same room, with the same positive messages about the same (and latest) BBC online initiative: BBC Taster.

“We want to be digitally ahead,” said director of television Danny Cohen.

“This will only work for audiences if we fuse technological innovation with editorial creativity,” added Ralph Rivera, director of BBC Future Media.

Danny and Ralph looked positively bonded at the hip at the Taster press conference (although neither could pass for Charles Dance or Sean Bean, even across a crowded Westeros room). Their big new idea will be bossed equally by a member from each of their houses, so another ice-and-fire-style bust-up is still possible.

But no one was talking about this when the 17 Taster projects were discussed. They include shortform content, a personal news timeline for every site visitor (like a Facebook timeline but using the BBC archive) and a forthcoming Radio 1 shout-out ‘opinion tool’ app. In short, it’s lots of different parts of the Beeb trying out lots of different things.

The ‘star’ quality on the early home page was a conversation between girl-of-the-moment Lena Dunham and Jennifer Saunders (pictured). It was an ordinary TV-style interview, but Taster has zapped it into bite-size bits ’n’ pieces under zeitgeist headlines like ‘dick on the table’.

Taster is a ‘try ’em, rate ’em, share ’em’ project, which could easily have been called Snog, Marry, Avoid – if that name hadn’t already been taken. I’m afraid ‘Taster’ does feel a bit like a name made up by committee, but maybe we can rate it and kill that too.

This is one of the toughest assignments the BBC has ever undertaken. Not many broadcasters have yet figured out how to take their traditional media and turn it into internet-friendly fodder for the masses. Remember, iPlayer started out a little wonky, but now it’s a triumph. Even Danny and Ralph admitted that not everything that shows up on Taster will be perfect (they’ll no doubt be keenly studying the ‘rate ’em’ data from the site).

It’s sort of a ‘Buzzfeed meets the BBC’ model, attempting to tap into the audience and get their feedback on stuff before the next step – like a full commission – is made. So let’s not be too judgemental to start with and give the Beeb a break. Putting its ‘dick on the table’ is not a bad start.

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