BBC’S SPENCER KELLY ON CONTENT TRENDS, FUTURISTIC TECHNOLOGIES AND HOW THE BBC IS STAYING AHEAD OF THE COMPETITION
We recently sat down with Spencer Kelly, presenter of the BBC’s technology programme Click, broadcast on the BBC World News. Spencer will be moderating a panel with leading CTOs on Day 1 of Cable Congress next week, so we asked for his perspectives on emerging technologies and trends impacting the content business. Highlights from our discussion follow.
What is your take on the latest trends in content consumption?
We’re still going through a transitional period because everything’s up for grabs and everyone’s trying new stuff. Over the last few years we’ve seen experiments with short-form content mainly, stuff you can watch on your device while you’re waiting for a bus or a train. And we’ve seen experiments in viewer participation in dramas, where the viewer can either decide on the outcome of the story because it’s filmed in parts or you can participate in it. We’ve been to film sets on the streets of London where you can just turn up and be in it. So we’re in this kind of transition period where everything’s being tried. I still think compelling content is going to be the answer. There’s a place for long-form entertainment that you’d sit back and watch; there’s a place for short-form, more interactive stuff that you watch as and when. Maybe it’s just because I’m getting old, but I still like the idea that I can watch a 90-minute film uninterrupted.
What do you think the role of technology is in this mix? What are the biggest you’ve seen in the last 12 months or so?
The rise and rise of the phone. I’ve never really been convinced that tablets are the end of the road for the larger screen form factor. They’re nice big screens to enjoy content on but I’m not convinced we’re there with them yet. I think that’s evidenced by the fact that we’re still getting a variety of screen sizes – I’ve got a 12.5 inch goliath of a tablet which is far too big to do much with apart from put it on a table (at which point you’d like a stand and a keyboard and it just becomes a laptop!). You’ve got people wanting 6,7,8-inch screens. So the actual thing you hold in your hand is not decided yet, but I do think that it’s going to be the phone. It’s going to be something that fits in your pocket.
What’s more important is a reliable wireless signal. It’s being able to stream content to your device and of course we’re not there yet – you can’t get a reliable signal. And even when you can you probably don’t have the data to allow you to stream high definition movies. You’d chew up a month’s worth of data in 90 minutes.
And of course there is the rights issues and the studios trying to work out the best way to provide the content whether it’s purchase or rental. We’re getting there with the rise of Netflix and other streaming/downloading services.
What is one futurist technology that you really hope takes off?
There are three possible things that get me excited:
3-D printing can change the world because suddenly you can create anything you need within reason. You probably won’t have a 3-D printer in your own home but we’re definitely looking at a future where there’s a 3-D printer in every town or on every high street. Believe it or not, for me the really exciting thing about 3-D printing is cooker knobs. If you have a 20-year old cooker and the knob breaks and they don’t make that kind of cooker anymore, you don’t have to buy a new cooker. You can just download the plan for a cooker knob that fits, get it printed and stick it on there. It’s everything from that to printing new joints for people to the minefield of copyright that comes with 3-D printing where you can in theory copy anything and print. For example, copy a toy you might ordinarily pay 20 pounds for and pay half the price. Who’s copyright are you infringing and who is going to be able to clamp down on it.
The driverless car is an interesting one because it looks like the technology is almost there. I’ve sat in a car driving through Jerusalem on a motorway that was stopping at traffic lights. It stayed in lane. It didn’t crash. No one died. I’m beginning to be convinced that the technology behind driverless cars is pretty much there. The problem we have is the legislation. If a driverless car has an accident who do you blame – the maker of the car, the maker of the software, the maker of the sensors, the driver that sits behind the steering wheel who didn’t interject at the last minute? I think driverless cars will be a legal minefield.
The other technology that really excites me is drones, which we’re seeing really take off (pardon the pun). I fly drones personally. I’ve seen some amazing things in the air with amazing cameras on them doing amazing stuff. We’ve driven through the desert in Nevada with drones following us autonomously and they actually did a reasonable job. Just like driverless cars, I think we’re almost at a stage where we can trust these things to get from A to B without a human in the loop. The problem with drones is that when they go wrong they tend to fall out of the sky, so there we have a legal issue as well.
These sound like really interesting stories for your programme Click. Tell us about the typical Click viewer?
All are welcome really. If you’re a geek, if you’re not a geek, if you just have a passing interest in technology. I think if you’re more into gardening and less into something with flashing lights then maybe you should try elsewhere. But even so we’d like to tempt you with something that has flashing lights. In fact, just this week we filmed a programme in Boston which has a robotic garden. It has robotic fish and robotic sheep in it. So anyone who has a passing interest in how some of the stuff they use works, that’s the way into our programme. More than that, Click is for anyone who’s interested in where technology is going. We [the tech world] are in a transitional period at the moment where we’re trying lots of new stuff. Some of it will just crash and burn (hopefully not literally!). Some of it may change the world, and it might be the one that we don’t realise because someone comes up with a new idea for using a technology that we haven’t thought of. Suddenly it all makes sense.
What do you think the BBC does better than its competitors?
The Beeb has always been about trust really. It’s always been about having no commercial ties, guaranteed to be completely neutral and big in scope as well. I think people just trust the BBC to do its best, get the facts and deliver a completely objective look at the whole world.
What strategies does the BBC need to compete in such a hyper-connected, anytime/anywhere world?
I think there are a handful of international organisations that provide good content, and for all of us, BBC included, the trick will be staying on top of what’s possible. We have a new digital generation – the Millenials – who are used to using technology in ways that are almost counterintuitive to the generations that have gone before. We have people sharing and consuming content in new forms and new ways. For all of us – whether we are the traditional international and national broadcasters – we just need to be on top of that. It’s becoming less about broadcasting one view and more about making the experience personal. By that I mean providing specialised content for your viewing habits, knowing you, knowing the viewer, knowing the consumer enough to serve up what’s relevant to that person rather than just a big menu of the day’s events.
The other challenge will be competing with organisations and a small number of individuals who can turn around stuff really quickly and put it out there from a news point of view. Take a video recording that was supposedly filmed in a conflict zone and re-broadcast it. That’s going to be the first time that clip is seen, but if you want trust you need to check your facts, check that it’s genuine, authenticate it. So the challenge is balancing being able to keep up with those who can turn around stuff really quickly and making it right.
BBC Click provides a comprehensive guide to innovation and tech, covering all the latest advances, gadgets, apps and tech industry news. It is broadcast weekly around the globe on BBC World News TV on Saturdays at 0630 and 1930 GMT and again on Sundays at 0330 and 1330 GMT.
Viewers can also follow the programme via BBC Click – Google+ or @BBC Click (BBCClick) on Twitter and subscribe to the BBC Click You Tube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/clickbbc or visit the Facebook page BBC Click | Facebook