As media audiences move to services distributed over IP networks, the barriers to entry for new competitors is reduced to almost zero. Existing media companies have two strategic options – try to artificially protect their existing role in the value chain, or embrace the fluidity of these networks and ‘atomize’ their content, enabling users to remix and recontextualise it in the way they want to, says Matt Locke, Head of Innovation of BBC New Media. BBC chose the second and launched Open Innovations project. BBC beliefs that it has a much better chance of spotting disruptive innovation, and a better chance of embracing it within its own organisation.
Matt Locke, you are responsible for the so called Innovation Labs of BBC. They are examples of open innovation processes of BBC. What do you mean with open innovation?
For the first four years of my time at the BBC, I ran an innovation team that worked like an internal consultancy, with team members embedded in different BBC departments. That was working fine, with some successes and some frustrations, but I was also aware that the maturation of the new media sector, in particular on the web, had introduced a new innovation landscape, and we had to address that. I was very influenced by Henry Chesborough’s writings on Open Innovation, and Eric Von Hippel’s work on Lead-User Innovation, so we formulated a series of projects for generating innovation from networks outside of the BBC. We identified four basic groups that we wanted to focus on – peer organisations (eg Microsoft, BT, Sony, etc); Academia; ‘Indie’ Digital Media SMEs in the UK; and Lead Users. We looked at some existing models of open innovation, like Google Labs or Yahoo!’s Developer Network, and then launched a series of pilot projects. Over the last 2 years, we’ve been running these pilots and evaluating their success, looking at the what this means for internal development processes as well as ‘open’ external processes.
Can you give us an example of a new product, that you found in the open innovation process?
Many of the projects are really concept prototypes, so not many have actually been through the complete pipeline to full service launch so far. One that has is the ‘home page archive’ that came out of the Backstage community. We’ve had 90 prototypes built by Lead Users in the backstage community over the last 18 months – one of my favourites is ‘Mood News ’, where Davy Mitchell (an external developer) has taken the feeds of our news content and used some linguistic analysis to present it as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ news. Its not something that we’re likely to commission at the BBC, but it’s a great example of how people are taking our content and experimenting with how "they" want to use it.
Is the open innovation approach of BBC also a suitable way for other companies in other than the media industry?
I think it has to be absolutely core to any media company’s strategy. As media audiences move to services distributed over IP networks, the barriers to entry for new competitors is reduced to almost zero. Existing media companies have two strategic options – try to artificially protect their existing role in the value chain, or embrace the fluidity of these networks and ‘atomize’ their content, enabling users to remix and recontextualise it in the way they want to. If you can do this, and learn how to listen to these external networks, you’ll have a much better chance of spotting disruptive innovation, and have a better chance of embracing it within your own organisation.
You will be keynote speaker at the 2nd European Futurists Conference Lucerne. What will we learn from you?
I’m hoping to learn more from the other exceptional speakers and attendees! Maybe I will be able to give some ‘war stories’ from my experience in driving innovation within a old, large, bureaucratic media organisation. Innovation theory is one thing, but delivering it in practise is another!
Matt Locke is Head of Innovation for BBC New Media & Technology. He is responsible for developing and running research programmes within the BBC and with external partners, including developing academic and industry partnerships, and developing open innovation initiatives like http://backstage.bbc.co.uk and http://open.bbc.co.uk/labs/. Before that, he was Head of Creative Research & Development within the same division. Creative R&D worked with New Media production teams across the BBC on mid to long term innovation development, helping analyse trends and develop product and service ideas for 3-5 years out.
He is a regular participant on working groups and advisory boards for other public sector projects and organisations. Before joining the BBC, Matt worked as a curator and writer, specialising in the social adoption of technology and the cultural impact of digital technology, and still continues to write regularly about these themes for journals, websites and his own site at www.test.org.uk.