The BBC's Paul Cheesbrough took time out to explain his plans for the key technologies that will transform the way the Corporation produces and broadcasts its programmes.
What technology does the BBC rely on to deliver its services to the public?
We use technology to reach people. Broadband, digital television, interactive television, Wap and 3G are all still in development, but they give us opportunities for launching new services.
What new services will emerging technologies support?
Broadband gives us a big opportunity to deliver services in a different way, like the recent trial of the iMP [interactive media player].
It's something other media companies are probably being more hesitant in looking at because of the potential rights issues. But we've come at it in a slightly different way and looked at a proposition where the end user can get a two-week window of programmes.
So you can download a selection of the past week's programming or mark the next week's selection of programming for download once available.
We're using rights management technology to activate the file to be viewed once broadcast, and then deactivate the file seven days later. [This] is quite core to what the BBC is looking at in the future.
Do you rely more on off-the-shelf technologies than less than specialised ones?
IMP is an off-the-shelf technology. It uses peer-to-peer technology and we're using Windows Media 9 for rights management and video encoding.
It's standard technology re-skinned with the BBC brand. And that's something that we're keen to do more of.
I think there are a lot of things happening in the marketplace where, as technology matures, we can take a much wider look at what's going on in terms of the [technology] we can utilise.
We've worked a lot with Sony on its new camera technology. Microsoft is another, where we've been talking about [the next operating system release] Longhorn and what it might mean for the users of our services.
[We've done the same with] Apple in much the same way. [But] we take an even hand with the way we deal with suppliers. We've got to be neutral.
How do you plan to make new services broadly accessible?
Things like the iMP [which runs on Microsoft Media Player] are pilots and the policies and formats we use may change over time. But our ideal model would be that all players out there support a single format, like the way the MP3 format conquered the audio market.
Our website is predominantly Real Media at the moment and we're finding that we're having to roll out areas in parallel in terms of streaming into the most popular [readers]. So there's a Real version and a Windows Media version of our radio player now, for example.
You wonder whether, in 12 months' time, we may have to do a QuickTime version as well. I think the parallel way of supporting multiple formats is probably here to stay for a while.
How do you prove that new technology for delivering content is good public value?
The Public Value test is incredibly important to what we do, and the clear message from the new management team is that it's got to be at the top of our decision-making criteria when we do things. And that applies to technology just as much as to our commercial decisions and policies.
Since John Varney joined the BBC as head of technology, he's used his commercial expertise to put a lot of emphasis on the financial decision making behind technology deployments and strategy.
[The Public Value manifesto] helps prioritise how we deal with issues, accelerating some of the technical strategies we have and changing others.
What technology does the BBC rely on internally?
There's the internal technology that keeps the BBC going from a corporation point of view that covers everything from desktop technology through to networks and storage. And specific to the BBC there's cameras, editing suites and outside broadcast trucks, for example.
Why does the BBC need to update its internal technology use?
The BBC's inward facing [use of technology] is incredibly diverse. Internally, our processes for producing and authoring content have been the same for many years and are still very physical.
We are still shipping tapes up and down the country to give people access [to content]. It's a very distributed set-up with lots of physically-based processes in between.
How will the BBC update its internal technology?
There's a lot of opportunity that digitising that process gives us. Now that things like networks, storage and computing power have evolved to a point where moving video around in a digital form within the corporation is realistic, we could now do some of the things we do internally differently.
For example, we used browse-quality desktop video editing equipment to prepare content on a recent programme called Lightning. And the savings we made in only using the full editing suite at the final stage meant we had more money available to pay for archive footage.
What internal technologies are you looking to update?
We've got a commodity strategy that looks at standard IT kit, including standard IT networks, storage and applications.
At the moment our technology use is all pretty proprietary. One area for moving to a more standards-based approach is IP [internet protocol] technology and IP networks for moving content around. The use of standard PC machines is another.
One area where we feel the market has fallen slightly short at the moment is how you hold the whole process chain together. You've got someone's idea at the beginning, which is captured on camera, which then goes to editing and so on, and the key need for us is to have a view of that overall process.
How will you justify the business case for new infrastructure technology investment?
We need to do it in a way that makes business sense. When you consider the cost of moving really big files across the network you soon start to build a picture where it definitely needs to be a phased approach.
We're looking at simple tools and applications to browse high-quality video first to make editorial decisions. You might as well do some of the high-end processes in the final editing suite and use the browse-quality platforms to prepare the content.
For example, an associate producer might be responsible for logging [filmed] material. He could be able to do this online, wirelessly, from his laptop as it is being filmed.
The big challenge is that we can do a lot of this at a small level in the near term. Over the next three years we could start implementing this type of technology piecemeal with one team of five over there and another of three over here.
But we don't get the benefit unless those bits are connected. The term 'digital islands' means a lot in our industry, but there's no point in moving from analogue to digital processes if those islands are disconnected.
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