BBC World Service, Connected studio look to SA for new ways of distributing audio content

The BBC’s World Service, together with the BBC’s digital innovations team — BBC Connected Studio, today kicked off its Development Studio event in Cape Town, South Africa.

The event, held in conjunction with community-based tech incubator RLabs, aims to identify news ways of distributing the broadcaster’s audio content online.

As part of the BBC’s Cape Town Development Studio brief, teams will consider existing technologies on offer — such as Internet Protocol (IP) Raspberry Pi, audio streaming, software defined radio, podcasts — to develop tools that deliver BBC content to communities across sub-Saharan Africa. Cost-efficiency will also be explored alongside new ways of reaching younger audiences.

Participating teams will be judged on a set of criteria. Successful ideas will be selected for pilots funded by the BBC which will be announced in May.

“We are trying to learn more about the way people across the world consume digital content on their mobile phones,” says BBC World Service Group Digital Development Editor Dmitry Shishkin. Reaching out to the local tech scene in Cape Town is a great way to collaborate because it provides us with valuable intelligence from within a market we are trying to grow in.

The World Service has been ramping up its African activities, particularly in the online space, of late.

According to Shishkin, that change has come about in part because it wasn’t taking enough advantage of its 160-strong African team.

It’s also about making use of the continent’s obsession with tech. “We wanted to ride that wave,” says Shishkin.

Earlier this year, it held a hackathon in Kenya aimed at increasing the amount of BBC content available on mobile phones in the country. Shishkin says he hopes that the Cape Town event will produce similarly innovative products.

The BBC also launched the Africa edition of the website, providing English-speaking internet users on the continent with news stories, features and video that are more likely to be relevant to them.

In March meanwhile, the broadcaster launched the Africa live page on the BBC News website which covers Africa as a “live event”, with text, audio and video content and picture galleries delivered by the BBC’s correspondents, reporters, producers and presenters across the continent.

Those activities also come against a background of the World Service expanding its product range beyond audio and into formats such as cartoons, chat apps and satire.

Shsiskin is particularly excited by the second of those formats.

“The potential for chat apps for news organisations is about as big as social media was about five years ago,” he says.

All of this is part of the World Service’s plan to double its audience to around 500-million people by 2022, with most of the growth expected to come on digital.

Part of BBC Research & Development, Connected Studio works with digital agencies, technology start-ups, designers and developers – including BBC staff – to deliver innovation. Its aim is to add new functions, features or formats across the BBC’s online services, improving audience experience and optimising the BBC’s digital media products.

“We are set-up to identify and support the development of digital ideas from inside and outside the BBC,” says Adrian Woolard, Head of BBC Connected Studio Applying our proven methods of product development, we are now able to work directly with the highly inventive local tech scene in Cape Town.

We are excited at the prospect of tapping into their experience and insights to the challenges of BBC World Service in Africa. I can’t wait to see the innovations that will be developed around audio and mobiles.”



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