Perceptive Media: Undoing the limitations of traditional media

The BBC R&D department's Ian Forrester talks about the broadcast company's Perceptive Media experiment.

Recent research indicates a clear desire for interactive engagement in storytelling on the part of audiences. Researchers at the BBC are pioneering the concept of engagement and content personalization with their Perceptive Media experiment. The Next Web’s managing editor Martin Bryant took a look at Perceptive Media and its first incarnation Breaking Out earlier this summer. He describes the experiment’s concept:

“Essentially, it’s media — either video or audio — that adapts itself based on information it knows about individual viewers. So, if you were watching a game show that you’d never seen before, it might show you an explanation of the rules in detail, while regular views are shown bonus, behind-the-scenes footage instead. … Other smart ideas behind Perceptive Media include the idea that TV hardware could automatically recognize who was watching and tailor the content of TV to them automatically.”

I reached out to BBC R&D researcher Ian Forrester to find out more about Perceptive Media and the potential for the concept. Our interview follows. Forrester will further discuss the Perceptive Media experiment and its potential applications at TOC Frankfurt Conference on October 9, 2012.

How does Perceptive Media work, and are there privacy concerns?

Ian Forrester: Perceptive Media takes storytelling and narrative back to something more aligned to a storyteller and audience around a fire. However, it uses broadcast and Internet technologies in combination to achieve a seamless narrative experience.

Our [Breaking Out] audio play at takes advantage of advanced web technologies [to adapt the content], but it’s only one of many ways we have identified. [Editor’s note: BBC writer Sarah Glenister wrote about her experience working on the Breaking Out audio play experiment here.] The path we took means there are no privacy or data protection issues. Other paths may lean toward learning from what’s being customised (rather then personalised) using a more IP-based solution.

The BBC has a rich history in this field, with the likes of BBC Backstage, which I was the head of for many years. Big data is the trend right now, but in R&D, I’m more interested in implicit data that comes from us and everything we do.

What driving factors are pointing to the success of this kind of storytelling platform?

Ian Forrester: As an R&D department, its very hard to say for the broadcasting industry, and we have even less experience in the publishing industry. However, our research on people’s media habits tells us a lot about people in the lean back and learn forward states. We use that research and what we have seen elsewhere to gauge market acceptance.

At the BBC, we don’t look at advertising, but every other company we’ve seen interested in this type technology/experience/media is thinking adverts and product placement.

In the early days, Perceptive Media is being applied to broadcast technology. What potential applications for Perceptive Media do you envision in the publishing industry?

Ian Forrester: We have only scratched the surface and do not know what else it can be adapted toward. In BBC R&D, we watch trends by looking at early innovators. It’s clear as day that ebook reading is taking off finally, and as it moves into the digital domain, why does the concept of a book have to be static? Skeuomorphism is tragic and feels like a massive step back. But Perceptive Media is undoing the limitations of broadcast. It certainly feels like we can overcome the limitations of publishing, too.

This interview was lightly edited and condensed.

Be sure to join us at TOC Frankfurt on October 9, 2012. Save 20% on registration with the code TOCPartner20TSpeaker.


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