A brief insight into the complexities of creating a new capability at the BBC

By Dave Lee

Dave Lee

The BBC is committed to creating a truly personalised experience for everyone. We believe that a more personal BBC helps us build a deeper connection with our audiences, and helps us to extract more value from online. We have so much to offer across our products and services and one of our challenges is to help our audience discover the content we have.

We have a number of approaches to achieve this but alongside automated personalisation like smarter recommendations, we want to enable our audience to tell us what they want to see more of. So, we’re exploring the idea of enabling audiences to follow topics, a new capability that could work as a service for all of our teams and products.

This consistent and collaborative approach is not only more efficient, but would allow users’ preferences to follow them wherever on the BBC they are. This blog posting will try to convey the complexities around creating this new follow capability.

The BBC creates thousands of different content items on a daily basis, ready to be consumed by people in the UK and all around the world. But how might we improve the discoverability of that content? How might we offer new content to those who are interested in it?

The BBC Home team started working on the idea of ‘topics’ in summer of 2019. Working with colleagues from around the BBC, we have developed the technology to present a Pan-BBC topic to the audience.

Very early on in the work on topics it was recognised that there was an opportunity to harness the power of topics by allowing the audience to choose which topics they personally find interesting so we can personalise their experience of the BBC and notify them when relevant content is available. Examples of this already exist with the BBC such as the My Sport functionality in the BBC Sport app; subscribing to podcasts in BBC Sounds and adding a programme to your favourites in BBC iPlayer. The prior implementations have been undertaken in a product-specific fashion, but we are building ’follow’ in a unified way, aiming for a seamless audience and technical approach across all products. Behind the scenes, the mechanism for all these types of ‘following’ is common. How might we create an experience which harnesses all these ‘follow’ events to aid in content discovery by putting new and relevant content to our audiences quickly and efficiently?