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BBC researches digital future with UCL

Cliff Saran

The BBC is partnering with University College London (UCL) in a four-year research and development (R&D) programme to investigate the future of digital content.

Over the next four years, the partnership between the BBC and UCL will focus on a programme of research that seeks to advance communications technologies, internet research, content production, user experience design (UXD) and access services, the BBC said.

“The BBC has massive content resources and is interested in opening up its content for the basis of new digital services,” said Anthony Finkelstein, dean of UCL’s faculty of engineering.

Commenting on the UCL partnership, Matthew Postgate, controller of BBC R&D, said: “Having collaborative research disciples are very complementary.”

He said much of what the BBC does is driven by computer and networking technology. “We are driven by computing. We are networking studies, and using digital rather than tape-based production.”

Big data and artificial intelligence (AI) research plays to the work in content discovery, he said. “We are keen for licence payers to derive greater value from the content we produce. Human computer interaction helps inform how we develop our accessibility services.”

Postgate said the BBC/UCL collaborate reflects where R&D has got to. 

“We don’t expect to solve all the problems. We are pulling together teams and really looking forward to seeing what comes out of the collaboration. This is the foundation. We will bring in other partners," he said.

The R&D programme will involve establishing a dedicated site housing 40 BBC staff and 40 UCL researchers.

The research will be divided into a number of areas. It will look at future internet technologies for networks and communications. The second area is human computer interactivity, building on UCL’s expertise in augmented reality. The researchers also plan to investigate future digital services that make use of big data and analytics.

“The BBC’s content is big data. When you augment that with referenced information you have usage challenges around people viewing content and using the BBC,” said Finkelstein.

UCL will provide expertise in search and how people interact with content, along with machine learning and big data. Edinburgh University will bring expertise in artificial intelligence. Imperial College will provide experts from its innovation business school.


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