CIO interview: Daniel Heaf, CDO, BBC Worldwide

cio interview

CIO interview: Daniel Heaf, CDO, BBC Worldwide

Caroline Baldwin

As the chief digital officer at BBC Worldwide, Daniel Heaf (pictured) works for one of the most innovative media companies in the world. But he does not believe in “innovation for innovation’s sake”.

He says he does not go about his day thinking, "how can I be more innovative?" Instead, he concentrates on how digital can make his customers’ lives better.

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“Innovation is great when it works for the audience you have, but innovation for innovation’s sake is a waste of time,” says Heaf.

BBC Worldwide is the commercial arm of the BBC which trades in more than 200 countries. 

Heaf looks after the user technology of the numerous BBC Worldwide portfolios, including the running of BBC.com, BBC sites such as GoodFood.com, and B2B sales in the US and Australia.

A startup background

Before starting his role as CDO in July 2010, Heaf worked as an investor for Channel 4’s 4iP fund, which funded technology companies. 

His experience with investing in early-stage startups in the UK, such as AudioBoo and MyBuilder.com, helped Heaf to understand the economics of a digital business.  

Heaf, who enjoys tech in his personal life and encourages his children to use Raspberry Pi applications, says: “I’m a digital person from the beginning – I’m not a manager who’s come to do digital.”

Investing in startups in his previous role has highlighted the potential of working with small businesses, but he uses a range of technology providers in the BBC, from startups to large suppliers.

“We don’t incorporate startups because we’re doing them a favour; we do it because they’re the right company,” says Heaf.

BBC Worldwide’s Labs

The first BBC Worldwide Labs programme led to two commercial deals: one between the ingredient list startup Foodity and GoodFood.com; the other between mobile tech startup KO-SU and BBC motion Gallery Education.

“Startups tend to be doing something that no one else is doing,” says Heaf, pointing to Foodity as an example.

Foodity’s Ingredo technology allows GoodFood.com users to purchase ingredients for online recipes, by integrating with Tesco.com. Users' baskets are automatically filled at the press of a button, allowing them to shop at Tesco without leaving the Good Food site.

Heaf explains GoodFood.com is an example of several digital services coming together to form a solution. “It’s part Drupal, part Foodity, part analytics,” says Heaf. “It’s a suite of services bolted together.”

The Labs programme also saw a third partnership, under which video tagging startup wireWAX works alongside BBC News online to build an interactive video story, while helping another three startups gain momentum and networking opportunities.

Heaf says the BBC has taken British media content to more people around the world than anyone else, and he does not see why it can’t do the same with startups. 

A second programme is currently underway, and startups can apply for future positions through the BBC Worldwide Labs application form.

BBC Store possibilities

In 2012/13, BBC Worldwide’s headline profit was £156m, which it invests back into the BBC and independent productions. It helps to keep the licence fee as low as possible, and since 2007 has returned more than £1bn to "the beeb".

Currently, the BBC Worldwide TV catalogue has 50,000 hours of programming, and last month the broadcaster announced it was going to create a back catalogue online, called BBC Store.

BBC Store will offer users the opportunity to download and keep BBC content for a fee.

BBC Worldwide commercialises BBC content, but Heaf says it only commercialises 10%, whereas the rest of the content disappears from view. 

“[BBC Store] would be great in the world of infinite shelf space,” says Heaf.

It would allow TV companies which have made the content to receive additional revenue. “It’s figuring out how we can be a platform for those independent TV companies – not the guys who make Sherlock – but the everyday content. How can we make that available forever too?”

Payment for programmes

But enabling content to be available on-demand does worry Heaf.

“TV is hard to miss,” he says. “The world of TV used to be finite – if you missed Star Wars one Christmas and you didn’t have a video recorder, you would have to wait until the next year for it to come on again.”

Heaf says all TV is getting to the point – including BBC Store – where every piece of TV content that has ever been available to watch will be available at any point in the future. But this will decrease the need for new content. 

“Content is perishable,” he says. “Not many people want to watch the news from last week. There are varying degrees of perishability.”

He believes the solution is to encourage paid-for media, pointing to the Amazon Kindle as an example of how to digitise and commercialise content. 

Additionally, subscription services such as Netflix cannot be the only solution. “You can’t have Netflix, and no iTunes – you have to have a premiere paid-for window,” he says.

Heaf wants the people who make the programmes to continue to receive payment. 

“It’s the same thing with journalism. I don’t think having newspapers free online is a good thing at all. It means you’re going to pay fewer journalists, and fewer journalists is not a good thing,” he says.


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