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This article was published on July 3, 2012

The BBC unveils its first ‘Perceptive Media’ experiment – and you can try it now

The BBC unveils its first ‘Perceptive Media’ experiment – and you can try it now
Martin SFP Bryant
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Martin SFP Bryant


Martin Bryant is founder of Big Revolution, where he helps tech companies refine their proposition and positioning, and develops high-qualit Martin Bryant is founder of Big Revolution, where he helps tech companies refine their proposition and positioning, and develops high-quality, compelling content for them. He previously served in several roles at TNW, including Editor-in-Chief. He left the company in April 2016 for pastures new.

The BBC’s R&D department has just demoed the first public example of what it calls ‘Perceptive Media’, and has published it online so you can try it for yourself.

What is Perceptive Media? BBC R&D’s Ian Forrester first discussed the idea at the SMC_MCR event in Manchester, UK in February this year. 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. Elsewhere, the music playing on the radio in a TV drama might be different depending on your tastes.

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. If groups were watching together, it could compare their tastes and reach the best compromise for them all.

It was inspiring stuff to hear about earlier in the year, and today Forrester was back at SMC_MCR (disclosure: an event I co-founded and organize) with some of his BBC R&D colleagues to put the theory into practice.

Some of the team behind the experiment answer questions

The presentation referenced the likes of the Arcade Fire’s The Wilderness Downtown online experience and the Facebook-powered Take This Lollipop as comparisons, noting that they wanted to take a lighter approach. Forrester said that ‘implicit feedback’ is important – it doesn’t have to be the broad sweeps of the examples mentioned above. Subtle feedback, based on viewers’ body language, their location and other factors can potentially affect the content.

Breaking Out

This early form of Perceptive Media involves audio only. Breaking Out is an audio play hosted at futurebroadcasts.com. The experiment is designed for Chrome, which supports the Web Audio API, but should work in other browsers such as Firefox, Opera and Safari. The BBC says that it’s best experienced from the UK, because it’s tailored to a UK audience as BBC R&D is funded by the UK TV License Fee.

As demoed at today’s event, Breaking Out is an audio play with illustrative animations, following the story of a woman stuck in a lift in her apartment block somewhere in the UK. Based on your specific location (if you’re in the UK), aspects of the story such as the weather, date, news, the social networks you’re logged into in your browser and other elements affect the story.

You won’t necessarily be blown away by this audio play – it’s a gently customized experience rather than something that will be immediately obvious. However, if you’re in the UK, the personalized nature of the audio will give you a different experience depending on where you are.

Clearly, this is a rough sketch of what Perceptive Media could become, but we’ll be watching closely where it goes. You can read more in today’s post on the BBC R&D blog (they call our previous coverage’s title “sensational” – we don’t think so, it really could transform the way we consume media), and try it for yourself now via the link below. BBC R&D would love to hear your feedback via the form that’s loaded at the end of the audio.

Perceptive Media demo: Breaking Out (works best in the UK)

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