Following the success of BBC Click’s personalised, interactive episode, the Corporation’s R&D team is continuing to explore object-based formats powered by its StoryKit tool. For its latest project, it commissioned independent production company Spirit to produce Instagramifaction, a documentary about the good, the bad and the ugly of the world’s fastest-growing social network.
Following research into the needs of the under-served 18 to 34-year-old audience, researchers wanted to know if StoryKit and the concept of object-based storytelling could help in reaching this demographic. A key insight was that there is not one ‘youth’ audience. According to BBC R&D, this is an incredibly diverse group, not just in terms of age range, but also in terms of interests. BBC R&D therefore set out to make a documentary that told a different version of the same story depending on the needs and personality traits of each viewer.
According to the BBC, this was a significant and deliberate departure from previous interactive projects, and even previous StoryKit ones such as Click, where the focus is on the viewer choosing their own path. Although it does feature some choices during the experience, Instagramification is less focused on explicit interactivity and more on implicit perceptive storytelling.
In the future, the BBC will be better at using data to learn about its audiences. The more people interact with its products through the programmes they watch on iPlayer or the podcasts and radio stations they listen to through BBC Sounds, the more the BBC learns about them as individuals. Unlike some tech companies who monetise this data through targeted adverts or tailored messages influencing people how to think and even vote, the BBC will never pass this data on to third parties and will only use it make its content and services better.
A person’s data could potentially allow the BBC to curate their viewing experience, not just through the content they are recommended, but also in how that content is uniquely experienced. A 19-year-old in rural Scotland who likes pop music and reality TV might have different tastes and needs to a 33-year-old from London who likes sport and art galleries. Both, however, might still want to see a documentary about, for example, ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ of Instagram. This pilot is an experiment to understand if and how this is possible.
Currently, the experience starts by asking each viewer a series of questions. Their responses affect how the story subsequently plays out. There are two core versions of the documentary, one geared towards entertaining and the other towards informing, each with a different presenter. Within each version, however, multiple other sections are affected by the data provided by the viewer. For example, if you’re interested in technology you get longer clips and more depth on a section about bot farms. If you live in Scotland, you are served different regional facts about Instagram than viewers from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. So although the over-arching structure stays the same, many of the elements within it are shaped according to the viewers’ unique preferences and circumstances.
“We don’t, however, imagine that asking questions of each viewer upfront is the future of personalised storytelling,” says Development Producer Nick Hanson in a Blog post. “In the future this data could be gathered behind the scenes, building and changing over time. The actual content would be made up of lots of individual assets (or ‘objects’), which might include video, audio (broken down by dialogue, background music, etc), graphics and so on. Each of these objects will be tagged with metadata that could interact with the data of each user. Which objects are used and how they are arranged depends on what we know about the viewer.”
According to Hanson, this form of intelligent, data-driven storytelling is still some way off, but by using StoryKit to gather data upfront and build multiple routes through the story, the BBC can better understand some of the key production, editorial and user experience considerations for the future.