BBC Click: 1000 episodes full of technological innovation

Logo of BBC Click

Interview with Simon Hancock, editor

If there is a program in the United Kingdom that clearly reflects the current technological news that is BBC Click. Since its birth in 2000, it has not only anticipated trends in the sector, but has decided to follow a path marked by innovation. In this way, some of its programs have been broadcast in 360 degrees or edited directly from mobile applications. Its next step? We discovered it interviewing Simon Hancock, editor of a television format that is about to reach its 1000th episode.

First of all, could you briefly explain the evolution of BBC Click? You’re almost 20 years old and have made 1000 shows!

Yes – we can’t really believe it! The programme started in 2000 really to chart the dotcom boom and we have been on air every week of every year since. It is exhausting, but there is just so much going on in the world of tech and innovation and it’s a privilege to cover it. We aim to really capture some of the amazing work people are doing, to create “oh wow” moments for our audience and also to inspire the next generation. Of course we also look at some of the darker sides of tech as it comes to be so relevant, and so dominant in the world. Overall though, we aim to chart how tech is changing people’s lives – for good and ill.

It has been said that BBC Click “push new tech” to its limits. Do you share this vision? What is the purpose of BBC Click?

Absolutely. We love reporting on the amazing world of tech and its innovations, but it’s also hugely important to me that we are also innovating ourselves. We’re all quite geeky, but to this end, within the team as well as people with production and tech journalism skills we have computer scientists, coders and an engineer. This allows us to do some really interesting project – about 5 years ago we were the first programme ever to entirely shoot and edit on mobile devices (which was a nightmare, but fun!), a few years ago we were then the first programme to make an entire episode in 360 video (long before the kit was ready so we had to hack it all up ourselves and then more recently we built an AI just to show how all that works). Now for our 1000th episode we’re doing this entire episode in Object Based Media which is incredibly ambitious but also great fun to experiment with.

VR application at BBC Click show

360, AI, Big Data, User participation… What has been the implementation that your viewers have received best?

I think the biggest reaction we had was probably for the show we edited and filmed on mobile devices…it was just so hard, but something people could relate to – this was about 5 years ago but even then it showed just what could be done with smartphones. I was really happy with the 360 show as it introduced a huge number of people to what at the time was a really novel new medium.

What have been your technological partners for your special tv programmes? Do you do an in-house development?

Generally we tend to do most of the work ourselves – we have a kind of start-up mentality on the programme and everyone on the programme from me downwards gets stuck into all aspects of production. We have an amazing multi-skilled team who love learning new approaches and skills so we find we can generally do most things ourselves, and seeing it a bit smaller seems to mean we can achieve more but occasionally as with our collaboration with BBC R&D this time it’s great to work with other people who bring their knowledge and approach.

How is the process of creating a new special episode of BBC Click?

For this 1000th episode, made in this Object Based Media environment, we are having to invent and learn a completely different workflow for production – it’s very exciting, but also pretty mind-bending at times and we are swimming in flow-charts! People watching the episode online will be able to interactively explore the content we have made through the choices they make. It’s a bit more like playing a video game than watching normal video. The thing is because we are creating this world with tons of optional content, we are having to gather maybe the equivalent of 5 episodes of the programme to make just this one special…it’s a lot of work but we hope it will be worth it.

Some would say that the kind of experiences that you create are standalone and cannot be applied to long-lasting TV formats… What do you think? Does BBC Click intend to anticipate the future of TV?

Our purpose when making shows like these is just to show what can be done with technology and new production techniques – it’s not really our aim to develop long-lasting formats. That said we often find while making the programmes that we discover things which we then incorporate back into our regular production – such as blending 360 shots into our normal show. That said I do think that an OBM approach to content-making has a huge amount to offer, and I genuinely believe it will over time become something used to make video content.

What is BBC Click preparing for the following months?

After we recover from making this 1000th episode, we are making two programmes to tie in with the 50th anniversary of the moon landing – one looking back at what was achieved and one looking forward to where space exploration is heading. We’re also making a documentary about Phoenix, Arizona which has become the world’s de facto capital of self-driving cars. We always have a lot going on to be honest.

Finally, we would like to have your vision about the TV industry. In your opinion, what will be the next great technological innovations applied to broadcasting?

I think the speed 5G offers and the way lower latency will create huge possibilities. It will be possible to do so much more in a live environment in quality and I think the interconnected-ness will potentially lead to some new and interesting formats. I wonder if it could also finally make VR a bit more compelling if it allows for a more social experience. 

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