May 03, 2007

Learnin' from Virgin

One of the keynotes at the OU''s recent CTSS conference was James Cridland, currently digital media director at Virgin Radio, but soon to be Head of Future Media and Technology, Audio and Music at the BBC.

By far the slickest presentation delivered over the two day conference, Control and Community in the Multi-Platform World provided an overview of some of the ways in which Virgin Radio is using technology to deliver content and community to where it's audience wants it, whether that's via the radio, web or mobile device. In short, a presentation about "a strong brand, communicating".

Invoking Bob Garfield's Chaos and Chaos 2.0 scenarios, (on the death of mass media and mass marketing), the point was well made that whilst mass media are reaching ever smaller audiences, the new media still do not tend to reach large audiences; a consequence of which is that there will be no media capable of meeting demands of the advertising and mass marketing sectors. Except via a Google advertising monopoly, maybe!

(Martin, you gonna do a piece on the OU Chaos scenario: the death of long courses and the formal learning student?!)

With new media portable DAB radio players, such as the Virgin Mobile Lobster (with its red button for interactive use, no less) or this iRiver DAB Slideshow player, and web based players like the Virgin Media Player (reviewed when it was in beta for a day before launch here, and mentioned in passing by yours truly in the context of a post about a "RadiOU"), adding a visual component to radio broadcasts is now standard practice.

The Virgin Media player also combines the ability to play radio with the ability to play video. Will the BBC iPlayer do the same, I wonder? (I'm guessing at the URL - the 401 looks promising...)

However, whilst the visual component to radio is not just using limited to scrolling liveText displays, nor does it mean moving wholesale into television: the key is to support glanceability, a beautifully evocative word referring to the ability to look at a screen and capture the information you require at a glance.

Perfect for checking the name of the artist - or track - currently playing, for example, and providing visual cues that engage the audience just that little bit more, making the channel stickier and the listener (viewer?) just that little bit less likely to tune away.

(For a 2004 take on why the move to digital radio broadcast over the aether is so compelling compared to current FM analogue broadcasts, read the BBC's submission to the DCMS Review of DAB Digital Radio.)

Radio delivery is not just via the traditional 'radio' of course. Many mobile phones now offer multiple ways of accessing a radio station (via FM, DAB, the web, and so on), each with their own licensing requirements.

Two points James made about the Virgin Radio website particularly stood out for me: firstly, how abusive or unwanted contact from other users is handled on the social parts of the website - if an unwanted visitor is posting content on your site, you can simply choose to ignore them. The user can continue to post, and will think all is working fine, but only they will be able to see the (otherwise ignored) content they have posted. The cunning part comes when the same person is ignored by many users - then the system will set a global ignore flag. The user will continue to post, oblivious to the fact that only they can see their content. Beautiful :-) Although subject to abuse and community powered censorship, perhaps?

The comment that "peer production" and user-generated content are important but that brands should be guarantors of production quality and quality content was also well made. In the VIrgin Radio case, anything goes in community areas of the site, subject to self-regulation, whereas what goes on air is strictly controlled. This distinction is worth bearing in mind as the OU moves forward, I think.

Secondly was a comment I reused in a web 2.0 presentation yesterday: the "Virgin [Radio] website is a website for the sort of people who like to listen to the music that is played on Virgin Radio."

Perfect :-)

Can the same be said of the OU site, I wonder, or the site, if we replace 'Virgin Radio listener' with 'OU student' (or 'OU alumnus')?

Hmmm.... although once again, the OpenLearn comms team are hinting at possible ways forward on this score: OpenLearn Community. I'm so glad they have no developer resource, and have to make do with what they can find on the web... ;-)

Finally, issues surrounding the definition and collection of appropriate metrics was raised, both for subscription content in general, and audio content in general (how do you know if someone has listened to a track, for example? [Err - get everyone scrobbling, maybe?]

Tracking and analytics are something that just doesn't appear to be happening here in the OU yet, even for something as simple as tracking simple website user behaviour (or if it is, its not getting to the course teams). I couldn't tell you, for example, whether any student on any of the 5(?) presentations of the online T184 course has ever looked at one of the course web pages, let alone followed any of the external links from them; or played any of the movies. (A cunning plan is in place to try and address this issue, though ;-)

Just in passing, and sort of related in a hint dropping sort of way in case James C reads this on his way to the Beeb, I'm hoping we'll get to play with the BBC iPlayer sometime soon; (I'm also personally signed up to the BBC Archive trial - though I haven't been invited in yet, so maybe I didn't get a place... So much for having a strategic grass roots relationship between the OU, and the BBC new media developers!).

The OU Broadcast review is also trundling along (check out Martin Weller's CTSS presentation on the OU Broadcast Review for more info), so it'll be interesting to see where that leads over the next 18 months or so.

Posted by ajh59 at May 3, 2007 02:10 PM

>Martin, you gonna do a piece on the OU Chaos scenario: the death of long courses and the formal learning student?!

Err, no, don't think so! I kind of see how this might happen, but the analogy falls down if accreditation is still in the mix, because that is a pull factor that mass media doesn't have. You don't _have_ to watch TV but if you want to get a job you do have to be accredited. Now if the accreditation model breaks down, and it is creaking a bit, then the chaos scenario becomes more likely. I must admit I'm not sure I buy the chaos scenario in broadcast anyway - I think there will be a market shakedown maybe so you have a few high end producers who can still reach a big enough audience, and lots of low quality players who operate in the long tail. This is kind of what the long tail predicts - you get a few blockbusters, but their number is reduced.

Posted by: Martin at May 3, 2007 02:56 PM

>the system will set a global ignore flag. The user will continue to post, oblivious to the fact that only they can see there content. Beautiful :-)

Isn't it!

The thing I love about it is that detecting the fact that you're on a global ignore list purely from the interactions is a hard problem. As my colleague Robin Goodfellow mentioned when I told him about this: "Sounds like just about every conferencing system ever, then!"

Posted by: Doug at May 4, 2007 02:46 PM