Tim Cowlishaw

Designer, Researcher, Technologist

Public Service Personalised Radio (2018)

Project with BBC R&D

A montage of the the interface of our public service personalised radio app

What does it mean for a media service to be “personalised?” In the world of the commercial streaming platforms this tends to mean that the service provides some sort of personalised recommendations – looking at your listening or watching history to identify more media that you’re likely to spend time consuming. This makes sense for them – they’ve got a clear incentive to maximise the time their audience spend with them (especially if they’re ad-funded!), however this isn’t necessarily true in a public service context. When we don’t rely on an ever increasing number of people, spending an ever increasing amount of time with us, for our continuing survival as an organisation – perhaps we have an opportunity to do things differently!

This project was an investigation into how personalised services can be reconciled with the normative and ethical principles of public service broadcasting, and how public service broadcasters such as the BBC can use our special status to produce distinctive, novel services that benefit our users.

I led the team working on this project (which consisted of myself, Jakub Fiala, David Man and Todd Burlington, supported by some early design ethics insight from the incredible Cennydd Bowles).

We investigated how personalised media services can be made transparent, can ensure diversity, can respect user agency, and can preserve a communal experience of media, through a prototyping process which delivered a fully working web-based personalised radio prototype, based on a novel recommendation algorithm that we designed and developed.

For more details, see our paper at IBC 2018!