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OCF, the BBC and Machine Learning

It was with great interest that I read about a new project that has been announced by BBC Research and Development, which is partnering with eight UK universities – several of which are customers of OCF.  The Data Science Research Partnership (DSRP) aims to be at the forefront of Machine Learning in the media industry, helping to create a more personal BBC that can, according to the announcement, inform, educate and entertain in new ways.

It’s a fascinating project that brings together industry experts from across the BBC and its partner universities; Universities of Bristol, Manchester, Edinburgh and Surrey, Imperial College London, Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), Ulster University and University College London (UCL). What really interests me about the story – apart from it featuring a number of our customers – is that the BBC has recognised the huge value that data science can bring.

The BBC has a rich and successful history of collaborating with partners in the UK, Europe and across the World, with its collaborative research project outcomes having far-reaching benefits, economically, socially and culturally. At the heart of the DSRP, the BBC is opening up its data to get better insight into its audiences and how it can provide a service to each individual audience member.

The research will focus on four specific areas, using anonymised BBC data with cutting-edge algorithms and data analytics, to create a body of research insights and prototypes that can start making a real impact on the BBC and its audiences:

  • Understanding audiences: Using data to better understand what audiences want from the BBC, why they want it, and what impact these programmes or services have on them.
  • Understanding content: Explore what machine learning can teach the BBC about its programmes and services, and what it stands to gain from it.
  • Curation and personalisation: Create a more personal BBC, designing tools and algorithms to help programme makers with editorial and commissioning decisions.
  • Content of the future: Design future audience experiences, based on BBC R&Ds object-based broadcasting concept, and new forms of data journalism.

One specific area will be looking at how Artificial Intelligence could automatically construct stories from content that’s already been curated by experts. It can then give audience members a personal television experience whilst also reinforcing educational values at the same time.

The BBC and its partner universities are showing incredible foresight with this project and have recognised there is a role in helping to develop UK leadership in data science skills. The partnership will train the next generation of data scientists on media problems, offering work-based learning opportunities for students at all levels.

It’s encouraging to see how the HPC systems we design, integrate and configure for customers such as Bristol, UCL, and QMUL are enabling forward thinking and potentially world-leading AI and Machine Learning projects. The DSRP will impact every aspect of what the BBC does; capture, storage, production, distribution, and consumption to create new, more immersive, audience experiences.


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