Open Day at BBC Research & Development

 by Martin Belam, 3 February 2004

I had a fantastic day long tour around the BBC's amazing Research & Development department today. They are a group of around 180 engineers, physicists and mathematicians based in a beautiful collection of old buildings at Kingswood Warren. I got to see demonstrations of a lot the things that are outlined in the white papers published on the site, including the wireless RoamCam, which I first saw back in May 2001, when it was just a cumbersome prototype. This time around I also got to see one very sexy prototype that had only been completed at 4pm the previous day. Naturally my lips are sealed, but the real enthusiasm the team there has for their work shone out today. Over the years they have contributed to:

the choice of a colour tv system for the UK, the first electronic TV standards converter, teletext, NICAM stereo, digital radio...and most recently digital TV.
[from Heritage Open Days 2003 Brochure]

Most importantly for me they inadvertently caused me to get my job, having started the BBC website operation in 1997.

Prompted by the question "What do you think the fourth media will be?", Peter Bury, the Head of R&D, made an interesting point in his summing up session. This time ten years ago the BBC was writing Charter Review Position Papers setting out how the organisation saw the period from 1996-2006 developing. At the time, with the then shape of the government, the documents were very focussed on efficiency, capitalisation of resources, and the internal market. They completely missed what Peter Bury today called "the elephant in the middle of the room" - the upcoming explosion of digital media and the internet. He wondered what the big piece is that we are missing today in our picture of the future.

It made me wonder if in 2013 we'll be looking back at whatever Charter Review Proposals the BBC produces this year and, out of context, observe - "Wow, they were really hung up on this journalistic integrity and trust issue, hey, what's that all about?".

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