digital media innovation

The BBC Uses Inrupt's Solid Server to Deliver Viewers a Personalized But Private "Watch Party" Experience

In the BBC's new product, users' data is stored in Solid Pods and only shared with the BBC if they choose
Christy Kuesel
October 27, 2022

Media consumers expect streaming services to offer experiences tailored to their watch history and tastes, but they are also more concerned than ever with what data is stored about them and why.

The BBC is offering its audience a first-of-its-kind solution to this dilemma — a social TV watching experience that also gives BBC users the ability to view and make choices about their own data.

Using Inrupt’s Enterprise Solid Server, the BBC Research & Development team has launched a new “watch party” product — called BBC Together + Data Pod — where users’ data is stored in their own Solid Pods and only shared with the BBC if they choose.

“Seeing their data helps people understand what personal data is being collected about them across other products and services everyday,” Eleni Sharp, Head of Product in BBC Research & Development, writes in a blog post announcing the project. “This is a radically different approach to data management,  and we believe that this is the first time anyone has used [Solid Pods] in this way in a live environment.”

BBC R&D places this new product in the long line of innovative technologies that the UK public broadcaster has helped to foster for the benefit of the British public. The project supports the BBC’s “long-term technology strategy … to support a digital ecosystem based on trust, accessibility, accountability and human values.”

Inrupt’s Enterprise Solid Server (ESS) allows BBC R&D to host their Solid Pods at scale and in a secure environment. BBC Click, the BBC’s flagship technology program, outlines the product here.

“Inrupt’s collaboration with the BBC marks another significant milestone in the deployment of Solid around the world,” says Inrupt CEO John Bruce. “And the BBC’s commitment to developing Solid-based projects creates a promising future for the use of Solid technology in the media sector.”

Inrupt and the BBC

The BBC first started exploring new ways of storing personal data to confront audiences’ growing unease with how their personal data is used. According to research cited by the BBC, at least 39 different organizations hold personal data on the average UK citizen, and 82% of people are unsure of what personal information companies hold about them.

In order to create a more trusted framework for storing and accessing a user’s personal data, the BBC started collaborating with Inrupt in 2019.

The BBC explained at the time:

We chose to work with Solid for the following reasons:

  • It is open-source and is essentially a set of standards so we can build our own, and crucially for this initial trial, we can dig deep into any aspect due to Solid's open-source nature.
  • It is web-native and embodies the principles of the web, especially universal access, which is one of the essential principles in the way we deliver our services.
  • There is a large and active developer community.
  • The commercial support on offer.

The BBC also saw the benefit of using personal data to create more personalized content recommendations, vastly improving a user’s viewing experience.

In 2020, Max Leonard and Hannes Ricklefs from BBC R&D appeared on Solid World to present their work on personal data stores. They explored what personal recommendations from the BBC could look like if they had access to a user’s Spotify and Netflix data.

This project, known as My PDS, came to fruition in 2021 and was also built on Inrupt’s Solid technology. The app pulled in information from Spotify, Netflix and the BBC into a user’s Solid Pod, and gave users control over how this data was used. In addition to providing BBC users with better content recommendations, My PDS provided a model of personalized services based on shared data within a user’s control. The paper that resulted from the My PDS project won best technical paper at the International Broadcast Conference in 2021.

Max Leonard later joined Inrupt as a Principal Technologist to continue his work on Solid at a global scale.

“The work on personal data stores and Solid that I did at the BBC was some of the most important and fulfilling work I ever did in my career at the broadcaster,” he said. “The move to Inrupt, into the engine room of Solid has allowed me to continue this work, not just in public service broadcasting for British citizens, but for organizations of all types the world over. It’s a very rare thing indeed to get the opportunity to change a huge organization like the BBC, it’s even rarer still you get one to change the world.”

A better watch party experience

BBC Together + Data Pod allows users to watch iPlayer shows together, and store data from those sessions in their own Solid Pod. After the watch party, the BBC will make the data available to the user, who will have the option to edit, delete, or share back the data with the BBC to help build future services.

In this trial, the BBC R&D team hopes to educate audiences on personal data sharing and learn how users interact with a new type of personalized service. They also hope to explore long-term opportunities within the BBC for using Solid technology at scale.

“The BBC is setting out a gold standard for personal data management within the media industry and hopes to influence global policy and legislation with this work,” Sharp writes.

Future research

After the trial run of BBC Together + Data Pod, BBC R&D will analyze the data users voluntarily shared with them to gain a better understanding of how BBC users interact with Solid Pod-based products. They are also working with other organizations exploring Solid technology, including the NHS and the UK’s Ministry of Justice.

The BBC’s adoption of Solid technology in a live production environment marks a milestone in its deployment by companies around the world, and points to a bright future in which organizations can use trusted data to build a better experience for their users.

Want to learn more about how Inrupt’s Enterprise Solid Server can help your team drive innovation in data management? Get in touch today.

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