The BBC uses interoperable Solid Pods to prototype improved viewing experiences

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An illustration of an app called "Your audio streaming app". On the app screen it says "Recommendations powered by My PDS". Underneath are two tabs: Music (active) and Speech (inactive). Underneath that are three subtabs: Playlists (inactive), Artists (active) and Albums (inactive). Underneath is a list of artists, such as The Weeknd, Justin Bieber and HAIM.
Improve streaming recommendations by creating a full view of a users’ content preferences
Unlock greater user value through the power of interoperable Solid Pods
Create a foundation for unlocking deeper data insights with Solid. Improve the quality of user data and foster trust with BBC users.

As an innovation leader in the media industry, the BBC must consistently develop new technologies to address their users’ concerns and create better services. Users are expecting more personalized viewing experiences than ever before, even as they continue to consume content across a number of different streaming services.  At the same time, BBC audiences are increasingly concerned about where their data is going and who has access to it. These intertwined challenges are prompting the BBC’s leaders and researchers to reexamine how the BBC can use customer data to enrich audiences’ viewing experiences, while managing and protecting that data in a transparent manner.

The BBC Research and Development team developed a recommendation engine that relies on data from personal data stores (Pods), which are provided by Inrupt’s Solid technology, to deliver new insights to the BBC and its users. The BBC’s first project using Pods integrated viewing data from iPlayer, Netflix, and Spotify to provide each user with better personalized content recommendations. This new approach to data management was powered by Inrupt’s Enterprise Solid Server.


Improve streaming recommendations by fully understanding a user’s watching habits

The BBC currently collects information from 45 million BBC account holders every day, but cannot fully leverage that data. Various pieces of user data are often locked away in multiple data silos and departments.  Without a single complete view of each user, the BBC lacks an important tool for creating new services and making decisions around new content and features.

And like other organizations, the BBC is only able to utilize data that the organization itself has collected; it has no way of understanding a user’s media consumption on other platforms. Without incorporating a user’s full watch history across streaming platforms, the BBC can’t fully optimize the viewing and recommendation experience for each user.

Users are also unable to access their own streaming data to decide whether it properly represents what types of shows or movies they would like to watch in the future: As a result, the BBC is left to guess what recommendations would be most enjoyable for a user. 

The BBC’s challenge was to improve streaming recommendations by fully leveraging a user’s streaming history across different services and by allowing users to curate their streaming data. To achieve this goal, the BBC needed to:

  • Create standards to reuse data from different media sources to gain deeper insights
  • Research users’ reactions to using these new data standards to stay in control of their own personal data


Unlocking greater user value through the power of data interoperability

The BBC first started working with Solid and Inrupt in 2019, attracted by the principles of universality and openness embodied in Solid technology. 

Eleni Sharp explained at the time:

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We chose to work with Solid for the following reasons:

  • It 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.
Eleni Sharp
Head of Product
BBC Research & Development

In 2021, Inrupt and the BBC produced a prototype app called My PDS, which pulled in data from Spotify, Netflix and BBC iPlayer and Sounds into a user’s Solid Pod to produce better music, TV, and concert recommendations. My PDS created a foundation for how Solid could unlock new insights for BBC audiences.

The BBC’s objectives for the My PDS project included:

  • Learn how to provide an alternative model to traditional data management 
  • Create standards to reuse data from different media sources to gain deeper insights
  • Research users’ reactions to using personal data stores to stay in control of their own data

Users were invited to create a Solid Pod or sign into an existing Pod, and grant the app permission to read and write data to the Pod. The app then pulled in information from Spotify and the BBC using existing APIs, and let users manually import their Netflix viewing history. Users could create their own media profile. They could make edits or exclude certain parts of their viewing history. The app then allowed the media profile to be accessed by BBC Sounds, which provided enriched recommendations and suggestions of relevant local events. 

By using data from different sources, the app was able to create a more complete view of a user’s listening and viewing preferences, making it possible to produce better content recommendations. Part of the project included a  qualitative research study, where participants were introduced to the My PDS prototype and offered their feedback on a live trial of the prototype app.

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It's an opportunity to know a lot more about the audience. With something like this, we can get much more granular.
Eleni Sharp
Head of Product
BBC Research & Development

Beyond providing better content recommendations, the BBC envisioned a more complete data ecosystem where users could store all of their information—including media, health, finance and social data—in one location. The Research & Development team created a central dashboard where users could view, edit, and manage this data.

BBC R&D created a central dashboard where users could manage media, health and social data

In 2020, Max Leonard and Hannes Ricklefs from BBC R&D appeared on Solid World to explain how the BBC structured My PDS. They discussed the benefits of combining data from different sources to improve the user experience.

The success of the My PDS project prompted the BBC to expand their use of Solid, including it in a new watch party application where users’ streaming data is stored in Pods and users decide if they would like to share data back with the BBC. 

Solid and the BBC

The BBC is a complex organization with many different departments and workflows. Because of this complexity, it  is often difficult to combine different datasets to create a complete view of a user’s interactions with the BBC and how that customer journey could be improved. Solid technology can tackle the BBC’s data infrastructure challenges by using interoperable Solid Pods to create a shared view that can be reused across the BBC’s ecosystem. 

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When you start to put those datasets together…effectively, you start to be able to see the picture between what something costs, how many people consume it, and what effect it has on driving retention and growth of your revenue base.
Nick North
Director of Audiences, BBC
Want to learn more about how Inrupt’s Solid technology can unlock greater data insights across your organization?
Get in touch with our team today.