Lancaster University: BBC research partnership to enable future personalised media for everyone

Lancaster University has teamed up with the BBC and the University of Surrey on a new ‘Prosperity Partnership’ to develop cutting-edge technologies that will allow future media experiences to be hyper-personalised by adapting to individual users’ interests, devices and accessibility requirements.

The UK government has announced the £15 million BBC, Surrey and Lancaster Prosperity Partnership, which will develop technologies that will enable the UK creative industry to become a world leader in personalised media experiences.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “As we build back better through innovation, we are putting the funding and structures in place so those at the top of their field – in business, research and academia – can develop world class products and technologies that could change all our lives for the better. The partnerships we are throwing our weight behind today all have innovation at their core.

“By bringing together business and research expertise in regions across the UK, we will help to drive local economic growth and create highly skilled jobs, all while cementing the UK’s status as a science superpower.”

With the rise in popularity of streaming services such as BBC iPlayer and Netflix, the way in which media experiences are produced and delivered, from television and films to video games, is rapidly changing.

In television and broadcast media, the prevalence of Internet-based delivery supports the independent transport of different parts of a stream – including audio, video, and additional media experience components – to be composed together at the point of playback in a myriad of different ways bespoke to each viewer.

This new paradigm will unleash new forms of hyper-personalised and immersive story-telling, and represents both opportunities and new challenges in the network delivery of these experiences.

The research programme brings together leading research teams from the fields of AI and software-defined networking.

Surrey’s Centre for Vision, Speech and Signal Processing (CVSSP) – a world-leading centre of excellence in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine perception – will lead on research in AI that can transform captured audio and visual content into media objects that will allow future personalised media experiences to be customisable.

Researchers at Lancaster University’s School of Computing and Communications, with expertise in software-defined networking and self-designing software, will develop the world’s first hyper-adaptive network delivery infrastructure. This will deliver highly personalised media experiences to millions of people by automatically sharing network and device capacity across streams to operate at very large scales with low cost and high energy efficiency.

By combining novel systems-building technology with advanced real-time machine learning, this infrastructure will continually monitor popular content at a regional and national level, along with end-user personalisation preferences, to constantly drive the delivery system towards a more optimal form that is bespoke to each viewer.

The partnership builds on a 20-year successful research collaboration between the BBC and the University of Surrey, who have pioneered broadcast technologies used worldwide, as well as long-standing research collaborations between the BBC and Lancaster University that has resulted in pioneering technologies such as the BBC micro:bit computer.

Professor Nick Race, from Lancaster University’s School of Computing and Communications, said: “This new Prosperity Partnership will enable the UK to pave the way in the transformation of personalised media experiences. It builds on a long history of collaborative research between Lancaster and the BBC, focused around improving the quality and delivery of digital media across the Internet. We are excited to be working with the BBC, University of Surrey and a range of industry partners to conduct research that will support the delivery of new personalised experiences to millions of people.”

Professor Adrian Hilton, Principal Investigator of the BBC Prosperity Partnership and Director of CVSSP at the University of Surrey, said: “Personalisation of media experiences has an enormous potential to increase audience engagement making content more accessible, engaging and tailored to individual interest. This partnership builds on over 20 years of successful collaboration between CVSSP and the BBC, which has pioneered technologies used throughout the broadcast industry. I am proud to embark on this new prosperity partnership with the BBC, Lancaster University and partners from the creative industries to enable the UK to lead the personalised media revolution.

“We hope to some day give audiences a menu of choices that could transform how they consume news, sport and even scripted drama based on their time-availability, language and other personal preferences.”

Andy Conroy, Controller, BBC Research & Development, said: “Working closely with our partners, this project aims to position the UK media industry as the global leader in delivering personalised media experiences to audiences. The ambition is to build on the BBC’s pioneering work in this area, so that in the future, even more media experiences will adapt to a person’s viewing and listening needs and interactions.”

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