Living the 'Dream' - University computer scientist at the BBC

03 May 2013 10:00:00.000


What do you get if you mix a University computer scientist with the creative and technical power of the most famous broadcasting company in the world, the BBC?

The answer is a unique collaboration that gives academic research a direct line into real-world creative industries to help craft the future of entertainment, news and information across all digital platforms.

And Steve Benford, Professor of Computer Science at The University of Nottingham’s Horizon Digital Economy Research Hub, is the first ever academic to take part in this new ‘Dream Fellowship’ venture sponsored by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

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Closing the gap

Steve’s Dream Fellowship at the BBC’s MediaCityUK campus in Salford is the first in a three year programme of secondments he’s undertaking which aims to close the gap between research and industry and help broadcasting professionals develop and implement radical new ideas and technologies.

Steve said: “My secondment to the BBC has been an invaluable boost to my mission as an academic computer scientist to engage my research with the increasingly ubiquitous creative industries. Being based in BBC Research and Development at MediaCityUK has given me a platform from which to engage people across the BBC, from Knowledge and Learning to Sport, and from researchers and ‘user experience’ designers to programme makers.

“My main focus has been on the design of multiscreen television experiences that connect televisions, personal computers, phones, tablets (and possibly other devices too) in new ways. This has emerged as one of the most exciting and deeply provoking ideas to confront the television industry in recent years, combining the need to understand and accommodate the complex ways in which viewers appropriate multiple screens for themselves, with the possibility of creating new forms of pervasive television experience.

Enhancing the TV experience

“Two examples of prototype projects I worked on at the BBC were a new tablet app, ‘Jigsaw’, which allows a child to capture a screen image from a TV show and turn it into a jigsaw puzzle, and the BBC Antiques Roadshow play-along app that allows viewers to guess the values of antiques as they watch the show. Both of these projects were part of a wider exploration of how TV can be adapted to appeal to widen viewer appeal across the generations.

“Reflecting on my time here at the BBC, I can see great potential in better connecting approaches and concepts that emerge from basic research to the design of real user experiences at the coalface. I would certainly recommend fellow academics to be a visitor at the BBC - it has been an extremely enjoyable and rewarding use of my time and also extremely useful to be able to associate it with an internship for one of our PhD students.”

Steve Benford’s new secondment as part of his three-year EPSRC Dream Fellowship is with Microsoft Research in Cambridge where he plans to explore new ideas about helping amateur creatives such as musicians, bands and film-makers, use innovative digital platforms to enhance their public profile in an increasingly competitive creative world.

An extended blog by Steve including a video on his experiences at the BBC is available here.

'Significant accolade'

Pro-Vice Chancellor for External Engagement, Professor Chris Rudd, said: “Steve Benford’s Dream Fellowship at the BBC is an excellent example of how The University of Nottingham’s cutting edge research can have an impact on the real world. His EPSRC Visiting Professorship is a significant accolade for his outstanding research in the field of the digital creative economy. This scheme will go a long way towards closing the gap between original academic research and commercial/public sector research and development.” 

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottinghamhas 42,000 students at award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It was ‘one of the first to embrace a truly international approach to higher education’, according to the Sunday Times University Guide 2013. It is also one of the most popular universities among graduate employers, one of the world’s greenest universities, and winner of the Times Higher Education Award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Sustainable Development’. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong and the QS World Rankings.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise. The University aims to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health. The University won a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education for its research into global food security.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest ever fundraising campaign, will deliver the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…


Story credits

More information is available from Professor Steve Benford, School of Computer Science and IT, on +44 (0)115 951 4203,  

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