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CIO SUMMIT 2014: Bringing a startup culture – and a paid content mentality – to the BBC

CIO Summit 2014 speaker Daniel Heaf left the BBC in 2008 for an entrepreneurial phase of his career that included a stint with the 4iP Investor fund, and time on the board of startups like AudioBoo (an audio version of Twitter), MyBuilder (a site for finding tradespeople) and Patients Know Best (providing personal access to media records).

He returned to the mothership in 2010 as chief digital officer for BBC Worldwide, responsible for driving a unified digital strategy and consumer vision across the broadcaster’s digital portfolio, which includes the websites and as well as owned and operated services like the international feature sections on (BBC Travel, BBC Future and BBC Autos) and  the Beeb’s brands on Facebook and YouTube. 

Mr Heaf brought an appreciation for startup culture to his second stint with the broadcaster

“Startups tend to be doing something that no one else is doing,” he says.

But he’s not just about buzzwords. He has also founded BBC Worldwide Labs, a start-up incubator and accelerator. Its investments so far include, an interactive education website, Foodity (whose technology makes it easy to buy ingredients featured in a print article, or on a website), and video tagging outfit wireWAX. The idea is to keep the companies at arms’ length from the BBC, and to allow them to keep innovating, and partnering with BBC divisions on specific projects, rather than angling to take them over.

In the UK, the BBC runs on a not-for-profit basis.

But BBC Worldwide is commercial. Last year it made a £156 million profit, helping to sustain its parent. 

The division wants to make money and Mr Heaf believes that content makers should get paid.

“It’s the same thing with journalism. I don’t think having newspapers free online is a good thing at all. It means you’re going to pay fewer journalists, and fewer journalists is not a good thing,” he says.

He says the world is heading toward a point where all TV content will be online, ondemand.

Services like Netflix and the TV and movie section of Apple’s iTunes already offer a lot of content on demand. Mr Heaf says there’s also room to exploit the fact that a lot of content is perishable. To wit, a premium paid content window is one option for online paid content.

But although the chief digital officer has immersed himself in startup culture, he says he maintains a hard-headed approach to technology. 

“Innovation is great when it works for the audience you have, but innovation for innovation’s sake is a waste of time.”

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