The first milestone for the Swedish Radio Sandbox

With some delay I land in beautiful Stockholm.

In the evening I present at the first Sandbox event of the Swedish Radio Sandbox. This takes place in the Culture House in the middle of the city. Linda and Malin, project managers from the local Sandbox, have furnished the room very cozily with seats, music, donuts and other delicacies. The atmosphere is right immediately.

Linda and Malin also give the word to Signal Signal, one of their first two startup collaborations. It is great to see these ladies drive and observe how fast their Sandbox is evolving. In addition to the two ongoing projects, several other startups are also present, so everything is there to make this fantastic start a big success story. Those very welcome extra people will certainly also grow with the upcoming events. Certainly this is clear if you know that the most important remark of the attendees was that they never expected such an innovation model within SR, a clear sign that they have switched gears higher in terms of innovation.



The VRT-RTBF relationship from the north

After a first night at the Scandic Anglais in the middle of the city I walk to the Swedish Television where about 1800 permanent employees work (with a lot more divided over their 30 regional locations).

My contact person Per explains me that radio, TV and the educational part are divided into three separate companies, which to date do not cooperate much. It is important to note that the license fee currently distributed by the government under SR and SVT is reasonably high (35%) for SR. If they had to merge together, SR would lose a large part of its share.

Per and Frederik also tell me that SVT has 4 linear channels and a focus on online services.

Innovation is divided over various departments with SVT’s interactive as their most innovative one (part of the online services). This is an open sourced, agile and dynamic part of SVT where conceptual approaches and technologies are being tested.

Twice a year Per’s team holds a technology sprint where they stop their daily tasks for a few weeks and fully focus on innovation (AI, ...). For this they rarely look outside. There is so much talent in their own developers that they try to utilize this as much as possible. Still, Per and Frederik are very interested in the operation of our Sandbox. We draw up an action plan with as main item a possible coaching of SR when setting up a possible local SVT Sandbox. This possible coaching would be a breakthrough in their cooperation.

Investing in cross functional teams, but also in free coffee, games and candy

After lunch and discovering the Wall of Old men (paintings of all the ancient boardmembers with only two woman!) I continue with a number of meetings with the SR innovation team that has existed for 3 years. Sandbox is now part of this.

Thomas, manager of the group, tells me that the General Director has announced Sandbox as 1 of 2 highlights during the management meeting that takes place 4 times a year. Top down support is clearly present here.

It turns out that challenges are often shared throughout the various countries. Thomas explains that it’s difficult to find a right focus within innovation, since it is constantly evolving. He also talks about the "not invented here syndrome", which means that it’s difficult to get people involved if they haven’t started it themselves. They hope to change this by setting up cross-functional teams, clearly defining projects, setting goals, convincing people that what they're doing is relevant and letting them experience being co-owner of the project. The team takes this engagement seriously J: they "lure" people with tasty coffee, candy, breakfast, .... And notice that people like to come to them, which facilitates the setting up of collaborations. Or as Billy says: "We perform better when there is less to do".

The innovation group also explains some current projects:

Summer School: 5 day long sprint in August for 18-25 year olds to collect problems from different departments. For example: how can we engage teens in science news? Young creatives react to this topic with their ideas, you could compare this to Open VRT. In cooperation with HR, the department’s goal is not to implement all these ideas, but mostly to create a mindset about what innovation could be.

Hyper Island: 8 students from Hyper Island, a digital communication school, will once again be working on topics like news for four weeks. Twelve of the selected projects are also being tested and two of last years topics have even been implemented (chatbot for the news & famous people tour with an event around for SR’s children's channel).

Learning: less text does work

Ursula, product owner within innovation, talks about her focus on news and short audio clips.

SR's digital offering consists of one web platform and various apps (radio, children, ....). They have an open API, allowing others to integrate their content into their own apps. In the beginning not everyone was convinced, but they saw it as their mission as a public broadcaster and now this API proved to be successful as it’s implemented almost everywhere.

SR’s strategy has dealt with an important shift: forgetting the digital newspaper era (which brought them into competition with the classic media partners) and focusing on audio as a core with text and image as support.

Stand alone audio: create different audio clips that are so attractive that people play them in a row to hear them all (without extra text content to attract them).

One play: SR’s 6 major radio brands have only one website and one app, which means that they have a unified strategy with mutual priorities and content. Applying big changes to this website or app demands a huge explanation to your audience on why you are changing something. That's why SR run some pilots for testing how audiences react to possible changes, for example with a new article design.

Some test learnings:

Playlist with text versus big pictures and titles showed that 33% more audio clips were started when there were pictures of what was shown, which was a real surprise for SR, being an audio company.

Users are positive about the continuous play, but the context is important.

Ursula also shares how the team invests in Google design sprints: bringing the developers and editors together in order to raise the quality of the end work. Facilitation by the innovation department is crucial here.

Chat bots need human friends

Thomas talks about SR's experiences with digital assistants. In recent years they have experimented with the English version of Alexa and Google Assistant. By doing so they have now reached over 2000 users with the English version of Alexa. Thomas and his colleague also created concepts for the Swedish versions which will be released shortly. You can see which functionalities they tested and which were their most important learnings.



Lars also explained what they call "preparing for the next generation": creating a radio studio that can be used to easily broadcast from everywhere and preparing backpacks for users. Things that look very similar with what we do at VRT Sandbox.

Snus as the newest currency & Tinder for relatives

After a nice walk through Stockholm, the team takes me out for dinner in a place called Eat, a mix of European-Asian dishes, delicious!

While talking, I get some special insights on the Nordic life.

I was told that, on average, people are waitlisted for 30 years before being able to rent an apartment in Stockholm.

Snus, the Swedish version of the traditional cigarette, is a powderbag of nicotine that users place between their upper lip and their teeth. It contains much more nicotine than a cigarette and is forbidden in most parts of Europe with the exception of Scandinavian countries. Being illegal in Iceland, it’s even so popular that you can bribe the local taxi driver or doorman of the local club just to get a ride or get in. Billy explains me that presenting Snus also gives you a lot of new friends instantly.

Speaking of Iceland, with Billy as a die-hard fan I am also informed about their traditional dishes (rotten shark: you let the shark dry for 8 months and mix it with 80 degrees liqueur) and their Tinder app for relatives (apparently it's so sparsely populated there that they use an app to see if the people they want to date are not relatives: http://mentalfloss.com/article/76323/app-keeps-icelanders-dating-their-relatives  ).

There are clearly a lot of fascinating things to learn about Iceland. So, after this fascinating Stockholm trip I should perhaps work a bit more on that Icelandic Sandbox?

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