Blogger biog. 6

Posted on: Thursday 30 June 2011 11:56pm

John Kent explains how his career underwent metamorphosis thanks to some aphids, plus how his knowledge of ecology now helps him build multiplatform ‘ecosystems.’

Intrigued? Read on….

“Could you write a brief biog?” is one of those phrases that sends a little chill down my spine. I love reading other people’s biogs – but hate writing them: other people’s are inevitably full of insight and wit. Whereas I just think I’m been very fortunate to have a series of what I think are pretty cool jobs – and I’m still expecting to get found out.

 It wasn’t planned. When I grew up I’d thought I’d be a scientist. Specifically, an ecologist: I wanted to know how species and communities interact with the environment to create an ecosystem – ideally somewhere exciting like the Tropics. But after monotonous months counting aphids on pine twigs (in Bracknell), followed by some exhilarating work experience on the “original” Radio 5, I decided life in a lab was not for me. My media career began in radio. I was a researcher on a weekly news programme for 9-11 year olds. Pop stars, parties, star spotting – cool!

But the best bit was the postbag: every week we’d receive thousands of letters from listeners, full of honest feedback about the show and its relevance to them. And that direct feedback got me interested in exploring how changing an approach to a story could alter the its impact. I suppose now you could describe it as “using social networking to encourage a sit back audience to lean forward”. Or something. But in the early 90’s the web revolution hadn’t even started. Let alone Facebook. 

From radio I moved to telly, and spent a few years producing popular factual programmes like Tomorrow’s World and its stable mates. I found it tricky initially, tending to over complicate my scripts for the enlightenment of a grown up audience. Until I realised that adults have just as much desire to play, have fun and explore ideas as a 9 year old; they just use longer words sometimes. And I got meet Raymond Baxter and fly in a Hercules. It was a natural progression for me to carve a niche working on shows that developed audience engagement or relied on participation. And that’s where I started to learn about the web – I learnt HTML and produced one of the first websites for the launch of BBC Online.   At the time very few people understood programmes, the web and participation, and I found myself interactive TV team, where I produced services ranging from the Chelsea Flower Show to Who Do You Think You Are? to The One Show.

We had space to innovate fresh approaches and find new audiences, without the need to make a profit (how lucky is that?) – and I learnt that the “right” proposition, delivering to a clear audience need stood a great chance of being successful. A couple of years ago I moved back to children’s content, looking after interactive projects for CBeebies. (so much kudos amongst my 4 year old’s friends!) It’s been a fascinating time to work on the channel: with the move to Salford we’ve accelerated the move to multi-skilled production teams and multiplatform brands. And for “my” interactive area, that poses some brilliant challenges around the audience.

Producing multiplatform is about getting to grips with how content, experiences and platforms should be positioned in relation to one another, how children move through that ecosystem, and ultimately how you create a brand that’s stronger than the sum of its parts – for me, it’s a different kind of ecology.