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A post by
Jody Allen
Q+A SERIES
November 15, 2023

A few things I learned from looking back at the Project Kangaroo archives

A few things I learned from looking back at the Project Kangaroo archives

A post by
Jody Allen
November 15, 2023
XX
min read

While tidying the Ostmodern library the other day, I stumbled across a book which we produced to mark the demise of Project Kangaroo. It reminded me that it’s now been 15 years since we worked on the project - the time seems to have flown by! 

There’s obviously been a lot of water under the bridge since then (worth remembering that back then NetFlix was still sending DVDs through the post) but with the recent news about the Freely project led by Everyone TV it got me thinking about whether there is anything that can be learned by taking a look back at the project.

Over the next couple of weeks i’ll be dropping a series of posts on a few things that struck me while I browsed through a dusty old harddrive of design assets. If you want to learn more or even just browse through the book we produced (perhaps just out of morbid curiosity) then we'd be happy to grab a coffee and take a trip down memory lane with you…

But first… What was Project Kangaroo?

For the uninitiated, Project Kangaroo was a joint venture between the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 to create a single video on demand destination for all UK broadcast content, both recent catch-up and deep archive. Ostmodern was engaged as part of the initial project strategy team, responsible for taking the broad concept and developing a working prototype and brand for board approval. When the project was greenlit in early 2007, Ostmodern was appointed as the lead user experience and design agency.

Unfortunately, after 2 years of product development, a fully featured post-beta product ready to go and and a cool £25m burned in the process, the project never launched. It was unceremoniously canned by the Competition Commission with the assets then broken down and sold for peanuts.

Sample pages from the Project Kangaroo book

So, first up, non linear content discovery - aka Connections™

We did a lot of work to develop some nice ways of finding something to watch. With such a big and diverse catalogue a major challenge was devising something to banish the frustration of spending half of your evening scrolling through DVD packshots or browsing siloed lists of genres.

Comparing the experience I had last night in trying to find something to watch versus the blueprints for 2007 Kangaroo, I feel like the standing inertia of discovering something to watch still hasn't been addressed adequately in the vast majority of current VOD products.  

Most products still just feel predicated on the notion that you already know what you want to watch before you arrive at the product or open the app. 

To overcome this on Kangaroo, we developed a design philosophy early in the project which centred around the idea that the enjoyable part of the experience shouldn’t begin when you press the play button on your chosen show. The entertainment experience needs to start when you first open the app. The product itself needs to do some of the actual leg work in the quest to provide a satisfying evening’s entertainment.

One of the solutions born from this design philosophy was a feature we called ‘Connections’ (the brand name needed work). This feature allowed you to flow through a vast consolidated archive of content in a non-linear way using tangential connections between shows. In the video grab from the Beta release below we go on a journey starting with some classic BBC black and white comedy, which is then linked to Blackadder (via Peter Cook) which then links to a Channel 4 history documentary (via a connection through Richard III).

As an experience, the Connections feature is quite lean-forward interactive, but it also feels similar to the more serendipitous and relaxed aspects of linear TV channel flicking. It’s a nice way to find something which you didn’t realise you wanted to find and I wonder where it might have led if Kangaroo had launched…

Prototyping was the vehicle to get everyone around a shared vision

Shortly after the launch of 4oD, way back in 2006, I was invited to meet some representatives from the major UK broadcasters at a shadowy wood paneled office around the back of Green Park tube. It was like being in a John le Carre novel, all very top secret and attended by various bigwigs from BBC, ITV and Channel 4. 

I remember it felt very odd having them all under the same roof. Very different energies, very different perspectives, agendas and business plans to deliver on. 

Despite goodwill on all sides, it was clear that we’d have our work cut out to get everyone pulling in the same direction and centered on a product which had all three broadcasters on an equal standing.

The solution we came up with was to get cracking on creating a clickable prototype of the end product ASAP. We felt this was probably the most effective way of getting everyone focussed and excited about the end product and stop the various levels of abstract bickering over what it might (or might not) do and how it might (or might) not work.

This approach worked really well and meant that within a month or two we could actually demo something to the three respective boards that felt pretty real. We also user-tested the prototype with the general public and invited the various stakeholders to the tests to watch as we iterated the product and proposition into something that potential users got excited about.

This was one of the main ways we managed to shepherd the boards of ITV, Channel 4 and BBC to sign off and move forward with the project. Without a believable, touchable vision of the future to gather around, I have a feeling they’d still be pushing around letters of intent and spreadsheets today. ;)

We took this learning onto future projects at Ostmodern and 15 years later we still push for this approach today whenever we can. The power of putting a working prototype in the hands of someone, whether they’re an exec on the board of the BBC or a potential end user, accelerates product development massively and forces everyone to focus their energy on what matters most.

---

Keep an eye out for the upcoming second instalment, where we will explore brand naming and editorial curation in depth for this groundbreaking project.

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