Meet Mike Matton from VRT

On a regular basis we will publish interviews with the members of MARCONI's international project team. In this way, we would like to introduce the creative minds behind the project. This is the first interview with Mike Matton from VRT.

Hi Mike, you are the coordinator of MARCONI. First, could you please tell us a couple of things about yourself and your current work at VRT?

My background is on computer science. I’ve always been fascinated by computers. I got my first computer when I was about 8 years old: a Commodore 64, a computer without a hard disk and with very limited internal memory. It’s astonishing how quickly this domain has evolved over the years. There were tutorials on the “Basic” programming language coming with this C64, through which I started to make my own computer programmes.

Mike Matton - VRT.jpeg

Already from this young age it became clear I wanted to study “computer programming". I’ve completed my masters degree on it at KULeuven in 2002 and continued with a masters degree on Artificial Intelligence, after which I rolled into a PhD on this topic, studying automatic speech recognition. After my PhD and its fundamental research, it became clear I wanted to explore more applied research leading towards concrete applications. That’s how I ended up at VRT in 2009, which gave me the opportunity to explore research and innovation in the media domain.

Media is an omnipresent thing, which everybody unavoidably comes in contact with. However, not many people are aware of the amount of technology that comes into play to produce and distribute it. I was amazed by this, and also fascinated when I joined VRT. Initially, I started working on the “metadata” topic, describing the content and looking for ways to automatically generate it, using (for instance) speech recognition technologies. Through contacts at the EBU (European Broadcasting Union), this topic became the core of a European research project, which was how I got involved in this European research and innovation scene. This European R&I world was actually relatively new for VRT at that time. From there I started to involve VRT in more European projects and gradually became responsible for further expanding those activities at VRT. Right now, VRT innovation is doing pretty well, being involved in about 12 smaller or larger collaborative projects on national and international level. At the moment I’m the project coordinator of this MARCONI project, and am also overseeing VRT’s activities in several other projects.

I my personal life, a lot of time is devoted to performing music, a hobby and passion that somehow started to dominate my private life. I’ve started to learn the piano and later also euphonium and clarinet. I’ve been playing and performing in orchestra since I was a kid, for instance in the local orchestra of my hometown “Bellegem”, of which I am still a musician, and a member of the board. It even got somehow associated with my professional life. When I was studying and later working at KU Leuven, I joined one of its student orchestra “UHO”, and currently I’m still a member of one of the alumni orchestra of the university. And not long after I started working VRT, I also joined the VRT Big Band. The band is rehearsing at VRT and is performing about 20-30 times a year all across the country. We’re even playing (live) on VRT radio from time to time. Look for the band on YouTube if you want to get an impression. It’s quite a challenge though to combine this with my active professional life, but I never would want to miss this!

How did MARCONI come about and why use this reference?

As mentioned earlier, I somehow naturally rolled into European projects at VRT. And MARCONI is actually an outcome of an earlier project called “ICoSOLE”. The ICoSOLE project was dealing with content experiences around live events: investigating how novel experiences could be build around live events based on omnidirectional video, object-based audio and also user generated content. During that project, we found common interests with different radio stations at VRT. The radio stations wanted to invest more in interactivity and connection with the audience during live events through digital platforms. Our radio station Studio Brussel for instance is active at all the major summer music festivals across the country and is also organising one of the largest charity events of the country in December every year. It became the basis of our “Wall of Moments” product, which currently is heavily supported throughout the organisation. One of the successes of the innovation team.

Guiglelmo Marconi is the person that basically invented radio back in 1890 and is widely recognised for this
— Mike Matton

However, the ideas proposed by the radio stations were too much to cover within the ICoSOLE project. That’s how we started thinking about a new innovation project focussing on interactivity and user generated content for the radio stations, together with 2 other project partners working on the subject: Joanneum Research and Hasselt University.

As with all European projects, finding a suitable name or acronym is quite a challenge. Most acronyms do not tell anything about the project and we wanted to change that. The name MARCONI was brought forward by one of the partners and it is quite fitting: Guiglelmo Marconi is the person that basically invented radio back in 1890 and is widely recognised for this. VRT has even named its largest Radio Studio to this guy. Naturally, we were also able to create an acronym for Marconi which perfectly described the objectives of the project. In all, it was the perfect name for it!

What would you say are the most distinctive features of the approach proposed by MARCONI?

Automation of customer (consumer) interaction is something we have already seen happening in other industries, especially in the domain of customer support systems. But as far as I am aware, MARCONI is one of the first projects on the implementation of (semi) automated consumer interaction in the media domain. The challenges are obviously a lot higher as with the existing systems. Firstly, the interactions are much less structured than with online support systems, and secondly we are not only dealing with interactions in textual form, but also with interactions in the audiovisual form (pictures, video). Also those need to be processed as automatically as possible and integrated in the interactive service.

In my opinion, MARCONI has all the assets on board for making it a success. First of all, and most importantly, radio stations are directly involved in the project and they fully support the project objectives. Both NPO and VRT have a wide range of radio stations, and with Radio Stadtfilter in the consortium, we are also challenged to look for solutions that also work for very small local radio stations. With Pluxbox, we also have a company on board which already has a radio editorial suite as a product on the market. The integration of interaction in existing editorial workflow systems is crucial for the success of the project.

Secondly, we take a user-centered approach, both towards the radio makers as well as towards the radio consumers. This user-centered approach is crucial in the innovation management, making sure the solutions proposed by MARCONI are accepted by the target users of the different applications. MARCONI will also be agnostic to the way of communication, e.g. through a dedicated app or via social media. The user will have control over the communication channel.

And finally, MARCONI also brings together key experts on AI and Machine Learning, providing crucial technologies for the automation of interactions around radio experiences. 

Read more about Mike on LinkedIn.