Radio Blog

Archives for June 2011

Radio 1's Big Weekend exploration into social 'check ins' gets results

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Richard Morland Richard Morland | 14:33 UK time, Thursday, 16 June 2011

Editor's note: A few weeks ago Richard outlined a new mobile project bringing together the social web and live events that the A&Mi team would be testing out at Radio 1's Big Weekend. Here's the promised update on how things went - PM.

big screen

'...If you're taking someone who's not your boyfriend or girlfriend and you haven't told them that you have tickets, then don't check in...'
Radio 1 DJ Scott Mills on his show the day before the event.

The concept was to see if the audience at a live broadcast event would want to share their experience of what was happening on the stage in front of them with their social network. To make it even more interesting we'd be doing it in the technically challenging location of an airfield on the outskirts of Carlisle.

The challenge I was set was to find an engaging model for those at the event to link up with those who weren't and in essence to create a conversation around a piece of BBC content, in this case the Radio 1 Big Weekend festival.

As I arrived in Carlisle, my blood pressure rose on finding out that we had no connectivity via 3G at our hotel at all...even when standing on one leg with my phone in the air. Thankfully the coverage on site was much better due to the installation of three mobile operator's 3G boosters.

I then remembered that we had another location quirk to overcome. Temporary 3G boosters do not have any lat/long coordinates associated with them. As we had developed the prototype to detect a user's location firstly via WiFi, then 3G cell triangulation and finally a device's own GPS. I discovered that using 3G placed me over a mile away from my actual location.

As WiFi was not an option due to its limitations of concurrent users, it was down to my device GPS only. From conversations with users later on we realised that many people do not have GPS enabled all of the time due to its high power consumption.

After running some tests on the Friday and Saturday morning I realised that the page load time was a little slow due to the limited connectivity.

On some of the pages the key feature buttons were displaying before the whole page had finished loading which meant that people were pressing the 'check in here' button before all of the background location and sign in checks had been done. This then resulted in an error displaying even though a user had successfully checked in.

One way round this would have been to offer some bespoke content to get the audience to go to the prototype site prior to the event, so that the site could be cached on their phone thus reducing the load time when they got onsite...

The prototype was a 'mash-up' of BBC content feeds from our artist pages and Facebook as the publishing tool which resulted in a more complex technical design than we had originally hoped. The number of background checks to Facebook and the phones location caused some problems with the prototype such as the number of calls to the 'Places' API.

The success of the product early on the Saturday meant that the Facebook system thought we were spamming it. We were innovating with a live service which often has its unexpected challenges. Luckily we had support from Future Platforms and Facebook during the weekend so we did some live hacks, sorry 'updates', to iron out the issues we faced.

After a tense few hours working through some complex issues with the product and Facebook, we were back up and running smoothly. By around 5pm we saw the number of errors reduced and the check ins were on the up.

Thankfully, we had a different audience every day so we could start afresh. This is one reason why we used Radio 1's Big Weekend as a testing ground.

The next challenge was to find out what the audience thought about the product and the check in prototype as a whole. Did they get it? Was the reward of saying "I'm watching Lady Gaga" a good enough reason and could they see the difference in what we were doing to what other location based services did?

A research company carried out some qualitative research on the Sunday and some of the audience used a video diary to feedback what they thought.

Even though we had some initial teething issues, the research from the audience and on site analytics showed that the audience really liked sharing their unique experience with (or bragging to) their friends.

We had large interaction spike from the news story posts from seeing a high number of 'likes' and 'comments' on each of the check ins. This interaction was exactly what we were trying to achieve and it really worked. Interestingly, the stats also showed that more women engaged with the product rather than men - something that needs to be investigated further - does social syndication in this way appeal more to women than men?

The reason for developing this product was that we wanted the audience to share their experience of a live performance rather than just a location they were in. A simple design and simple user journey is a key factor in the success of any mobile product and from the feedback we believe we achieved that objective. It was however difficult to monitor how much of an impact the marketing had with the message that it was a new and exciting feature in comparison to the existing downloadable application.

So the technical challenges were identified, all of the audience surveyed told us that they liked it and the feedback was positive for this type of feature but many people were still very nervous when it comes down to sharing their location.

The BBC roadmap is not yet fixed but I can say that this was a successful experiment which I will be sharing with colleagues and the industry over the next few months. With smartphones overtaking PC purchases globally I am sure we will be seeing more and more location based services being developed, especially towards 2012.

Richard Morland is a Senior Producer for Social Media, Audio & Music Interactive

John Myers' review of the BBC's popular music stations

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Tim Davie Tim Davie | 09:42 UK time, Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Today we are making public a report which looks at potential synergies and savings within Radio 1, Radio 2, 6 Music and 1Xtra.

Last year, I asked John Myers - CEO of the Radio Academy and one of the most respected figures in the radio industry - to review how our popular music stations are run and how they work together. The key challenge was to identify possible ways of sensibly reducing costs while protecting the quality of our programmes.

The findings of the report will help us with our current planning as we look to save costs. John's extensive experience in commercial radio meant he could take an informed and objective view of our operations.

He spent six weeks in the networks: interviewing, observing and generally digging around. He was given unrestricted access and met people at all levels of the organisation.

We welcome John's broadly positive report and its acknowledgement of the distinctive, high quality services we offer. It is very good to read John's praise of the outstanding people who work at the radio stations.

Importantly, the report recognises that BBC stations have to deliver against detailed service licences which require significant resources and lead to distinct challenges to those producing commercial radio. In John's words, attempting to simply compare the demands on BBC and Commercial Radio is meaningless: "akin to comparing apples and oranges".

However, this doesn't mean that we can't and shouldn't learn from external best practice - this is the very reason that I commissioned the review. The report has some valuable insights and recommendations which have been fed into our discussions around Delivering Quality First (DQF) - the BBC name for the work that is underway to develop a plan for the period of the next Licence Fee settlement.

While it is too early to speculate on specific outcomes (which would all require BBC Trust approval), our commitment to principles such as simplifying the organisation, reducing unnecessary compliance processes and finding new ways of working has already been stated in public.

Helpfully, John has identified some clear areas where we can look to do things more efficiently, such as improving co-ordination and reducing unnecessary duplication where appropriate.

Just like any big organisation, there are always ways of doing things better and BBC radio should continue to demonstrate that it is brilliant value for money. I want to achieve this while ensuring that we do not see a dilution in quality or a reduction in clear station leadership which is at the heart of our editorial success. This will mean better value for Licence Fee payers while not threatening the programmes that listeners love.

Tim Davie is Director of Audio & Music

Glastonbury - covering a major cultural event

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Paul Murphy Paul Murphy | 17:50 UK time, Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Editor's note: On the About the BBC blog Andy Parfitt, the Controller Radio 1, 1Xtra, Popular Music and Asian Network has written about the BBC's coverage of Glastonbury - PM.

Florence Welch on the Introducing Stage at Glastonbury

Every year we have to counter the charge that the numbers of backstage talent the BBC sends to create Glastonbury is excessive. If the figures were 600, 300 or 100 people I don't think it would make any difference. Last year we sent 274 staff and freelancers and this year it will be less.

Glastonbury is a major cultural event and the UK's most significant popular music festival. Last year our coverage reached nearly 16 million people, was listened to by 5.7 million individuals and the website featured around 170 hours of video. The BBC prides itself on its high-quality coverage of major events like Glastonbury, so I thought I'd give you a glimpse of what I see backstage to give you a better scale to understand why, later this month, the BBC will send 263 of its best people to Somerset to bring a huge amount of content to our audiences across all our platforms.

Read the rest of Glastonbury - covering a major cultural event and comment on the About the BBC blog.

BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra live from Camp Bastion: The Big Dawg goes to Afghanistan

Westwood with the Fire and Rescue team at Camp Bastion

BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra decided to bring Tim Westwood to Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, because the story of the troops out here is primarily a 19-year-old's story, which is perfect for our audience.

We wanted to hear the troops' stories and give them the opportunity to send messages to family and friends back in the UK.

The 10 hour takeover British Forces Special on Bank Holiday Monday was the set piece of this trip with messages of support coming from the UK and messages going back home.

Radio 1 and 1Xtra worked very closely with BFBS (British Forces Broadcasting Service) as well as the MOD to make this trip possible.

We have been broadcasting 22 hours of live radio from the BFBS studios here in the middle of the Helmand Province desert and the help and support of the BFBS here in Camp Bastion has been amazing.

There have been a few technical headaches as we are simulcasting on BFBS across Afghanistan and 1Xtra, and triple casting the last hour of each programme on Radio 1 as well. Back timing a go-go.

The production team of two, in addition to Tim, have been sleeping in bunks in a tent in the Media Ops area. Thankfully the tents are air conditioned as the daily temperature reaches 45°C. But it's the dust that is the nightmare, it gets everywhere. We've already experienced one dust storm, where you couldn't see two feet in front of your face and it left a centimetre of dust in our sleeping bags inside the tent.

The first thing that strikes you about Camp Bastion is the sheer scale of the place. We managed to get up in the Air Traffic Control Tower and the camp stretches to the horizon in every direction. The perimeter fence is 26 miles long and the camp is roughly the size of Aldershot.

The strangest thing about being in the camp is sitting down to eat dinner, with US Marines on the next table with M16s and pistols.

It's been an amazing experience, as we've seen a great deal of the camp: the flight line with all the helicopter crews, the hospital, the dog compound, the logistics support groups who supply the FOBs (Forward Operating Bases), the Marines, the Firemen, meeting troops from all three services - the RAF, the Navy and the Army.

I have nothing but admiration for all the people we've met out here working in such tough conditions. I certainly couldn't do it. There is much more to be told from here and I already want to organise coming back with Tim to get out to the FOBs - the real sharp end of operations in Afghanistan (wife and Radio 1 permitting).

Rhys Hughes is executive producer, BBC Radio 1

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