Research & Development

Posted by Tristan Ferne on

We have just released a new prototype on BBC Taster - the Peaky Blinders Story Explorer. It's a catch-up guide for the story so far in this epic gangster drama from BBC Two. It uses structured stories and object-based media to explore the storylines, characters and themes of the first two series Peaky Blinders.

Boxsets and the impossibility of missing an episode have meant there is increasingly complex drama on TV and radio. We were thinking about those times when you’re watching a drama series and think “Who was that?” or “What just happened?” or maybe you can’t remember what happened in the last series. We thought we could make something to help explore TV and radio drama and satisfy a real need for the drama audience.

Last year we built a similar Story Explorer prototype for Home Front, the BBC Radio 4 drama. We piloted it last summer and it went down really well with the audience. Some people were new to the drama and used it to get into the story, some just wanted a recap on bits they’d missed or forgotten before the next series started and some even used it as a single-purpose radio  —  listening to single storylines for hours.

Enouraged by this we decided to develop the concept further with TV drama  —  designing something that would be re-usable & scalable for all BBC dramas. We chose Peaky Blinders as it uses the typical BBC 6-part drama format, it has a web of characters and storylines, it had been recommissioned for a new series and it looks great!

Both the Home Front and Peaky Blinders Story Explorers are built around a common data model - our aim is to find multiple uses for this data from continuity databases to story guides to variable length episodes. Our research with viewers and listeners showed that the most important things for them were the stories and the characters and we'd learnt from Home Front that people did grasp this mental model, rather than the traditional episode-centric presentation. So we built both these sites around the storylines, moments and characters of the shows.

We took what we learnt from Home Front and refined our designs:

  • We simplified the concept and aimed to make it easier to create the content. Home Front featured every minute of the drama, Peaky Blinders just has the highlights and key moments.
  • We showed how it could integrate with other BBC products like the BBC Store and iPlayer and tried to use standard BBC design patterns. This would create a more re-usable format.
  • We aimed the site at mobiles and tablets.
  • We showed how it would use clips and stills from the TV show.

Storylines and character pages

It was a reasonably straightforward design and build process, though we did have quite a few arguments about the ordering of storylines. We think that people probably want "earliest first" (chronological) for stories, but prefer "latest first" (reverse chronological) for characters - ie. "what just happened to Tommy?". In the end we decided to let the user choose but to start with everything in chronological order. Partly so you have to scroll before you get to any big plot spoilers.

We identified five key storylines from across the two series of Peaky, including Tommy and Grace's relationship and the expansion plans of the Peaky Blinders gang. Each of these storylines has a selection of clips and words that describe the key moments in that storyline and links to the key characters. Six main characters, like Tommy Shelby (played by Cillian Murphy), get pages too. Similar to storylines, each of the characters gets a timeline of clips that tells their story. Finally, there is some background information and links to some of the historical themes featured in the programme.

At first glance this prototype might look like a one-off promotional website but we are designing it to be more than this, pointing to a reusable pattern for supporting dramas online. And also showing a near-term, user-centred need that can be met using object-based media and structured stories. Look out for a follow-up post on how we have developed structured stories, why they're important and where else they might be used.

Mock-ups showing how the story explorer format could be used for other stories on the BBC

The third series of Peaky Blinders starts on BBC Two on Thursday 5th May. The Peaky Blinders Story Explorer will be live on Taster for the next three months, let us know what you think at @bbcrd.