BBC R&D

Posted by Chris Baume on , last updated

We recently introduced you to Notes - our new web app that sends you extra information about what you’re seeing and hearing to your device, as it happens. We can use this to enhance the audience experience during live events, live broadcasts, and on-demand.

On 6th August, we tested Notes for the first time at Prom 24: Relaxed Prom. We used it to give greater insight into the music through tweet-length notes timed with the music, and as a visual communication tool to show the audience what to listen out for. The concert wasn’t broadcast and isn’t available on-demand, so we tested the app with those that attended the concert. The audience used their own device to receive the notes by visiting a web link that we shared with them. After the concert, we collected feedback through an online survey. Everything worked as expected, and we were thrilled to see so many people in the audience receiving the notes on their smartphones.

BBC R&D - Introducing BBC Notes: An Enhanced Listening Experience at the BBC Proms

Over 250 people tried Notes and 23 filled out the survey. Overall, the response was very positive. 95% of respondents agreed that it improved their understanding and enjoyment of the music. Some spoke of how it helped them to understand the context of the music, focus on certain aspects of it and follow their progress through the event.

“It was brilliant and really enhanced my listening. I especially liked how the notes prompted me to listen to certain parts of the music, and to techniques the musicians were using.”

“I thought the notes were helpful to understand the context of the music. It helped especially for the variations.”

“The notes updating in time with the music allowed easy identification of where in the music we were and what was being portrayed.”

We were concerned that using a smartphone during the concert might distract listeners from the music. However, when asked, only one of the 23 respondents said that Notes (or other people’s use of Notes) distracted them from the music. We saw that many people used Notes intermittently and would only occasionally check for new information. Some respondents suggested that this could be avoided by having the phone vibrate upon receiving an update. Based on this feedback, we have now added this as an optional feature.

A member of the audience using the Notes app on their phone.

Printed programmes are available at every Proms concert. We were curious as to whether people viewed Notes as a replacement for the printed programme, or whether they both added value. When asked whether they would prefer a printed programme, half of the respondents weren’t sure, and the rest were equally split. We will have to conduct further research to understand better the relationship between digital and physical programme notes. However, at least one respondent found they worked well together.

“Used alongside the printed programme it gave an extra dimension to the music being heard.”

Finally, the success of BBC Notes very much depends on delivering good content. Through our long-term partnership with the BBC Philharmonic, we have gained experience in timed programme notes as a medium, and work with writers who understand this format well. Good content not only means writing high-quality notes but also writing the right amount and sending at the right times. Respondents told us that they enjoyed the timing and quantity of the information during the concert.

“Really good to have that additional description of the music at the relevant point. It was enough information but not too much.”

“Just enough information to know a bit about the music and story.”

The production team operating the Notes app at the Proms

Following the success of this trial, the BBC Philharmonic will use Notes for every one of their Bridgewater Hall concerts next season. If you’d like to experience it in person, you can book Notes tickets, which are available for side circle left and right seats.

We will also be exploring how Notes can be used to enhance other events and programmes. To do this, we will be showing Notes to content producers and making it available as a tool to use in a variety of formats and genres. If you are a producer interested in using this, please get in touch!

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