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We want to give you the best possible BBC Radio 6 Music experience. This month we're going to be experimenting with personalised trails. The trails are the promotional messages you hear in between the music. Try now, and let us know what you think by clicking rate! (Works best on Google Chrome)
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The Inside Story

We spoke to the BBC Radio 6 Music team that made Baxter

Can you sum up the project?

Discover our content like never before.

This month, we’ll be transforming the way promotional trailers sound on BBC Radio 6 Music. No longer will one single piece of audio be heard by everyone at the same time. Instead, behind the scenes, multiple versions will be created simultaneously, with the one that’s most relevant to you inserted into your live radio experience.

While the DAB broadcast of 6 Music will remain unchanged, if you stream the station via the above BBC Taster link, your listening device, the time of day, location, and local weather will all play a part in what you might hear. We call this ‘dynamic’ content.

It will be the first time that BBC Radio uses real time data to influence our audio creative, offering a more personalised live experience that has so many possibilities.

Why did you make it for the fans of 6 Music?

The creative ambition came from a desire to experiment with and develop the way BBC Radio informs listeners online about content and services they may find interesting. The project is part of a drive to better reflect our audiences and will help us improve BBC Radio's connection to engaged and harder to reach audiences. As 6 Music has a broad audience base of passionate and engaged listeners, we are grateful to them for agreeing to help us gather feedback from this experimental project.

The project is a collaboration between the BBC’s Popular Music Station Sound department and Internet Fit Radio team.

How did you build it?

When you listen live on FM, DAB or the BBC Sounds website you can see what track is now playing. We achieve this through technology that tells us when items being played on-air start and end. We've adapted this to give us the same information about promotional trails, allowing us to replace them with the new ‘dynamic’ content.

But how can this work with live radio? The answer is, you're listening to live-ish radio. There is a delay between the play button being pressed in a radio studio and you hearing that same audio on your computer or smartphone. We can use that delay to give your device extra instructions about what to do when it reaches the time the play button was pressed. It’s a bit like we are time travelling to a few seconds in the future!

The promotional trails were made by the creative team, as previously mentioned, and at the end of the production process every possible combination of each promotional trail is generated automatically - sometimes thousands of variants - and stored in the Cloud. Using a single URL to a web service, we direct your device to the promotional trail that is most relevant to you.

The BBC’s “Standard Media Player” - which we use across all of our online products to play audio and video - has the ability to load plugins to extend its functionality. We developed a plugin to replace regular promotional trails with dynamic versions.

Behind the scenes, we generate a list that contains the start and end times of the promotional content to be replaced and a URL that redirects you to the version of the promotional trail tailored to you. When the player reaches the time in the stream that the promotional trail to be replaced started, it mutes the main playback and plays the dynamic version instead. When the dynamic version finishes you are brought back to the originally broadcast programme.

Any challenges and what were the solutions?

The BBC has never provided the audience with a radio experience that has so many possible variants. At present, we only broadcast different content for geographical regions (for example, Regional variants of BBC One, which carry local news bulletins).

Each one of these outlets require their own technology infrastructure to operate, which are complex systems to bring into service for each regional variant. For this experiment, we are aiming for the same result but using the power of modern technology to deliver potentially thousands of variants - one of which is the most relevant to you - at a fraction of the cost.

One of the technical challenges we faced was making sure that the dynamic content worked even when using the Live Rewind feature available in BBC Sounds. This involves handling some complicated timey-wimey stuff in our code, and unfortunately The Doctor was unavailable to help iron out the creases in the space-time continuum when we called, so we disabled the feature - for now.

What do you hope to learn from it being on Taster?

On the technical side, we’re interested to find out how well the techniques we have developed perform on a wider audience.

On the creative side, we will learn how to write and produce personalised audio trailers. We will discover what degree of personalisation works best for the 6 Music audience.

What next?

For now, we’re only replacing one type of content - and only where you’re listening through your web browser. In future, we’d like to be able to extend this to allow all kinds of content to be made dynamic across any platform - mobile, web or voice.

Privacy Explainer

As part of this project, your IP address and device ID will be collected by A Million Ads Limited and stored by Amazon Web Services Inc with servers based in Dublin, Republic of Ireland.

You can turn off dynamic content by turning off ‘Allow personalisation’ in your BBC account settings.

Credits:

Popular Music Station Sound Team:
Nathan Freeman
Matt Fisher

Internet Fit Radio Team:
Product Owner - Chris Roberts
Project Manager - Luke Eldridge

Software Engineering Team:
Beth Anderson
Alan Bacon
Will Metcalf
Chris Nicholson
Julie McManus

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