Chris Baume, Senior Research Engineer for BBC Research and Development, explains The Mermaid's Tears
Can you sum up the project?
"The Mermaid's Tears" is an interactive object-based radio drama. Like previous BBC Research and Development projects on Taster, such as CAKE and Story Explorer, it’s made possible using object-based broadcasting.
What happens in the drama?
In the drama, you can choose to follow one of three characters. As the characters move around, you will hear their different perspectives on the story, which may influence your opinion of what really happened. The story and characters are illustrated with images that are triggered at specific times throughout the programme. We made the drama in immersive 3D audio, and you can listen in stereo, surround sound or with binaural audio on headphones.
How is it different from other Interactive radio dramas?
The BBC has created interactive radio dramas before, such as The Wheel of Fortune and The Dark House. However, there are several things that make The Mermaid's Tears special. Firstly, the drama is streamed to the listener as a collection of individual audio objects, with instructions for the receiver on how to mix them together for each character. This means we can broadcast one set of content but create three different experiences. Secondly, we broadcast a version of the programme live to the web, which we believe was the world's first live interactive object-based drama. To do this, we needed to design and build our own custom production tools that were capable of producing three experiences simultaneously.
What comes next?
The Mermaid's Tears is the first of two pilot programmes we are producing as part of the ORPHEUS project. For our next pilot, we will be experimenting with how to produce and deliver non-linear object-based audio, such as variable depth programmes. To do this, we plan to use R&D's Object-based Media Toolkit.
These two pilot programmes are feeding into a wider body of work within ORPHEUS. As we learn more about object-based broadcasting, we are designing a reference architecture and writing the standards and guidelines on how best to implement object-based audio. By publishing these, we hope to inspire and assist other broadcasters to adopt and implement this exciting new technology.