Live digital programme notes
BBC Notes is a web app that shows text, images, and links to audiences to enhance their listening experience during live events, live broadcasts, and on demand. This information is shown at specific times to guide listeners through the experience and to illustrate the story or music. Notes was commissioned by the BBC Philharmonic orchestra in 2019 as a mechanism to make classical music more accessible to young people, and to give everybody a richer listening experience. The system is formed of two apps – one for producers to create and play-out the notes, and the other for the audience to experience the results.
Credit: BBC R&D
Notes was designed to work not only in live venues, but to accompany radio broadcasts with audiences in the hundreds of thousands. This created a challenge as every device needed to be synchronised with the performance and display information at the right time. To achieve this scale, we used AWS AppSync to create WebSocket connections to all the devices and push changes at the right moment. We also had to account for the delay incurred by the broadcast system they were listening on, as FM, DAB, and the Internet each have a different latency.
We made the system accessible by using text-to-speech to generate audio description, and by including support for screen readers. This allows visually impaired listeners, or those who can’t look at their phone (if doing chores for example), to have the information read out to them. We also added the ability to see a definition of any jargon used, by simply clicking on underlined words.
The Philharmonic have used Notes for dozens of performances, including several national radio broadcasts. They collected feedback by surveying audience members at venues and listening at home. 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. Notes continues to be used by the BBC Philharmonic to support their ambition to make classical music more accessible.