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6 Music pioneers dynamic personalised trails

Shaun, Lauren, Steve and Mary Anne. They won't have a clue what you're listening to.
Shaun, Lauren, Steve and Mary Anne. They won’t have a clue what you’re hearing.

EARSHOT EXCLUSIVE

From today (Monday 15 April, 2019), BBC Radio 6 Music will generate personalised promotional trails dynamically within its streamed output.

The initiative is the result of collaboration between Nathan Freeman and Matt Fisher in the BBC Pop Music Station Sound team, the corporation’s Internet-Fit Radio project under Chris Roberts, personalised audio specialist A Million Ads and production company On The Sly.

It’s the first time the UK’s public broadcaster has used realtime data to influence audio creative for mainstream content and the first time a live radio station experience has delivered so many possible variants in its trails.

The aim is to make on air trails more useful to listeners, more personally relevant and make it easier for listeners to discover new content. BBC research suggests these three drivers are particularly important to young listeners.

How will it work?

For a four week trial period, when a presenter fires a promotional trail in 6 Music’s London or Salford studios, the regular version of the campaign will air as normal on DAB and the webstream that’s surfaced in BBC Sounds, Radioplayer etc. That’s known as “the host trail”.

Meanwhile, listeners signed into the trial service on BBC Taster will hear a trail that is dynamically-assembled using personalised elements determined by a number of external factors.

This is achieved using the A Million Ads dynamic audio engine that you may have heard demonstrated in a recent Earshot podcast.

What elements are dynamic?

The BBC will draw on four datasets to determine which version of the trail a listener hears: mood, time, location and device.

For example, this could drive specific elements based on where you are, what the weather is like in your city, what you’ve watched on BBC iPlayer, if you’re using a smart speaker or mobile and how many times you’ve heard the campaign before.

Nathan Freeman – one of the project leaders

Which campaigns will contain dynamic elements?

Listen for promo trails in these six 6 Music campaigns:

  • Shaun Keaveny
  • Weekends on 6 Music
  • 6 Music coverage of Cheltenham Jazz Festival
  • Easter Exploration
  • 6 Music Festival last chance to listen
  • 6 Music brand trail

…and this trail from BBC Creative:

  • Forest 404 starring Pearl Mackie on BBC Sounds

The dynamically-assembled versions will be delivered from 0700 – 2100 Monday – Saturday and from 0700-1300 on Sundays.

Why isn’t this in BBC Sounds?

There is nothing to stop this functionality from being delivered to everybody via BBC Sounds eventually but, as a proof-of-concept project, the experiment could be conducted much faster in the Taster environment.

When you click the Launch button in Taster using a web browser you are directed to a version of the BBC Sounds site that plays your personalised trails within the 6 Music stream.

There is further information about the technical challenges of this initiative, including why personalised trails do not currently play when you use the live rewind feature here.

It’s a project – it must have a codename

Within the BBC the project is known as BAXTER.

In a W1A inspired bit of wordsmithery, Matt Fisher describes it as the BBC’s Audio Xchange Trail Engine for Radio.

How can I hear it?

Go to bbc.co.uk/taster/pilots/baxter

6 Music gets the personal touch

Earshot’s Steve Martin says:

The BBC is well placed and motivated to experiment in this space.

As a publicly-funded organisation it has a duty to tell licence fee payers about the programmes and services they have paid for. It performs that task efficiently through its own media wherever it can and uses proven communication techniques such as creative writing, crafted audio production and effective media planning.

This project builds on an approach which works well but, frankly, hasn’t changed much in a generation.

The BBC’s relatively stable funding also means it can innovate, take risks and try things out. Over time its work in object-based broadcasting and internet-fit radio could point the way to part of radio’s future and help the whole industry, whether a broadcaster’s motivation is commercial or, as in this case, about content discovery. This exercise is one way to prove a concept and learn from it.

It will be interesting to see what listeners make of it and what useful research data comes from the project. The 6 Music audience is a discerning one that has a close relationship with the station. Listeners are likely to appreciate the ability to purposely opt-in to the service and not discover later they have been subjected to an experiment. Yet it will be difficult to test for effectiveness if the audience is consciously listening-out for personalised elements.

Data from commercial radio that shows the positive effects of audio personalisation in advertising can fill that gap (A Million Ads quotes a typical increase in effectiveness of 2.4 times, for example) so this exercise is likely to be more about understanding user benefits and impressions of relevance. It’s also a great way to explore creative opportunities and consider some workflow changes and practical implementation challenges.

For example, presenters won’t be able to refer to the content of the trails since they’re different for every listener in the trial, nor talk over the top or tail of the promo because of the way the audio stream is redirected at the point of insertion. And the personalised audio will go through a different processor chain from the main station stream so how well matched in loudness and texture can that be?

We’ll get some answers next week when here on Earshot you can see a complete case study of one campaign.

Nathan and Matt have also agreed to discuss this project in a future Earshot podcast so let me know what questions you have for them.

Meanwhile, go to bbc.co.uk/taster/pilots/baxter and see what you think.

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