Monday, 16 May 2011

Now Playing @6Music

I co-commissioned a new interactive radio programme in early 2011 which launched on-air in April. This article explaining my thinking was written for BBC in-house paper "Ariel", May 2011.
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The question behind Now Playing @6Music is simple: how do we take advantage of the changes in technology and audience behaviour over the past few years and incorporate them into music radio? On the one hand, this is what our radio networks have been doing, to an extent, for many years via the phone, fax, SMS, email and now the web. On the other hand, I saw a gap whereby there wasn’t a music programme that was built on those massive changes from the ground up. Many other shows have integrated some elements, but where was the show which was entirely based on audience contribution using new digital music services, social networks and connected devices?

My vision for the programme was to put digital interactivity at the core, rather than as an add-on. In practical terms I refined this to mean that every piece of music and every recommendation would come from the audience in one way or another. The thinking is that music fans love to recommend and share their favourite music, and that many of those would be happy to do so with a trusted presenter (such as Tom Robinson) and radio station. In other words, taking what we used to call the “listeners” and putting them in the driving seat.

I’ve been asked how this differs to a standard request show. The idea is not about listeners sending in a request in real time, it’s about reflecting the online buzz about music, and gathering recommendations, comments and suggestions over the entire week, on a number of different platforms and services, and letting users discuss these with each other. From that discussion the programme emerges. So, whilst the programme’s producer (Rowan Collinson from indie Somethin’Else) may initially suggest a topic, we are happy to change it if the audience is moving in a different direction. And the tracks in the playlist come entirely from those users, in real time on Friday evening, or anytime over the past week. Less pushing our choices out, more pulling the audience’s in.

Paul Rodgers at BBC Radio 6 Music was keen on the idea, and with his help the new programme launched in April. One month in and we have some pretty clear strands running through the weekly two hour show. Firstly, the backbone is a themed playlist which people can add to via SpotifyFacebook, Twitter, email, SMS and the really very good programme blog. Secondly we reach out to music bloggers, big and small, and invite them to talk about what is rocking their musical boat this week. Thirdly, we dip into the Twitter stream to see – in real time – what tracks people are loving at that moment (using the nowplaying #tag), pull one out, re-tweet it and play the track. Lastly, we offer a digital digest of the week’s online buzz from the programme blog - what music fans are talking about and sharing online.

User feedback so far has been positive, but this is not a quick hit. It’s about iterating the programme format to focus more on what is working with music fans and listeners, and working out how we can reflect the online buzz about music in even better ways.

You can listen to the latest programme on the 6Music site.

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