In the first post of 2013 I decided to pick up where we left off last time; catching up with all the different Digital R&D Fund projects (just recently we spoke to Scratchr and Punchdrunk) to see what’s happened and what’s next now most of the projects have completed their research & development stages. This week I caught up with Paul Cutts, chief executive of the Exhibition Road Cultural Group, to find out more about what’s happening with the Dickens London Trails app…
“Our ambition was to make the technology available to other small-scale arts and cultural organisations, enabling them to break into the digital market at low cost,” said Paul when I asked him what was going to happen with the app technology now the project had completed its R&D phase.
The group are now in discussions with a trust in the north of England, who is interested in using the app tech to develop its own series of trails around a world-famous heritage site.
“It would not be appropriate for me to name the organisation at this stage, as we’re in discussions currently and it may not come to fruition,” added Paul. “But I will be going to Newcastle to lead a workshop for them looking at what they need to consider, how to avoid some of the pitfalls we stumbled into and how to ensure the tool they create gives audiences what they want.”
Not long ago I asked a few questions of the team behind the LSO Pulse project about how the project had gone and the lessons learned. But for this particular project, it wasn’t the end because a brand new project, Student Pulse, has been born straight from the successes of the Digital R&D Fund project.
Nico Koepke, CEO of KODIME, the tech company involved in the LSO Pulse app programme, talked me through the evolution of the new project. The original Pulse project finished late in the summer, and with the program’s objectives having been achieved (and generally positive feedback from all involved on the pilot’s outcome, Nico tells me) the LSO suggested to other orchestras and venues in the capital to expand the student offer, under a new joined brand, Student Pulse.
“KODIME was appointed to create a new version of the app on iPhone, Android and the mobile web to enable multiple orchestras to list and manage their events,” explained Nico. “And to provide a central support service to both the participating orchestras, venues and the ultimate customers – the students buying tickets – We have launched the new program and app in September, and so far it is working well.
“More than 50 student events have been listed to date by the nine participating organisations, and more than 1,000 students are already registered in the program, buying tickets for events and venues from the Barbican via Southbank Centre to Cadogan Hall.”
It’s been a short while since my last update (not least because I’ve been on holiday!) and it’s been great to come back to so many views and shares on the blog, so thanks very much!
The last few posts in the series have asked questions of some of the projects (for example, we’ve heard why clarity has been so key for the Happenstance project and how, for the Dero project, success is down to committed project partners) – it’s been interesting to see the different answers and compare and contrast, but there’s a wider question I think needs addressing:
What are the wider implications of these projects? What lessons will other arts orgs take from all the experimenting?
For Punchdrunk, and their digital project, it was about rethinking how audiences and companies need to rethink how they connect digitally, particularly pertinent in this fast-paced world of tech and social media. “The conventional model doesn’t fit and needs to be continually interrogated,” said Pete Higgin, enrichment director at the company. “I think as part of a body of projects in the pilot programme, this one is certainly part of a wave of work that will explore further the crossover between digital and the arts. On a company level, our eyes and ears are opened to new possibilities and we are exploring ways to integrate digital work into our company.”
For Nico Koepke, CEO of KODIME, the tech company involved in the LSO Pulse app programme, the lesson was purely mobile: “Students and other young audiences can be very effectively reached and engaged on the mobile channel, and they appreciate the offer and reward with loyalty. We also feel the project showcased that marketing and selling tickets via mobile including the reasonable complex transaction mechanics does not have to cost a fortune or require a new boxoffice system.”
Jo Johnson, digital marketing manager for the London Symphony Orchestra (the organisation behind the Pulse programme) it was about looking at the bigger picture: “We have taken our prototype app and are in the process of widening its scope to include several other orchestras and venues, making one big student scheme for classical music concerts in London. While collaboration between arts organisations is nothing new, this will be the first time that London’s orchestras have worked together on such a large project, pooling resources – financial and people – to reach more of London’s student population to hopefully get them to classical music in greater numbers. For a group that is traditionally in competition with each other, it feels like something pretty revolutionary.”
… which is exactly what the Digital R&D Fund is all about: creating revolutionary ‘things’ and forming revolutionary ideas to filter down through the ranks so that all arts organisations can get in on the action.
I caught up with Paul Cutts, chief executive of the Exhibition Road Cultural Group, to find out more about the the Dickens London Trails app and how the project was coming along…
1. Can you tell us a little bit more about the Charles Dickens app is and how it works?
Dickens London Trails is an iPhone app that enables users to experience London as characters from Dickens’ fiction would have. It leads you through the streets of London on a series of unexpected cultural encounters. You also discover more about Dickens’ eventful life and some of the secrets of Victorian London.
Your guides are characters from the novels who introduce dozens of places mentioned in the novels and the stories behind them. Each character also represents a particular theme that’s as relevant today as it was in Victorian times. The trail of Artful Dodger (from Oliver Twist) covers themes of childhood, poverty and power; Abel Magwitch (Great Expectations) embodies crime and punishment; Lady Dedlock (Bleak House) is the trail for those interested in the lives of women in Dickensian London and Samuel Pickwick (from Pickwick Papers) leads the food, drink and leisure trail.
Users can choose to follow a thematic trail or randomly select destinations. Each has a map, an accompanying image and – if a cultural destination such as a museum – telephone details and website inks. You can also share your favourite destination on social media (Facebook, Twitter etc) as well as tell people where you are through Foursquare.
2. How has the project been progressing?
The app went live in late April so progress in terms of editorial and technological build was quick and we’ve essentially finished what we set
out to create.
3. Have there been any real eye openers?
A number of things – the consumer focus groups were really helpful in clarifying our thinking. We ended up with something less ambitious than
we’d envisaged and took different editorial options largely in response to the feedback from that initial audience research. The main success was
having so many editorial partners from across the London cultural sector contributing free content. Our primary ambition was to develop a tool in partnership and collaboration – we ended up spending far less on content generation than budgeted, which gave us flexibility to spend elsewhere.
That said, we’re happy with the content and because it’s not time-sensitive it will have ongoing value. The Dickens theme was – for many of us –
secondary. The primary purpose was to create a collaborative forum that could be populated with different content. We negotiated with our
technology partner to have ownership of the IP so we can license it at low cost to other arts organisations. We’ve got interest expressed from a few others already.
4. Equally, what have the main challenges been, and how have you overcome them?
The biggest challenge was probably the under-estimate of how much marketing and comms we really needed to raise awareness; we relied on our own networks to a large extent and the take-up rate was much lower than we’d have wanted.
There’s also an issue in only having been able to fund an iPhone app rather than Android and other platforms. With the increasing take-up of
alternative platforms we missed a large potential audience. We also had a challenge in terms of visibility on the Apple iTunes app store.
There’s a case I think for the whole sector to push for the inclusion of a dedicated arts channel on the app store – there are so many apps out there it’s easy to be drowned in the digital noise. We’ve not overcome that problem but it’s worth pushing for, I think.
The LSO Pulse project is the London Symphony Orchestra’s discounted ticket and loyalty scheme for students – they offer £6 tickets for 10 (thereabouts) on selected concerts throughout the LSO season at the Barbican to students aged 18 years old or more.
I caught up with Jo Johnson, digital marketing manager at the London Symphony Orchestra to find out how the Pulse project was coming along…
“We wanted to update the technology we used to run the scheme and to give it a 21st century feel,” explained Jo, which is why LSO chose to use an app to reach a younger audience. “The app lists all the events included in the scheme, allows the students to share their attendance on their social networks and enables them to buy tickets for themselves and their friends directly from the app.
“It means that they don’t need to leave it in order to call or book online – this also means that they don’t have to pay a booking fee, which would usually be up to a third of the ticket price again on top.”
Jo explained that the tickets are delivered to the app as a QR code, which users can bring with them on the night for scanning on entry: “Students also collect points in the app for completing actions such as sharing with their friends, buying tickets for themselves and their friends and for filling in short surveys after the event. Points build towards a tiered series of rewards, such as CDs, free tickets, free drinks and meals, Amazon and Spotify vouchers – at the end of the season we reward the person collecting the most points with a trip to Paris with the LSO.”
Jo was keen to mention that, overall, the project has gone very smoothly: “We were delighted with the initial take-up of the app by our existing LSO Pulse members and pleased to see that the transition was pretty smooth for them. We haven’t had too many bugs surface in the app itself, and have had a smooth ride on the scanning hardware side, with no on-the-night disasters or total tech failures (aside from a couple of minor Wi-Fi problems!).
“We have been surprised by some of the ways in which the students have used the app – for example, a couple of users without smartphones used the mobile website on a desktop computer and then printed the QR code ticket to bring with them on the night, something we hadn’t considered as a possibility. Luckily this worked just as well!”
Because LSO are yet to do all the data-crunching, Jo didn’t have any concrete numbers but revealed that early indications show that awareness of the scheme itself has grown, with more first-timers attending LSO concerts.
“Our main challenge was related to the scanning process in our venue, the Barbican Centre,” admitted Jo. “When we sat down with them to explain what we wanted to do, they raised an issue with their auditing process – paper tickets were a required part of this and entry to the hall was not permitted without one. They were also concerned about their stewards having to decipher more than one type of ticket quickly when large numbers of people were entering the hall together.
“As a short term solution we decided to set up a dedicated desk for scanning and printing off the tickets that had been purchased in the app – stewards could then hand the purchaser the corresponding ticket after their QR code ticket had been scanned. This also meant the stewards didn’t have to be trained to use the scanners.”
Jo also mentioned another work-around they had considered: “We also thought about a solution whereby we purchased a ticket printer which printed a ticket when the QR code was scanned, but we discounted this solution as the Barbican could only accept tickets printed on their own stock.”
Despite this change to the initial plan, the app team have been working with the Barbican on future implementation of mobile ticketing, and Jo said she’s delighted that their test project has been able to demonstrate to them the pros and cons of this method: “We have however still been able to test the full solution twice at our venue, LSO St Luke’s, with stewards scanning the phones and without handing out paper tickets, which we were pleased to see went smoothly.”
Matthew Caines is a journalist currently blogging and posting updates from all eight projects involved in the Digital R&D Fund for Arts and Culture
Thanks to Neil Young for that headline! I’ll be humming this when we are putting the second part of our solution to the reality test tonight, at London’s Barbican where the LSO will be performing the wonderful Brahms Symphony No 2.
Having seen lots of our students target audience download the app, visit the mobile site and purchase tickets successfully (and still more buying via mobile as I write this), this evening will be all about redemption.
Our standalone and custom built mobile ticketing solution consists of the following components:
– the ticket owner’s mobile phone, either loaded with the LSO Pulse iPhone / Android App, or a smartphone with Mobile Internet access
– the mobile ticket, which consists of a number of visible and hidden data fields, and a corresponding QR Code, stored on each mobile device
– a handheld barcode scanner, which is connected via cable to the below notebook
– a notebook computer, which has been stripped to the bare bones to do only one thing, which is to run the Chrome web browser to access the web app below
– the LSO Pulse Ticketing web application, which is browser based and is driven from our KOMOBILITY platform (runs in the “cloud”)
The student coordinator will use this setup to scan all mobile tickets, to check whether a ticket is valid (purchased, not redeemed yet, for this event), and upon success, select the ticket on the web application to have been “collected”. For this phase 1, the coordinator will then hand a paper ticket to the student matching the pre-sold seat information.
In future events, we plan to drop the last “paper” element in this process, however this being a trial and involving a large concert and organisation (Barbican), we want to be safe rather than sorry!
The web application allows for alternative lookup methods, should the scanning of the mobile ticket fail, for example lookup by mobile number, name, and PIN code – obviously just scanning it is much more sexy (and faster), so one of our KPIs tonight will be the % of sold tickets successfully scanned at first attempt.
We have a number of fallbacks in place, including iPads with 3G connectivity should WiFi fail, several mobile handsets iPhone and Android to check for usability queries, and last but not least a list of all tickets, students and seats allocated on paper – if all goes well, that list will not be touched.
As for mobile ticket sales to date, here some stats as to what we have seen to date, and what we therefore expect to see with the students tonight:
- Biggest single transaction was for 8 tickets
- 70% of purchases made by App
- 30% by Mobile Site
- iOS 70%, Android 30% of app downloads
- Average tickets per user = 2.5
- App users have bought 2.7 average, Mob Site 2 per average
- So far 7.7% of ticket buyers have that fact shared via Facebook
We hope to have it almost all worked out and are excited about seeing the original concept complete its first circle. We’ll document it all and whether good, bad or ugly, will post a detailed update here in a few days.
QR Codes are the cause of much debate / argument / kitten killing, both in and outside of Social Interpretation. But why do we need them? What are the different options? And if using QR, what can one do to make them as usable as possible?
Why this debate at all?
To put it simply, because we want to enable people to use objects (or anything physical) as keys into more information. This might be info about an object, a theme, or maybe a discussion or piece of media. To do this, we need some way to bridge the physical/digital divide.
So what’re our options? Read more…