Regular readers will now that for the last year, one way or another we’ve been casting an eye over the BBC’s open innovation programme Connected Studio. Yesterday I was lucky enough to be invited to Cardiff to attend another incarnation of the programme, the pilot of a BBC Wales/Connected Studio initiative around higher education.

BBC Wales has already a pretty active year on the CS front, with initiatives looking at, among other things, local sport, Digital Cardiff and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. This session was the culmination of months of prep, and brought together an unprecedented number of partners, including all of Wales’ 10 universities, the BBC, S4C, Arts Council of Wales and Creative Exchange Wales Network (CEWN) whose Hamish Fyfe welcomed everyone to the day. The theme of the day was, essentially, classical music discovery, using the cyphers of four non-hardcore-classical-fan personas as a way of thinking about how technology can be used to introduce classical music to a wider audience. The people who were going to tackle the problem were a mixture of postgrads and academics; all had been put forward by their respective universities, with a bewildering variety of specialisms, from ceramics to industrial design to media.

Linda Cockburn, who facilitated expertly throughout, introduced the shape of the day and explained some of its principles before the BBC’s Iain Tweedale talked in more depth about the specific challenges, asking attendees to think about what the “digital DNA” of classical music might be, and what kind of “digital bridge” could be used to get to new audiences.

After a fast and furious networking ice breaker, the attendees were asked to congregate around the persona type they’d most like to work on, then two teams were assigned to each. The morning then saw the teams talk about the wider challenges before thinking about some ideas to answer them. (Again, Linda guided this very well, insisting it was done in a way that everyone got a chance to talk; it’s worth remembering that this was a group of academics, some of whom can be reserved bordering on taciturn.)

There was an intervention towards the end of the morning: a series of talks from industry experts talking about specific issues, presenting case studies or setting out provocations. Iain asked: “Classical Discovery – what could this mean for a new audience?”; S4C’s Huw Marshall asked: “How can bilingual Wales influence the international digital landscape? or, rather, Sut gall Gymru ddwyieithog dylanwadu ar y tirwedd ddigidol ryngwladol?” The Welsh National Opera‘s digital manager David Massey presented the “I Am Tudor” campaign. The BBC’s Ceri Ll Davies talked about What to listen out for: how could technology point out the best bits? and also from the Beeb, Robin Moore talked about “Reaching beyond the niche audience”. I put in a turn as an expert as well, returning to that old hobbyhorse/bugbear of mine, the hideous state of classical music metadata online and why it’s a problem for the industry.

The afternoon, then, was all about refining the ideas, with the industry experts sitting in with the groups, providing a bit more provocation or stimulus perhaps, or just listening in. This was the most enjoyable part of the day for me. It recalled what I experience when involved in mentoring on incubator programmes: the sheer fun of being around ferociously smart and (generally) very young people, grappling with intellectual and practical problems. It was also interesting – to say the least – to be reminded of what the average perception of classical music is. Over the years I’ve become as comfortable at Glyndebourne or the ENO or listening to Radio 3 as I am at Download (or ATP, for that matter); it’s easy to forget that the world of classical music remains intimidating socially and intellectually for most – even for super smart and largely very confident people like these. And that’s a real problem – but now is probably not the time to go into that.

The end of the day, of course, was all about the presentations: ten highly diverse pitches that included a “classical rave”, an Augmented Reality app that allowed you to see what was going on inside a concert hall, a casual game aimed at early teens and an interactive timeline of classical music. The next stage of the initiative will be a larger event in the New Year that takes some of these ideas – and some of the people behind them – into a Classical Music Creative Studio session, something I hope to get along to. For now though, it’s been fascinating to see a very different incarnation of the Connected Studio programme at work, taking CS principles outside of the CS template. For me at least, it really worked. A big thank you to the BBC’s Anwen Aspden, the day’s tireless organiser for inviting me along.

Simon

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