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BBC launches clever play-along companion iOS app

The BBC has released its first play-along companion app for iOS. Antiques Roadshow Play-along is a second-screen app that lets iPhone and iPad users interact with Antiques Roadshow, a popular television show that sees antique appraisers roam the British countryside looking for valuable finds.

The app itself is fairly straightforward. When an appraiser is on screen, users can use the app to guess an item's value before it's announced. Users are then given a rank at the end of each episode ranging from "novice" to "expert."

Tom Williams, development editor for Red Button and dual screen in BBC Vision, said that Antiques Roadshow was chosen for the inaugural play-along app because an app for that show "would genuinely enhance [the] programme for a mainstream audience. We piloted a number of titles but Antiques Roadshow stood out. As soon as we tested the first prototype of the app with audiences we saw what a buzz it created in the living room. The interface is simple enough not to distract from the programme and the interaction builds on existing behaviour -- who doesn't shout out what they think an item's worth?"

The app itself is rather clever in how it knows which episode of the show you are watching. It doesn't rely on a timer or synced schedule. What the BBC did was embed "invisible" audio watermarking into the episodes themselves. These are audio cues the viewer never picks up on, but which tell the app which episode is being watched and the timecode of the episode.

As Williams explains, "We've embedded inaudible signals in the soundtrack of the programme that are picked up by the microphone of a phone or tablet. These are used to identify the episode, line up the correct questions and then display them at exactly the right point in the programme. In short, it provides a way of joining up your TV and mobile/tablet without having to do anything complicated. In fact it makes the whole experience feel a bit like magic. It has the added bonus of synchronising the app with the programme however you choose to watch it, whether on BBC One, a recording of the programme or on BBC iPlayer."

Antiques Roadshow Play-along is a free download in the UK App Store.

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