Project: Royal Opera House

The Royal Opera House aims to enrich people’s lives through opera and ballet. It was supported by the Digital R&D Fund to test a new mobile offering, with partners Seattle- based technology company POP and Kings College London’s Department for Digital Humanities.

Technology Partner
Research Partner
King's College London
Community Arts Opera Mobile & location
Grant Awarded
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Research Report Insights

Project Name

Royal Opera House

What they did

The Royal Opera House’s live cinema audience has grown rapidly in recent years, recently overtaking attendance at its home theatre in Covent Garden.

It set out to explore a new mobile offering to engage remote audiences, with partners POP and KCL. The research question was:

Can arts organisations develop a more sustainable model for app creation to deepen engagement with audiences?

Three key opportunities were identified:

  • Mobile booking – providing a seamless and reliable mobile ticketing experience
  • Digital programmes – offering multimedia guides featuring rich content about key productions
  • Mobile donation – enabling audiences to donate whilst enjoying cinema relays.

Following a competitive audit and review of different technical solutions, the partners resolved to making the ROH website responsive, rather than developing a bespoke app. This would allow ROH could leverage all existing content, features and sales functionality without having to reinvent it, and help them make the best use of open-source products on the website, such as YouTube and SoundCloud.  Content would be accessible on all devices, and users would be seamlessly transitioned from the existing ROH website.


Project in action

The resulting ROH mobile site went live to the public on 18 December 2013 at, with the first digital guide, for the ballet Giselle, available at the same time for £2.99.

The ROH screened advertisements for the digital guides in cinema relays.  A mobile giving campaign, encouraging cinema audiences to donate followed soon after.


The project delivered a sustainable hybrid app for the ROH, and improved user experience of the organisation’s digital offering.

Since its launch in December 2013, over 700,000 people have used the hybrid app, the majority of whom were regular mobile and tablet visitors to the ROH website and were transitioned seamlessly from the previous mobile site.

Improvements to the mobile experience has increased users’ dwell time and their propensity to make purchases via mobile devices; the ROH sees this as a means of protecting revenue currently generated via desktop activity.

Digital guides and mobile giving were promoted to 1,000 cinema attendees, but resulted in lower uptake than expected and have generated income of around £1,400. However, activity has been sufficient to warrant further investment by ROH over the medium- to long-term, and the guides will remain in use throughout the lifetime of current website.

Tips and tricks

The partners have published a free online toolkit of mobile best practice, including all materials and analysis from their project. Code specially developed for the project can be accessed online via GitHub. Other take-aways include:

  • Going mobile without apps – Delivering mobile content doesn’t have to involve apps. Its worth analysing options such as mobile and responsive websites before committing to a particular solution.
  • Mobile user experiences – ROH found that simple interactions and navigation can be confusing for users. Watch out for the visibility of calls to action, unclear or confusing feedback and ambiguous icons.
  • Doing less, but better – The partners’ experience highlights that ambitious projects can put enormous pressure on even high performing teams. Allow adequate contingency into budgets and timelines and set fewer, achievable goals.
  • Building supporters over the long-term – Audiences may not become donors overnight. The results suggest that it can take time to prepare an audience to give philanthropically and testing is needed to understand motivations for giving.


Product Launch


Royal Opera House launches a digital guide to Giselle

Emmie McKay

Royal Opera House, POP & King’s College London’s digital guides were launched on 27 January, coinciding with the live streaming of Peter Wright’s Giselle. The Royal Opera House has produced…


Decision Points

Rob Greig at the Digital R&D Forum for the Arts

Rob Greig shares the background and experience of the project at the Digital R&D for the Arts Forum in July 2014

Decision Points

Problem-solving for Internet Explorer 8 compatibility

When the Select Your Own Seat feature for Royal Opera House was originally built, one of POP’s primary goals was to reach the largest audience possible and thus support for…

Tools & methods

Essential front-end design software

There were two pieces of software which were key to our project: Adobe Photoshop – used to create designs and layouts for Mobile, Tablet and Desktop views of the Royal…

Decision Points

Using IndexedDB and WebSQL for our hybrid app

These two tools have been very useful as part of our project: IndexedDB – a lightweight database that allows web developers to save data to a users local machine in…

Tools & methods

Using AppCache to allow offline HTML5 apps

AppCache is part of the HTML5 specification that allows a web application to be cached, allowing it to be run without an internet connection. It allows you to define resources (such as…

Tools & methods

Insights from usability testing our interactive prototypes

We carried out evaluative research (usability testing) with interactive prototypes of the ROH mobile app with five representative users. We used traditional usability testing methods, i.e. one-to-one testing with participants…

Tools & methods

Prototyping using Axure

A key objective of our work with Royal Opera House on the hybrid app was to discover a more sustainable way for arts organizations with limited resources to develop mobile…

Tools & methods

Competitor audit

To help the specification and context of the Royal Opera House mobile project we carried out a detailed survey of current engagement with mobile technologies by organisations within the arts and…

Tools & methods

Remote collaboration tools

Our development partner is based in the USA and so to enable as good a working process as possible we use three core tools: – Basecamp for project management –…

Tools & methods

Project management & requirements analysis

We base our project approach on the Prince II methodology, this includes production of the following Project planning Set up of a governance project board / team Bi-weekly highlight report…

Decision Points

Making a mobile site rather than a standalone app

Mobile technology offers up the potential for organisations to engage directly with existing and new customers outside of their building and away from the desktop. Several organisations (including ROH) have…

Research findings

Mobile services can still delight

Despite mobile devices being deeply embedded in our participants’ lives, they are not yet “invisible” technology. An example of this is that 11 diary participants (out of 25) reported 15…

Tools & methods

Digital diary studies

Diary studies are a research method commonly used in Human-Computer Interaction and psychological research in which participants are asked to keep a diary of an aspect of their daily lives and…

Project Insight

Behaviour types of mobile users

We identified the following key mobile behavioural categories exhibited by our participant group: Information seeking Productivity Social Relaxation and enjoyment Habitual use And the following emotional responses to mobile usage:…

Research findings

Low interest in mobile booking

While half of our participants (50%) reported having previously booked tickets with their mobile devices, when asked if they would actively choose to book tickets on their mobile device only…