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The Royal Opera House website goes mobile-ready

How a Research and Development fund is enabling the ROH to test new digital ideas.

By Rob Greig (Former Chief Technology Officer)

19 December 2013 at 12.10pm | 18 Comments

Early this year the ROH successfully applied to the Digital Research and Development Fund for the Arts: a project developed by Arts Council England, the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts (NESTA).

The plan was to test some digital ideas, and in doing so enable the whole arts sector to benefit from what we learned. Creating sustainable digital solutions, keeping pace with technology and finding ways to generate revenue in a difficult funding environment are challenges faced by many arts organisations.

With this in mind, we set about creating a new digital offering; the idea was to steer away from developing and maintaining traditional apps and build something that could work on any type of internet-connected device. We wanted to test how fundraising could be supported on mobile devices, and also proposed building digital programmes for our productions, which could be sold online and accessed offline. The intention is to develop these ideas using technology that has not been used in the arts sector before, then share everything we have learned.

When we launched our new website in 2012, we built it for use on desktop computers and tablets. Since then we have listened to customer feedback and have introduced new features and changes to improve the user experience. We have always been aware that the ROH website was not useable on a mobile phone and that at some point we would need to address the growing use of small screen devices for web browsing. Over the year to date compared to the same period in 2012, the use of mobile devices to access our website has more than doubled to just under 2 million views.

We have worked in partnership with King’s College London and the digital agency POP to develop the project. Academics from King’s College London have researched the use of mobile technology in the arts and also conducted valuable user testing. Learnings from this research have been incorporated into the latest version of the ROH website.

The mobile-ready version of the ROH website went live yesterday evening (Wednesday 18 December) and we will continue to refine the site over the coming months.

Find out more about the project and what has been learned

What do you think of the mobile-ready site? We'd love to hear your thoughts via the comments.

This article has 18 comments

  1. Nick Wellings responded on 19 December 2013 at 1:22pm Reply

    Splendid idea. Ease of use is a chief concern for many of us. Convenience, too. In providing this mobile-ready platform ROH is really helping their customers out. I browse and buy on a mobile device, and this is great news.

  2. Jim Sotherby responded on 19 December 2013 at 3:43pm Reply


    I'm slightly unclear about a couple of things - wondering if you could help me out.

    On the surface this appears to be (sorry to appear rude!) - but, well, not very "innovative". You've apparently (but please tell me if there's more to it than this!) delivered a responsive website.

    From where I come from - the web development community - this is pretty normal stuff. In fact, almost everyone I know nowadays delivers responsive websites as standard part of any new website build.

    This brings me on to my second point - you say your new website was delivered in 2012 - how come you didn't do this then? You'd have had - let me guess - 15-30% of your website traffic being mobile in 2012. This should have been part of a core build, surely?

    Finally: please can you tell me the budget?

    Thanks in advance

    Jim Sotherby

    • Rob Greig (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media) responded on 20 December 2013 at 3:00pm

      Hi Jim,

      While you’re correct to say that responsive design is not entirely innovative, this is only the start of what we have planned during this R&D project. The important work we’ve done so far is the research and learning about user behaviours so arts organisations can be better informed about developing their own digital offerings in the future.

      Only around 15% of websites are responsive (depending what you read) so the up take has been slow, and most arts website have either no compatibility or use a mobile web version which is far less functional. So while responsive design isn’t new, we are either ahead of the curve or at least up-to-date, which is where arts organisations need to be. There is no content management system behind the site and it is semantic in its technical design.

      This is just the initial release and there are lots of features under the hood, which will come out in the new year, including geo-location and dynamic personalisation. During the lifetime of the R&D project we are testing the viability of fundraising via mobile devices and the use of offline digital content.

      We’re particularly excited about the application caching component of a digital guide we have in the pipeline ( This has not been attempted in the arts and we only know of USA Today, the FT and Amazon Cloud reader using this technology to any significant extent.

      Why did we not build for responsive back in 2012? We had a fixed date when we had to deliver the new website so we scoped the development based on the time and resource which we had. We actually built the site to work on tablet and deliberately steered away from mobile due to time and cost restraints. There was not a well-developed and reliable solution for offering ‘select your own seat in 2011 when we started coding and we had to provide support for older browsers, so there were technical barriers which we could not overcome with available resources.

      It’s also important to note that in 2012 we did not set out to solve the mobile problem: we needed to address the issue of our website capacity, which was insufficient to meet demand on busy booking days. This objective was achieved, and people now have a far better booking experience online. The 2012 ROH website was built by two developer, which is an incredible feat. Mobile usage of the ROH website in terms of visits in 2012 was 8.7%.

      The funding for this R&D is being shared between King’s College London and POP, and the cost is a lot less than developing 3 separate fully function native apps.

      I hope that this response answers your questions.

      Best wishes


  3. James Smith responded on 19 December 2013 at 5:57pm Reply

    It's a nice looking interface but does take a long time to scroll down the page! Is there an option to view desktop format on a mobile device - I used to find this generally functional albeit a bit fiddly for buying tickets.

    Also do I understand from the article above that plans to build a new ROH app have been scrapped? I participated in the survey informing this but thought you were developing phone apps? An app would have the advantage of things such as popup notifications which the website won't.

    Also it seems at present the content is identical to the standard site, is that planned to change or is the core idea to effectively replicate the desktop site in a mobile format that is more easily accessible?


    • Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products) responded on 22 December 2013 at 4:54pm

      Hi James

      I'll ask the digital development team about viewing the desktop version on a mobile device.

      What we are working on is a version of the website that offers a great experience for all devices but also stores information offline and offers 'push notifications' as in an app. As time goes on you will see more of these features utilised.

      In terms of content, we are working on new digital production guides, which will be available on top of the material we already create for the site.

      Best wishes


  4. Edmund Hobley responded on 20 December 2013 at 8:46pm Reply

    The new website has not been tested properly. I now can't access my event history or my future performances

    • Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products) responded on 21 December 2013 at 10:29am

      Sorry to hear that Edmund. Our development team at working to resolve any issues.

      Best wishes


  5. Peter responded on 21 December 2013 at 12:46am Reply

    Interesting that a direct question about the cost of this project is sidestepped. As roh is in receipt of public money why not directly answer the question? This lack of transparency suggests there is something to hide.

    • Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products) responded on 26 December 2013 at 11:18am

      Dear Peter

      Rob is on leave over the festive season and I am unable to answer your query. We will get back to you in the New Year.

      Best wishes


  6. Jim Sotherby responded on 21 December 2013 at 11:40am Reply

    Thanks for that comprehensive answer, Rob. I look forward to seeing more of the development work as you do it. What is the best means to keep track of your outputs?


  7. John responded on 21 December 2013 at 2:55pm Reply

    Very neat & navigation works well. All important test will be first day of booking but at least will no longer need to be tied to PC for that.

  8. Morgan responded on 22 December 2013 at 10:29am Reply

    I think the new website is great.I mainly access the ROH website from my iPad and this new design makes the site much easier to use, even when booking tickets.I love the design too,it looks clean and fresh.Time well spent ROH,I hope other arts websites follow your example as well as other websites more generally,as many of us now access the web on mobile devices,and even more will do so in the future.Good work.

  9. Pamela Tan responded on 24 December 2013 at 6:59pm Reply

    I was quite happy with the desktop version and would like the option to revert to it please. Also, I can't find the "log out" option. I can't sign out and let my partner sign in. Either "log out" is missing or it's buried so deep I can't find it! Where is it please?

    • Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products) responded on 25 December 2013 at 9:18pm

      Dear Pamela

      Thanks for your feedback. The 'Sign out' option has now been added back into the menu of the Account area - let us know if you have any further problems.

      I have asked the development development team if there is the possibility to switch back to the desktop version on a mobile device.

      Best wishes


  10. catherine responded on 27 December 2013 at 11:02pm Reply

    Please can event history be reinstated asap ? Mine has all disappeared and I do use it from time to time to check when I saw who dance what etc . . . if it is not going to be then is there any way I can access my own event history to download it ? Wish I had had some notice that this was disappearing (if it has . .. )
    Like lots of other features - thank you.

    • Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products) responded on 28 December 2013 at 7:41pm

      Dear Catherine

      This feature will be back - this is a temporary glitch.

      Best wishes


  11. While I fully understand your concern I have to say I miss the App and bless the Paris Opera for not having chosen this path! It was so user friendly... Now it’s such a mess that I gave up for time consuming issues .. I hope all glitches are fixed before my May visit...!

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