A couple of weeks a go I had the opportunity of taking a lecture from Hugh Garry. Hugh is the former head of BBC Radio 1/1Xtra digital and online content and has more recently worked closely with LCD Soundsystem on their film “Shut Up and Play The Hits”. As you would expect he is passionate about on-line media and had nothing but positives to say on the subject.
In his “Everything’s Permeable” lecture, Hugh covered some interesting ground. One point he stressed was how developments in social media have forced makers of television shows to adapt their programmes to allow much higher levels of audience participation. Gone are the days where we, the audience, are merely consumers. In today’s society we have come to expect to be able to engage with the programmes we are presented with by mainstream TV channels at much deeper levels.
The shows which do best these days are those which encourage and embrace audience participation.
Big Brother was a pioneer, allowing the audience the power to decide on who remains in the show and ultimately go on to win the big cash prize.
American TV series Lost was another which was able to generate a thriving and dedicated international fan community utilising of many different types of media. “Lostpedia” provides a forum space which encourages fans to speculate about the mysteries surrounding the Lost island and the characters. An alternate reality game, “The Lost Experience”, and a number of tie-in websites and videos (such as those for the Hanso Foundation, designed as if they were representing a real company) were all innovative marketing tools which simultaneously helped build a loyal fan base and boost revenue.
Whilst exploring how mainstream participatory culture is evolving, I stumbled across a programme currently airing on Canada’s CBC television network. “Over the Rainbow” is a live talent show which allows aspiring theatrical performers to compete for the role of Dorothy in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage adaptation of The Wizard of Oz (I am not a Wizard of Oz geek by the way, it is purely coincidental that I have now referenced this story in two blogs!! ‘Couldn’t have predicted it!). Makers of the show have produced an application for iOS which provides a whole new level of engagement for their audience as they watch live:
- Behind the scenes content: photos, video interviews, contestant profiles,trivia, polls
- Blog challenges
- The ability to vote for which Dorothy you prefer. The more you participate using the app’s features the more votes you can earn.
- The magical Crystal Ball, allowing a watcher to rate a performance. Once the ‘wannabe Dorothy’ has finished the on-air crystal ball graphic changes colour to display the overall feeling of the audience regarding how good they thought their performance was. It basically works like a 21st century applause metre.
The impressive thing about “Over the Rainbow” is that everything is live and that the audience at home is just as much involved as those watching in the studio. Read more about the “Over the Rainbow app” here.
To fight back against the loss of consumers to on-line platforms such as You-Tube, Television has had to embrace new social technologies and incorporate them into their content to offer an experience which betters that that can be found through purely on-line mediums. In doing so Television has been given a new lease of life.
What’s next? Some predictions:
- Live TV will continue to thrive – news, sports events, talent shows, celebrity competitions (e.g. strictly come dancing), reality shows. Ensuring a back and forth dialogue with the audience will be essential, making things as interactive as possible
- TV will need to cater entirely to the individual, providing access to the exact content they are interested in, on-demand. Rather than the individual predefining what they want to watch, I expect an algorithm will be designed which will through monitoring our habits and preferences, predict and possibly even automate the programmes we want to watch, across different stations.
For the last year and a half I have opted to not buy a TV licence, mainly because I would find myself getting distracted too often, wasting time watching things I would otherwise not be interested in in the slightest. Since making this decision I have been able to use my time more productively, such as writing blogs ;-).
I have however gotten myself a Netflix account. Netflix to some extent is already achieving the predections raised in point no 2. above. Admittedly their selection of films/programmes could be better, but with Netflix I have more often than not found that I can watch something I find genuinely interesting or entertaining whenever I feel like it. Their algorithms do a pretty good job of highlighting other programmes I might be interested in based on what I have watched previously, but it is still pretty hit and miss.
For programmes not on Netflix that are currently being broadcast on terrestrial TV I use catch-up services such as BBC iPlayer, as you do not need a licence for this. As I own a Nintendo Wii I am able to use Netflix and BBC iPlayer Wii applications. For other catch-up and streaming based channels I need to use my Laptop, which admittedly does not do any justice to the drama/film I am watching.
The other downside to these stream-based channels is that you are at the mercy of your internet connection. At the moment the reliability is not quite there, plus the image quality is not as good as digital TV, let alone HD TV.
One TV programme I aim to try an see at some point is Stay Tuned…the future of TV, broadcast on CNBC this year. It is an exciting and crucial time for the mainstream television industry and I for one am looking forward to seeing how things change in the next 5 to 10 years as according to Brian Roberts, Chairman and CEO of Comcast Corporation, there is going to be more change “than the last 25 combined”.