Wednesday, 13 June 2007

What IS the next Big Brother??

So anyone working in TV wants to have the ‘big idea’ that will become a global hit, make them a fortune and earn them the adulation of their peers.

But the stakes are much higher if you’re a big wig at say CBS, ITV or even Sky One as multi-channel competition, the web, VoD, Xbox, Facebook, PVRs et al all slowly take their toll on audiences and advertiser’s fat wallets. We must never forget that TV’s competitive market place also includes people choosing to go down the pub, talk on phone or reading Heat (or even Dostoyevsky) rather than sitting down in front of the goggle box.

Now one of the many beauties about Big Brother is that it truly operates in this wider market place. People do chose to come home from the pub to watch the show. In fact some pubs, knowing their competitive market place advertise that their places are the venues of choice to watch BB, where you experience the whole communal experience of the show to the max.

Right now the TV industry is busy looking ahead at the internet and the new distribution methods it brings, at looking at enriching programming from UGC, at making money through personalised ads. That’s all great and very positive.

Now what TV isn’t doing enough of is looking at what it’s actually delivering, the format, the show and ultimately the schedule which is in the process of being if not written off, then written down.

Look at my life (if you don’t mind) for a minute: I’ve got a bunch of inappropriately young friends for a 40 year old, so I’m there social networking, chatting and sharing files on MSN, uploading onto flickr, chatting via Xbox Live, Bit Torrenting the latest shows and catching up on juicy clips via You Tube. As a TV & Media Exec, what I don’t get is why does this world need to be separate from the world of linear channels, formats and real time schedules? Shouldn’t we be embracing this into our world.

I’ve spent the last while looking around trying to get my head around what directions the business might head in, if there is a profitable business to be had at all. iTV bods always said the industry will take off when that one ‘killer format’ gets off the ground. But it never did, it was technology over usability, and more importantly what the user even wanted to do. I’d rather not see TV fade away.

So looking around, what do people want like to do in their ‘relax’ time? It’s suspenseful drama like 24, its answering quizzes like ‘… Millionaire’, it’s working out the procedures and thought processes on CSI, enjoying fantasy like Ugly Betty, brain teasers like Sudoku, it’s chatting to friends on the phone and via facebook, it’s doing something mad like flash mobbing or just going to the park to watch a free show.

But what if we could combine all this into one show: Even better, one show where a bit of viewer loyalty to the linear channel, and the idea of watching stuff live could give you a bit on an edge if you fancied beating your friends to an answer, or winning £50, or even winning a million. Now wouldn’t that be worth looking at?

Out there in the world of geekdom; the world of Second Life, World of Warcraft and even Dungeon and Dragons, a new ‘format’ has been brewing away gently waiting for technology, systems and a mass market to be ready for it. It’s called Alternative Reality Gaming and the best way to describe it, is like the world around you becomes a big game of Cluedo, an episode of CSI that you live in, and play in.

The best known examples are Nokia Game, and the well funded Perplex City which, I’m sure the clever people in charge of them would tell you, are still on a learning curve for mass market penetration. The issue I see is that whilst technology moves fast, people don’t – you still have web people doing web, TV people doing TV – and us media professionals need to be in place where our brightest creative minds and executives can travel from one world to the other, seeing the potential there and adding their knowledge.

I’ve decided to hook up with a man who helped a major UK channel dominate on a Saturday night to see if we can crack this conundrum. It’s an eye opening journey with some spectacular possibilities, but it’s interesting to see how some TV Exec’s ‘get it’ and others just glaze over in boredom. We might fail but you could never call us complacent. Hopefully we’ll be screening your calls from our yacht very soon.

Vlad Lodzinski is currently working on creating Alternative Reality Game formats for a TV audience.


Always Hungry said...

The US has had some minimal success with the Alternative Reality Game format for TV - one called Murder X which had 20 people in a town all possible "murder suspects" - and as one by one they each get knocked off, the remaining "suspects" and the tv voting audience have to figure out who the real killer is. there's another one involving a bounty hunter too - but the name eludes me. Can't see either working in the UK though - unless it's been rebranded as "cluedo for TV" - how naff....

Vladski said...

Any format, especially in a new genre is a tough one to get right.

I get the impression the shows you mentioned were 'regular' shows with an interactive element. I think that now we've reached a more critical mass with social networking we can afford to, and should look at the area.

To me, the crux is stopping looking at creating a TV show that has 'interactivity' but actually just look at creating an entertainment project that has elements on TV, just like it has elements elsewhere.

I could be completely barking up the wrong tree, but creativity (and hit shows) often stem from trying new things.

.. and Cluedo on TV could well be considered naff, but that surely doesn't mean it wouldn't give a lot of people a lot of enjoyment (and keep advertisers happy).

Steve said...

One of the interesting things about online RPGs and ARGs to a certain extent is that they are 'stand-alone systems' - ie they are maintained to a greater degree by the player base/audience who interact with a static 'script' (or semi-AI agents) which has been set up and left to run.

I've often thought how interesting it would be if there was more dynamism in the script so to speak - certainly with MMORPGS there is a lot of 'do X, gather Y, be rewarded with Z' - the story unfolds very predictably.

For example - if to access a certain part of the game/storyline you had to go and speak to an 'actor-controlled' agent who would then tell you to do something individual to you, the whole thing could get potentially a lot morei interesting...

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