Archive for the ‘Innovation’ Category

4 things Kubrick predicted in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

2001 a space odyssey kubrick movie

I have been reading a slim volume on documentary-making this week and in it it had a resonant quotation from John Grierson’s wife, Margaret. The book, by the magnificently surnamed Patricia Aufderheide, got me thinking a lot about the film/video camera as a machine.

Intermission: Coincidence No. 669

3 minutes ago I had a text from director Mike Christie (director of the brilliant Jump London) asking whether I was still in Bath as he is going to be there this evening with Brett Anderson of Suede for a book event. I explained I was not in Bath, it’s just that Instagram seems to think my house is located at “Roman Bath” so I now use it as a codename for Home.

2 minutes ago I was double-checking Margaret Grierson’s name and Wikipedia pointed out that, although she was born near Stirling (where I am going later this month for Focus on Scotland to talk about the future of Documentary)  she died in Bath.

…actually, my bad, it was that other “father of documentary” Robert Flaherty’s wife Frances who said it:

“Our problem is how to live with our machines. … we have made for ourselves an environment that is difficult for the spirit to come to terms with.”

She was reflecting on Nanook of the North, Flaherty’s first film, and how the Inuit people, like the Polynesians, had a better balance with their environment and technology.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) famously opens with a sequence of ‘the Dawn of Man’ taking us up to the point where our furry ancestors discovered tools and then morphed them into weapons. Always a fine line between tool/weapon. Even when technology was a bone it was problematic for our kind. The bone is thrown into the air after the first simian Cain & Abel type murder and cuts to a space station turning in the black void.

2001_space station kubrick movie

A third father of documentary was Dziga Vertov. Coincidentally his name (pseudonym) means “spinning top”, like Kubrick’s space wheel waltzing through the darkness. Vertov’s masterpiece was Man with a Movie Camera (1929) which fetishises the movie camera as a machine eye, telling the objective truth. I first came across the film when I was studying Avant Garde literature, painting and film at university. On the other side of the room where I am writing I am charging up my not-often-used iPad ready for a story structure course I am attending at Ealing Studios (which date from 1902) this weekend – 21st Century Screenwriter with Linda Aronson. On the back of my first&only iPad is a quote from Vertov:

I a machine am showing you a world the likes of which only I can see.

The full quotation (in a different translation) is:

I am an eye. A mechanical eye. I, the machine, show you a world the way only I can see it. I free myself for today and forever from human immobility. I’m in constant movement. I approach and pull away from objects. I creep under them. I move alongside a running horse’s mouth. I fall and rise with the falling and rising bodies. This is I, the machine, manoeuvring in the chaotic movements, recording one movement after another in the most complex combinations.

Freed from the boundaries of time and space, I co-ordinate any and all points of the universe, wherever I want them to be. My way leads towards the creation of a fresh perception of the world. Thus I explain in a new way the world unknown to you.

How unbelievably resonant that is of 2001!  the machine – show you a world – freed from human immobility – in constant movement [that whirling space station] – manoeuvring – freed from the boundaries of time and space – all points of the universe – the creation of a fresh perception of the world – the world unknown to you.

Vertov founded one of the first Documentary groups, Kino-Glas – Cine-Eye. This famous still comes from Man with a Movie Camera:

Man with a Movie Camera eye 1929 movie dziga vertov

And this is computer HAL 9000’s eye in 2001:

hal 9000 eye 2001 space odyssey movie kubrick

HAL becomes increasingly threatening but when he dies our empathy turns on a sixpence and we feel sorry for him in seconds…

I’m afraid.
My mind is going.
I can feel it.
I can feel it.
My mind is going.
There is no question about it.
I can feel it.
I can feel it.
I can feel it.
I’m a …fraid.

So the mechanical eye, the movie camera, is it a tool or a weapon? Does it empathise or is it cold as steel?

This is one of the greatest scenes in Cinema:

 

Now those 4 things I promised. I went to watch 2001 two nights ago at the Prince Charles off Leicester Square in 70mm with Enfant Terrible No. 1 (the cinema shows it every so often so well worth taking the opportunity). The projection suddenly stopped just as the glass falls off the table and smashes, near the end. They got it back up&running for the enigmatic ending.

1. The iPad

So this 1968 movie shows two iPads on the table when Dr Dave and Dr Frank are being interviewed for TV from Earth. iPads came out in 2010, nine years after when the movie is set.

ipad 2001 space odyssey movie tablet pc

ipad 2001 space odyssey movie tablet pc

2. Skype

Dr Heywood Floyd makes a video call to his daughter for her birthday.

videophone 2001 space odyssey movie

videophone 2001 space odyssey movie

3. TV Screen in the back of aircraft seat

When Dr Floyd is travelling up to the space station at the beginning of the space section he falls asleep in front of a movie in the shuttle:

2001 space odyssey video screen aircarft shuttle

And here’s what’s great about the internet.

Question: Which movie is shown during Heywood Floyd’s travel in the Pan Am starship? (posed by a certain Brian Hellekin [it would be a Brian] on movies.stackexchange.com )

Answer: (by Rob Manual who, weirdly I know from my Channel 4 days):

The footage was made specially for 2001. According to Creating Special Effects for “2001: A Space Odyssey” by Douglas Trumbull

The movie being shown on the TV set in front of the sleeping passenger was a little more complicated. Kubrick wanted shots of a futuristic car, and close-ups of a love scene taking place inside. A crew was dispatched to Detroit to shoot a sleek car of the future which was provided by, I believe, the Ford Motor Company. The exteriors were shot in 35mm, but the interiors were shot without seats or passengers, as four-by-five Ektachrome transparencies. Using these as background plates for a normal rear-projection set-up, on actor and actress were seated in dummy seats and Kubrick directed the love scene. Shot on 35mm, this was cut together with the previous exterior shots, and projected onto the TV screen using a first-surface mirror.

There’s a colour photo of the actors and the car at http://www.iamag.co/features/2001-a-space-odyssey-100-behind-the-scenes-photos/

future car 2001 space odyssey

End of answer. Gotta love the Web.

4. AI

AI in the form of HAL 9000 is the big one. Back in ’68 Kubrick and co-writer Arthur C. Clarke captured many of the key issues that are obsessing us today about Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning – “how to live with our machines”, how ‘the spirit comes to terms with such machines’.

dave hal 9000 2001 space odyssey

Dave killing HAL

It was not until Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity in 2013 (which of course owes massively to 2001) that anyone got near Kubrick’s movie creatively and visually. What struck me most about watching 2001 again after so many years (I was about Enfant Terrible No.1’s age when I last saw it) is how resolutely cinematic it is. It wouldn’t play well on a TV screen. In the back of an aircraft seat. On a phone. Pure cinema of the highest order.

Missed Call smartphone doc wins AHRC Award

AHRC Research in Film Awards 2018 at BAFTA

Missed Call, one of my Real Stories Originals commissions, a documentary made entirely on an iPhone X, a story which revolves around smartphones, their media and communications, picked up a distinctive and prestigious award recently. It won the AHRC Research in Film Award for Social Media Short, one of just 5 categories. As veteran documentary-maker (and my mentor) Roger Graef pointed out on the night, it is not often Research gets centre stage and yet it is the vital underpinning of all great docs.

AHRC Research in Film Awards 2018 at BAFTA Sophie Morgan Channel 4

Channel 4’s Sophie Morgan revealing the winner

The award was presented at BAFTA to director Victoria Mapplebeck and her teenage son Jim, the protagonist of Missed Call, by Channel 4 presenter Sophie Morgan (Rio Paralympics 2016).

The following day Victoria and Jim appeared on ITV News in this item about children reconnecting with their estranged parent – video is at the bottom of this page (click here).

itv news report missed call documentary

AHRC Research in Film Awards 2018 at BAFTA Sophie Morgan Channel 4

Real Stories hits 1m subs

real stories one million subscribers documentary channel youtube

Here’s an update by Little Dot Studios Co-Founder, Andy Taylor, of the progress of this online documentary channel for which I have been commissioning the first original content.

This week at Little Dot Studios, we are celebrating a major milestone. Our documentary channel, Real Stories, has hit 1 million subscribers.

Real Stories is only two years old, but is now running at over 700,000 views per day. It’s become a major success in a small window of time, leading to big projects and investments in the brand. But the launch of the channel was not the product of strategy reviews, business cases or investment committees – it was a small number of employees from different departments who developed their insights into ideas, and then had the initiative to see them through.

The history  

Two years ago, our ContentID team – the team overseeing YouTube’s copyright management tool – kept telling us that documentaries were big on YouTube. They were ‘claiming’ over 40,000 television shows for our production, distribution and broadcaster clients and kept finding that full-length documentary content was attracting significant viewing. In came our Insights team, who pulled all our viewing data and put videos into different genres: comedy, kids, entertainment, factual/documentary. The data showed that factual was the second-most viewed genre in our portfolio (after pre-school kids). There was an opportunity to create a genre-specific YouTube channel for full-length documentaries.

This was a novel idea at the time. Most people at this point still viewed YouTube as a short-form platform for ‘viral videos’ – certainly not the home of premium, long-form documentaries. But the data was on our side, so we opened a page called Real Stories, and our partnership managers went to all our clients to see if they would license us full, one-hour documentaries for use on YouTube. Within 3-6 months we had around 1000 documentaries.

Two years later, we have a phenomenal success story, all born from data, insights and people not being afraid to put ideas forward. A brand that didn’t exist two years ago and a channel for which we haven’t yet produced an original video now has 1 million subscribers. And we’ll pay out c.$1m to our partners this year. The prospects for 2018 are exceptional.

The evolution:

In August, we committed to two initiatives. First, to launch Real Stories on Facebook. It was always going to be tough because the brand is unknown on the platform and we have long-form content, while the platform demands short, snappy videos. 4 months later, Real Stories has over 200k Likes and achieves 200k views almost daily. On good days, it hits 1m views and has hit highs of 10m a day. We re-edit and repurpose one-hour docs for the Facebook audience and have licensed content from Vimeo and other platforms to bolster the content output. One of those videos has done 6m views. We’ve also run competitions and ‘live’ broadcasts to experiment with the Facebook algorithm. 

Second, we’ve been commissioning Real Stories ‘Originals’. We’ve brought in Adam Gee from Channel 4 (where he headed Factual Commissioning for All4) and within 4 weeks he’d signed off nine commissions. These commissions have gone to a range of new, emerging talent – different voices to the usual with a huge platform on which to tell their stories. We’ve subsequently signed off a further two and they’re all now in production. They’ll go live on Real Stories in January and, with a bit of luck, we’ll then be able to sign off more films.

Looking forward:

Looking even further forward, in Q1 2018 we’ll be launching Real Stories as an app on iOS, Android, Amazon Fire, Roku and other devices in the UK, US, Australia and Canada. It’ll be a ‘beta’ launch to learn about these new platforms and to continue to build the brand beyond YouTube. For us, it’s another step into the unknown for a brand that keeps pushing us out of our comfort zone.

Links for Orna

Some concrete examples of multiplatform TV (factual)

The Great British Property Scandal (case study video)

George Clarke Great British Property Scandal

Seven Days (case study video)

Seven.Days_48sheet_Version.B_HR2

Embarrassing Bodies: Live from the Clinic (case study video)

embarrassing-bodies-series-3

Big Fish Fight  (case study video)

hughs-big-fish-fight

D-Day as it happens (post-TX website)

dday

Foxes Live (post-TX website)

foxes_live

 

Health Freaks

My next multiplatform project is coming over the horizon. Here’s how it was reported in Broadcast the other day. It is my second experiment in transforming pre-recorded TV shows into live viewing events to make the experience more engaging for viewers whilst encouraging them to watch the live broadcast stream (and therefore the ads which keep the wolf from my door).

Dr Pixie Mckenna

C4 orders health series and latest Kirstie show

6 August, 2013 | By 

Channel 4’s features division has continued its string of recent commissions by ordering a health series from Outline Productions and a Kirstie Allsopp show from Raise The Roof Productions.

The 6 x 30-minute Health Freaks will put traditional home remedies to the test to discover whether they have any medicinal value. In each episode a series of people who swear by a particular treatment or cure will present their favoured remedy to a panel of three GPs: Dr Pixie McKenna, Dr Ayan Panja and Dr Ellie Cannon. The trio will then debate the remedy and, if they decide it needs further investigation, will send it to a lab to be tested further.

The series, edited by Chris Walley and executive produced by Outline’s Helen Veale and Ross McCarthy, will test treatments such a breast milk being use to cure infections and an oat bath being a good way to tackle psoriasis.

Veale said: “This show is a way of allowing ordinary people to have their remedies scientifically analysed – something they may have been unable to do previously due to the time and cost constraints involved.  We’ve already had some really interesting results.”

The series, which was ordered by commissioning editor for features Nick Hornby and will air in the autumn, also has an innovative multiplatform element.

Viewers will be asked if they have first-hand experience of the remedy in question [and whether they reckon it will succeed in its medical trial] and a live insert into the pre-recorded programme will feed the results of viewers’ engagement during the show back into the programme.

Channel 4 multiplatform commissioning editor Adam Gee said: “The interactivity of Health Freaks is effectively transforming a pre-recorded show into a live television event. This gives viewers more of a stake in the outcome, while encouraging them to watch the broadcast rather than time-shifting. It’s an early experiment in a largely unexplored area which benefits viewers, advertisers and the broadcaster alike.”

hughs fish fightThe first such experiment was in the second series of Fish Fight earlier this year. We used Twitter to put pressure on the supermarkets by whacking them with 16,000 tweets over a 3-minute ad break as see here:

Article extract courtesy of Broadcast

Play a long game

This project took two years to travel from Quotables, the website which inspired it, thought up in a cafe opposite Great Ormond Street back in 2010 with Andy Bell and some Mintfolk, to this primetime panel show playing out this summer.

Here’s an extract from Broadcast today…

 

Richard Ayoade actor director comedian Was It Something I Said

Same hairdresser as Elliott Gould and me

C4 panel show to feature Twitter playalong game

20 June, 2013 | By 

David Mitchell actor comedian Was It Something I Said

Channel 4 is hoping that the playalong game for forthcoming panel show Was It Something I Said? (WISIS?) will have as big an impact in the space as The Million Pound Drop Live.

The David Mitchell-hosted series, produced by Maverick TV and Mint Digital, will offer a playalong element hosted entirely on Twitter. Viewers will be directed to follow a dedicated account, @somethingIsaid, which will post questions, funny pictures and supporting content to coincide with the appropriate point in the show.

Players will be able to track their progress via a mobile-optimised website that will be closely integrated with the Twitter platform. C4 estimates that 80% of TV-related Twitter usage occurs via mobile.

Around 3,000 users will be sent personalised messages during each episode, with all the content produced designed to be shareable.

Separate Twitter accounts will also be launched to allow +1 viewers and those who watch the extended 45-minute repeat to also play along.

C4’s multiplatform commissioners Jody Smith and Adam Gee ordered the digital elements. The former said the broadcaster decided to host the playalong element on Twitter in response to viewer behaviour. “The interactivity around The Million Pound Drop has been hugely influential to other gameshows, and I’m expecting the interactivity planned for Was It Something I Said? to give the panel show genre just as big a kick up the arse,” said Smith.

The series is one of the first projects to have come from the broadcaster’s initiative to commission shows from non-traditional sources, and was inspired by the Quotabl.es website Mint Digital developed for C4 in 2010.

Micky Flanagan comedian Was It Something I Said

{Extract courtesy of Broadcast magazine}

Links for Ritva

Image

Mary and Dina like playing imaginary twins and dressing trash-chic

(All Channel 4 unless otherwise designated)

Channel 4 Digital Personas

Multiplatform metrics

Street Style – a pilot: photoblogging street fashion (2006) – this is simply the vestiges of the site with no backgrounds/design stylesheets

Style the Nation – second screen aspects can be spotted in this vid (see background here and here, plus show here)

Fashion House – Euro fashion design

How to Start Your Own Country (BBC – Danny Wallace)

Chop or Not – game to cut the budget deficit

Sell or Not – variation for Selling Off Britain Dispatches documentary

X – youth election site (2005) – Election Machine (based on manifestos, matching user preferences to parties) – no longer online

Meet the Natives – viewing a nation from outside

Groovy Fellas (1988) Jools Holland wrote and performed in a six-part comedy documentary series with Roland Rivron, The Groovy Fellas, about a Martian visiting Earth. Basically the same premise as Meet the Natives. Not online.

Train Journeys from Hell – UGC listed on this page, also see YouTube presence

Visualisation re-energised

The Sexperience 1000‘ has just gone live on the Sexperience website – here’s a brief explanation courtesy of Broadcast today…

C4 unveils Sexperience site

18 July, 2011 | By Alex Farber

Channel 4 has launched a “digital visualiser” to present the results of the Sexperience survey it commissioned around the fifth series of The Sex Education Show.

Developers Mint Digital and Lingobee have created a site which allows the results to be filtered by factors such as gender, age, location, sexuality, phone owned or car driven.

The site, which has a pixelated theme, allows people to drill down to track one respondents answers across each of the 20 questions.

Adam Gee, C4’s multiplatform commissioning editor Adam Gee said the site was a fun way for people to learn.

“Sexperience 1000 is a playful and engaging way for people to absorb information about the nation’s sexual preferences, and find out whether their own personal experiences tally with the results. In short, what is normal – a big concern for teens in particular,” he said. “This innovative visualisation represents the data in such a way that while users can see the bigger picture, the individual still counts.”

Results of the Ipsos MediaCT survey reveal that the Welsh are most likely to cheat on their partners, Marks & Spencer shoppers are most likely to have an orgy, and nipple clamps are most used by 46-54 year olds.

The Sex Education Show, produced by Remarkable Television, airs on Tuesday (19th July on C4).

[Reproduced courtesy of Broadcast]

Sparking the imagination

Here are some extracts from an article on Creation Interactive which illustrates how Embarrassing Bodies is getting the healthcare industry to rethink how it communicates with patients and the public…

TV & Online: What can TV’s Embarrassing Bodies teach the healthcare industry?

With an outstanding level of online engagement during and after each programme, Embarrassing Bodies shows a strong correlation between relevant and challenging content and behaviour change.

A serious medical condition can make for uncomfortable discussions between friends and family.  But what if you suffer from an embarrassing illness, one you can’t share with your aunt, your workmates or you may even be too ashamed to speak to a medical professional about it?

In the UK, a television show has sparked the imagination of TV and internet viewers by getting people to talk about, share and understand medical and body conditions that some people might think are obscure, freakish or disgusting.

With over 4 million TV viewers and an outstanding level of online engagement during and after each programme, Embarrassing Bodies illustrates that:

  • Consumers are interested in everyday health, sickness and wellbeing
  • Engaging content can make difficult health subjects accessible through everyday language
  • People are willing to talk about personal and embarrasing health issues online
  • Access to senior physicians provides a platform for stimulating response
  • There is a strong correlation between relevant and challenging content and behaviour change

Embarrassing bodies TV series

Embarrassing Bodies was commissioned by Channel 4 as part of their public service remit to explore difficult personal medical issues. Since 2007 the factual entertainment series and website, produced by Maverick Television, has delivered on-screen diagnosis by the team’s professional medical presenters who explain complex medical conditions in an engaging way. They follow patients through their decisions and operations, showing life-changing stories as sufferers are relieved of burdens from illness they have lived with sometimes for many years.  Participants trust the show’s talented experts, who include Doctors Christian Jessen, Pixie McKenna and Dawn Harper who have become role models for General Practitioners.

The heart-rendering Charlotte’s Story told the journey of a child who’s ugly verrucas were diagnosed as a symptom of a life-threatening bone marrow condition. The broadcast had an incredible response: The Antony Nolan Trust saw a 5,000% rise in requests for information on Bone Marrow Transplant the day after transmission.

Embarrasing BodiesTV content from Charlotte’s Story includes close-up detail of surgery

The power of the web experience

The secret to the show’s success is its engaging web and interactive experience.  The website generated the highest ever web and mobile viewing figures for a Channel 4 show, garnering 1.2 million page views within 24 hours of a May 2008 broadcast. The show regularly attracts 150,000 viewers who engage during or after each episode.

Viewers respond to a powerful call-to-action from the TV broadcast to visit the website where they can explore the issues raised.  An Autism-Spectrum Test was accessed 38,000 times in less than a minute.

The show encourages viewers to take further action to safeguard their health by performing checks on their skin, breast and testicles, providing web resources for self-diagnosis.  The website regularly receives comments from those who have been motivated to act, like a woman who discovered a lump in her breast:

“Because I found it in very early stages, it hadn’t spread and my outlook is fabulous. Thank you for your clear way of showing people like me how to potentially save our own lives!”

The show has a presence in selected networks: through the TV broadcast, the website, and a Facebook group (which has 147,000 fans) which feeds key stories and links from the show’s main website.  The #embarrasingbodies hashtag is used by thousands of Twitter viewers during the show, although the show has no official Twitter presence.



Channel 4’s Cross Platform Commissioner Adam Gee believes the key to the series’ success is in combining talent and honesty in an entertaining and engaging form.

“If you want to talk about lactose intolerance, get their attention by talking about farting as a way into it.  Health information doesn’t need to be po-faced. It’s a good engaging route into ‘meat and two veg’ healthcare issues. The show’s very open, non-judgemental tone and human language creates a huge sense of reassurance that people aren’t alone, and also a sense of hope.”

Embarrasing Bodies

Embarrassing Bodies uses straight-talking everyday language to engage people about their health

Embarrassing Teenage Bodies targeting difficult-to-reach teenagers, generated a flood of 11,000 website comments showing confidence and changed attitudes. During the evening of the broadcast, 99,000 people took an online STI risk checker – engagement you would be unlikely to ever find in a sex education lesson at school.  This show generated many mobile downloads, suggesting that teenagers are more likely to access this type of content in private on mobile devices than on computers.

The website allows for anonymous interactions: users do not have to pre-register to submit their photos or questions or to comment, however, the team have launched a new strand with real identities, Embarrassing Bodies: Kids for worried parents that have a common interest in the welfare of the children.  Channel 4 have used the programme as a model for supporting the preventative public health agenda and experimenting with online interactivity.  They are currently developing a buddying system for people who suffer from the same chronic illness to support one another and share first hand experiences.

Embarrassing Bodies Live

This year the broadcaster took TV-to-web interactivity to the next level with Embarrassing Bodies Live – a web-only show directly after the TV broadcast. 42,000 viewers logged on to the site to pose questions to the team’s medical presenters. The live show aimed to do things that linear TV or a radio phone-in could not: responding directly to viewers questions and rewarding interaction through shaping the editorial.  Viewers submitted photos and questions anonymously then anyone could vote on those they wanted to be discussed, directly affecting the editorial in real time.  It took the conversations that were already happening on Twitter and spring-boarded them into a wider conversation.  #embarrassingbodies was the biggest trending topic on Twitter in the UK that night.

Developing Communities

Embarrassing Bodies has developed a sizeable community of interest, but it’s a transient rather than sticky community.  Adam Gee explains:

“You have to think carefully about what you’re doing with a community and not do the default thing to say let’s make a social network because they’re all the rage.  What kind of social network would be build around embarrassing illnesses except one of hypochondriacs? People don’t come with a common interest to a site like this: it’s a lot of small, temporary communities.  They arrive in a just-in-time, task-oriented way, looking for the condition they are worried about. They then hang out in the community just long enough to find which is the best support group or other help to plug into.

“The series has always connected to profession bodies, encouraging viewers to visit their General Practitioners and linking to the UK’s National Health Service Choices website. The destination sites are a stark contrast from the rich, engaging Embarrassing Bodies space. Suddenly, you’re in this white, stripped environment.  They are two poles of public service health – we need to recognise that it is one continuum: on one end are health professionals, on the other are communication professionals.  We spend all day finding ways to entertain and engage people, and they spend all day thinking about what is the correct medical procedure.”

Lessons for the healthcare industry

The website benefits exponentially from its springboard from a popular TV brand which regularly attracts up to four million television viewers. The challenge for the healthcare industry is to create its own springboards based on highly engaging content.

Embarrassing Bodies shows that rich media and interactivity can lead to deeper levels of engagement and changes in behaviour. Jonnie Turpie believes:

“Now that broadband accessibility and video steaming on the web is accessible to wider audiences there are increasing opportunities to make engaging interactive content and services. This enables digital media producers to deliver valuable health engagement, rather than simply health information, which may lead to greater prevention of illness.”



To make the most of digital engagement opportunities, television and online video should create a call-to-action to move audiences online and provide more in-depth information and medical solutions.  Embarrassing Bodies shows that promoting illness, no matter how difficult to discuss, in an approachable and human way and providing value for the user to progress their understanding, can capture attention and imagination, forming a first step in creating patient engagement.

[These extracts are reproduced courtesy of Creation Interactive. You can read the full article written by Susi O’Neill here.]

We all scream for Two Screen

Today’s Broadcast exploring Two-Screen Experiences with reference to Surgery Live and Embarrassing Bodies Live

Two-screen TV: terms of engagement

11 February, 2010 | By Robin Parker

Broadcasters are finding new ways of attracting the growing number of people who surf the web while they watch TV. Robin Parker taps into the world of two-screen entertainment.

Broadcasters and producers looking to hold on to the communal experience of TV are increasingly turning to the very threat most readily associated with fragmenting audiences.

The web is fast becoming the place to bring an extra dimension to, and make money from, live TV viewing by capitalising on many viewers’ habit of peering at the set over their laptops.

Reasoning that viewers are talking with their peers on social networks and Googling shows, broadcasters want to own the space – and find ways of harnessing this conversation to inform the content of their programmes.

To date, ‘two-screen’, as the trend is known, has been dominated by live web chats to support ITV franchises such as Dancing On Ice and The X Factor, which attract up to 20,000 people a time, and play-along games for shows such as The Apprentice and Four Weddings.

But players in this field forecast an acceleration of interest this year and expect the forthcoming General Election and football World Cup to take the trend to new heights.

Last week saw former ITV exec Jeff Henry launch an ambitious ‘live linking’ service that sent viewers of Five’s US drama Num3rs to 160 websites featuring material relevant to the unfolding narrative.

This week, Channel 4 takes this development to its next logical step with its first ‘one-screen’ interactive experience: a live web show spin-off of Embarrassing Bodies.

Some might argue that enabling a web audience to interact with the show by asking questions and to vote in polls is merely a 21st-century extension of radio and TV phone-ins, but C4 crossplatform commissioner Adam Gee argues that this is reductive.

As Embarrassing Bodies Live unfolds, the studio feed will be dictated by the volume and nature of viewers’ questions, photos and comments. “Our one rule of thumb is that if the interactive element could be done on a digital channel or a radio phone-in, it’s out,” he says. “Those are not networked conversations and they’re not personalised.

“What separates the men from the boys is to take an existing behaviour, such as on Twitter, and spring-board off that into a conversation that has impact on the editorial.”

The web show is the culmination of 18 months of experimentation conducted by Gee, much of it involving Twitter. The highest-profile case, Surgery Live (see box below), became Twitter’s number one trending topic when it aired last May. Another, Alone In The Wild, was, says Gee, an “asynchronous” two-screen experience that opened up the production process before the show aired. It enabled a networked conversation – but one that excluded Ed Wardle, the isolated figure in the series.

Gee believes simplicity is best and thinks two-screen is effective for shows with “a certain wallpaper quality”. He adds: “If Big Brother were starting now, it would totally be in this territory.”

Where it goes wrong, he says, is when too much “unmoderated noise” renders the content incoherent, citing Bad Movie Club, a Twitter experiment backed by the likes of Graham Linehan and Phill Jupitus, in which followers watched the same movie and tweeted their thoughts as it played.

Thirst for information

In the spirit of DVD audio and text commentaries, Henry’s TellyLinks.com is the latest way to feed viewers’ thirst for more information. At launch, it acts like a micro-Google, connecting viewers with external links providing everything from information on an actor to background news stories and details of a show’s setting.

In time, it hopes to sell these links, enabling an advertiser to reach some viewers of regular shows such as the BBC’s Top Gear. Last week’s launch saw the site crash under what Henry says was “overwhelming demand”, which his team is trying to address.

Similarly, Maverick recently provided a Twitter commentary to HBO Iraq war drama Generation Kill as it played out on C4, in which followers of the hashtag #gk were offered definitions of about 60 technical military terms per episode, plus background context on the war that linked through to sites such as Channel 4 News.

The idea came to Maverick’s head of new media, Dan Jones, when he watched the show in the US. “While I loved it, it was hard to follow all the dialogue and I was looking up stuff online after each episode,” he says. “We designed a glossary that you could, if you chose, ignore most of, but you could look whenever you wanted to check something.”

The audience for this was in the mere hundreds but they were, he says, “really engaged”.

Maverick has also started working with talent on this, using Kirstie Allsopp’s love of Twitter to get the presenter to link to craft courses and contributors’ sites during the transmission of Kirstie’s Homemade Christmas.

Financial incentives

“It’s low cost and this casual engagement becomes financially worthwhile as you’re directing people to advertising-supported sites like C4’s 4homes. com,” Jones adds.

Meanwhile, having pioneered simple play-a-long tools for The Apprentice, Come Dine With Me and Living shows such as Four Weddings, digital specialist Monterosa is also eyeing the commercial opportunities.

“Some of the biggest brands are measuring their marketing spend by engagement,” managing director Tom McDonnell says. “In shows with commercial breaks, there’s a huge opportunity to reach people waiting for shows – and games – to come back on.”

He believes the games reward viewer loyalty and help a pre-recorded show feel ‘live’. While less than 1% of the audience played along, as much as 80% of these watched every episode. Moreover, he says, “it’s about giving the broadcaster an authoritative role in viewers’ behaviour. Channels like Living have to feel interactive.”

Mint Digital has, under its own steam, developed its own play-a-long game – a fantasy football variant called Football 3s – and is now discussing with ITV how to exploit it for the World Cup.

Product manager Utku Can Akyuz believes the tournament, along with the election, will be the testing ground for two-screen, but feels it will remain a minority interest in the short term.

“I don’t want to go down the path where the only way to watch a show is with a second screen,” he says. “It’s a challenge for writers and producers to create hooks for it without being too overt.”

Another challenge, he says, will be adapting the experience for timeshifted viewing. Mint is prototyping a debate tool that time-indexes each comment made through a broadcast, then overlays them on a show on a catch-up site such as iPlayer so that viewers watching later can get a sense of the experience.

He also wants to finesse the feel of two-screen. “We’re looking at how to design it for peripheral vision – using colours or sounds so you can see things change, but you can decide whether or not to look down at your laptop.”

Which begs a bigger question: with Project Canvas on the horizon, bringing interactivity to the TV set, will two-screen have had its day? Players in this space think not, arguing that the peculiar mix of a personal and shared experience will live on.

“A lot of TV viewing is done with more than one person in the room,” says McDonnell. “Wouldn’t it be pretty annoying if dad was obscuring the TV just to play a game?”

SURGERY LIVE
C4 OPENS THE DEBATE

Windfall Films’ week-long Channel 4 series Surgery Live, which covered live operations from a surgical theatre, was the first significant and deliberate attempt by a UK broadcaster to involve Twitter and Facebook in shaping the editorial. Backed by a Wellcome Trust grant for online development, it asked viewers to become virtual students and tweet the questions and comments they would give if they were in the room with the doctors.

“It was a digital media literacy opportunity,” says C4 cross-platform commissioner Adam Gee. “We couldn’t assume people knew how to use Twitter, and this helped get them acquainted.”

More than 10,000 questions and comments arrived via Twitter and Facebook over the course of the week and the best got to the surgeon within two minutes. By the final night, it was Twitter’s biggest trending topic in the world and the Facebook group counted 5,000 members. Given that the show itself was only accessible in the UK, this was no mean feat and Gee counted surgical students, doctors and health charities among the interested audience who continue to discuss the issue online nine months on.

“It was a great opportunity to experiment,” Gee concludes. “It amplified what was going on and we took some real steps forward by initiating a broad range of debates on medical issues with a community that developed in a completely organic way.”

[Article reproduced courtesy of Broadcast]

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