Will the integration of Social Media into TV give the tottering Broadcast giant a well needed injection in the arm, or is it another doomed hybrid?
Sky Social TV on XBox Platform
This pretty detailed post below looks at twenty or so of the best offerings that glue TV and Social Media together – whether its live chat on the TV screen or playing a game on your laptop/mobile/games console in sync with the TV show here are most of the already existing services in this space. We have seen two key audience behaviours happen in the past 3-4 years that change the status quo – TV on one screen, social media on the other.
UPDATE: The Guardian UK did an follow-up interview with me in reference to this post. The article by Mercedes Bunz is called The X Factor marks the start of TV becoming social – “Emerging media producer Gary Hayes discusses the Twitter buzz around shows such as The X Factor and its implications for TV’s future”
Firstly the increased use of social media real time, communication tools (such as Twitter, SMS and Skype IM etc) means there is now a growing roar off in the distance. The viewer back channel, real time social chatter, “did you just see that”, “I don’t agree with what he just said” and most worrying for broadcasters “I’m not going to watch this again. Agree?”.
What may save TV may also truly grow Social Virtual Worlds. As online audiences continue to ignore TV and vanilla/social virtual worlds suffer from a lack of direction, perhaps the marriage of the two will save both from irrelevancy? A report by Gary Hazlitt in various TV branded virtual world spaces.
There have been several forays by TV properties (gradually losing their audience and associated ad revenues) into social virtual worlds over the past two years. I don’t just mean branded one-off events but actually setting up shop, building a familiar and representive space for the ‘users’ to play in. These forays range from at one end, simple branded spaces pushing episodes on screens through to actually running variants of the TV format to be played out by participant avatars in a detailed build -with many points in-between. But before the meat of the post (a couple of new entrants) here is a quick list to give you an idea of some of the shows and channels that have tried, had some success or failed. As I have been involved in a few of them and visited all, I have listed ones I think have had most impact (engagement) through to those who didn’t quite get it (reversioning).
There is a rule of thumb regarding TV execs and virtual worlds or serious games initiatives – do not let the TV folk take control as they have too much ingrained baggage around non-participatory media and the resultant compromise is often of no use to anyone – get people who understand game play (and be aware that often excludes traditional game developers) and social media involved or face the consequences. The ones above that really worked allowed the participant audience to really ‘live’ in the shoes of the characters either by having activities similar to the protagonists, meeting the ‘fictional characters’, a social space that resonated with the shows aesthetic or a great set with game-like elements. I have talked a lot about Mixed Reality Entertainment in the past and how one of the most innovative uses of virtual space is to extend the TV or Film property into a 24/7, participatory environment. The main reason for doing this is to drive traffic to the TV but also to keep existing followers loyal to the branded property. As an example there is more detail about the reasoning on my post on Big Brother (good and bad) in Second Life (Witnessing the Birth of an Entertainment Form) as well as posts nearby on CSI in Second Life and many of MTVs properties in There.com (TV Property Branded Virtual Worlds – The Beginning). There are moves around the world including BBC and many European broadcasters who are creating worlds alongside and in some cases in front of the TV episodics and this is the important point. Promoting films with games or virtual world spaces has a very limited life span, forging a strong link between virtual world events and TV episodics is to me a virtuous circle – especially considering the 200 plus worlds populated by the youth audience who are typically turning off TV – teens and tweens. Earlier there were many experiments of TV/World hybrids and I was involved, as mentioned before, in the Mirror. Here is John Wyver (then Illuminations) talking about that (remember this is circa 1997!).
The other key element that contributed to the success of The Mirror, much as in real life, was the provision of regular “hosts” for the space. These needed to be frequent visitors who spent a significant amount of their time in the world, and whom users could have some reasonable expectation of encountering when they logged on. These hosts would greet new entrants, introduce people to each other, point out activities and generally help people around. More than this, however, over time they became the core of the community of the world, encouraging people to return and beginning to develop the particular language and culture of The Mirror. Needless to say, they were the saddest to see it turned off after seven weeks – although a number of relationships begun virtually have continued in the real world – including at least one marriage and one recently born child.
Recent company start-ups or collaborations also suggest that there are moves afoot. Icarus studios are squarely aiming at the TV/VirtualWorld hybrid and about 18 months ago Endemol & EA teamed up to create Virtual World TV formats (VirtualMe) based on Deal or No Deal and Big Brother. Also there have been a plethora of immersive film launches (play-in-the-set-type builds) across the metaverse and I Legend, Digital Hollywood, Iron Man, Quantum of Solace and Transformers spring to mind as I write – but as I said this post is more to do with a continuous, what happens on TV resonantes into the virtual world and what happens there is reflected into the TV episodics. (I regularly consult on this specific area so won’t go into any more detail!)…
So, it is interesting to see this trend continuing as new world Twinity starts to do more experiential ‘film’ property marketing and even more ‘demographically focussed’ the current series of Heroes being extended into Habbo
The agreement was brokered by the William Morris Agency and marks the first time ‘Heroes’ has partnered with a virtual world.
While following directions from a mysterious virtual messenger, the new character will take the audience on an adventure as she discovers the history of ‘Heroes’ through a journey that travels back and forth between Habbo.com and the ‘Heroes’ Evolutions site. “We’re excited to work with Habbo to introduce a new character that will extend the enormously popular and EmmyÂ® Award winning ‘Heroes’ interactive story beyond the official Web site on NBC.com,” said Stephen Andrade, senior vice president, Digital Development and General Manager, NBC.com. On Habbo.com, fans of the show will be able to interact with the new virtual hero through a variety of in-game activities. Habbos participating in a weeklong quest will discover their own special powers and will be recruited as new heroes. Those who successfully complete the mission will be awarded various virtual prizes. On the ‘Heroes’ Evolutions site, the new virtual hero will be woven into several of the in-universe, interactive extensions of the on-air show, including a character profile, the Primatech Paper Assignment Tracker and new chapters of the ‘Heroes’ graphic novels.
One of the more obvious links between TV and film of course is simply to broadcast a seed back story as a series, animated makes most sense to keep a strong visual link and then run a MMOG alongside it. This extends, involves the audience more in the narrative and allows them to personalize the experience. We are seeing this about to play out (in Asia at least) with Fusion Fall on the Cartoon network.
This is a great use of virtual worlds and it also shows that you don’t need richly rendered environments to be able to engage with participants in these spaces. Also in terms of the ‘linking’ paradigm, it is close to ‘my’ level 3 wikipedia cross-media definition
Excerpt “Cross-media 3.0“ Bridges. – The truest form of cross-media where the story or service structure is specifically authored to drive the audience using strong Call-To-Actions, across media devices to continue the journey. The content placed on the other platform is critical to staying in touch with the experience and the narrative bridges tease you towards investigating or moving to another media form/platform. Obvious examples include a TV show that ends suddenly and gives you a URL to explore more. It may be an SMS that teases and points you towards a live concert in a city square which then leads you to a TV show, then to a podcast then to subscription emails. The trigger, or bridge, is the critical component of this in motivating the cross-media action.”
Onto Twinity and the images here and above are me playing around in the pre-build set of the recently released and not universally praised film The Spirit. Although it grossed $10 million in the first 4 days it was pulled up for being unemotional and 2D. Well part of the problem generally with many big features now is that audiences have changed and want something more experiential – especially with ‘comic-noir’ films – why not let them ‘live’ in the story environment (my wikipedia item)? Twinity though have teamed up with Will Eisner studios to do this event (not in any way my ideal episodic but potentially a way for the Twinity user base to ‘create episodic, comic-noir’ machinima on-going?
CineStar Spirits you Away to Another World – CineStar’s CUBIX cinema in virtual Berlin is the premiere address for all movie-related events in Twinity. The cinema is currently showing the trailer and other exciting movie material from the upcoming premiere of The Spirit, a movie based on Will Eisner’s cult 1940s comic book series, which will be coming to a cinema screen near you from 5 February.Â Fans of the movie can get their hands on exclusive Spirit merchandising: including posters, standees, and an incredible Spirit mask that lets you see special visual effects inworld. Find more information here. Save the date and come to the opening party!
Date: Monday, 2 February
Time: 17:00 Berlin, 11am NYC, 00:00 Singapore
Where: CineStar CUBIX
Twinity (by Metaversum, the German created virtual world) are a long ways from a mature stable platform, hence being in beta for the past 12 months or so, but are already exhibiting the best ‘world-led’ event-based, user activation. This in my mind is high on the list of reasons for likely success over many of the areas that over-hyped Second Life suffered from in the early days. OK the world is quite big and empty and many ‘social’ tools are not yet available inworld but the kind of activity quoted below (calling for videos, images, stories etc: attached to some well know brands) is great first step community building and more importantly getting a growing community to market for you. Even I had a go at one a few months ago – video embedded below 🙂 BTW Metaversum you really need to improve the video tools (detached camera please!).
Submit Your Artwork and Win! – Take part in The Spirit Screenshot and Machinima Contest and win an exclusive film poster signed by cult film director Frank Miller or The Spirit action figures.
Things Are Looking A Little Different Around Hereos Wear the mask and see Twinity through the eyes of the Spirit! – Use Twinity’s screenshot and recording tools to create incredible Spirit- inspired images! To be eligible to win the contest, screenshots must be created while wearing the Spirit Mask and its visual effects must be demonstrated in your machinima. Screenshots may be submitted in jpg, png or gif formats. Sensational Prizes – You have the chance to win sensational The Spirit prizes! Three prizes will be given out to the lucky winners of the Screenshot and Machinima Contest:
* 1st prize: The Spirit action figure and film poster signed by Frank Miller
* 2nd prize: The Spirit film poster signed by Frank Miller
* 3rd prize: The Spirit action figure To take part in the contest, all you have to do is:
Submit your screenshots together with your Twinity name to firstname.lastname@example.org or
Upload your movie to a video sharing website, for example “YouTube”, then submit the link to your uploaded video together with your Twinity name to email@example.com
Competition deadline: 28 February 2009
We’ll celebrate the winning entries with a Winner’s Gallery party in the CineStar Event Hall! Artwork will be displayed in the CUBIX cinema during The Spirit promotion. Keep an eye on Twinity’s Event Calendar for further details!
Of course I would encourage all TV producers to think about their current audience and whether they want to reach them this way. More importantly you need to think of the appropriateness of creating inworld characters or environments for them to exist in – serious games (from documentaries) and childrens episodics are hot ones at the moment . The real effort is more about having great characters that are persistant in the space but beware of bots or NPC’s (non player characters) pretending to be real, this can have a strong counter productive effect. More later.
Interesting times ahead – the Console space finally collides with the Social Virtual World space as Sony and Microsoft race to be first to offer non-closed beta, ‘social (read: commercial) virtual world’ front ends to their ‘trojan horse’ consoles. Will they start to reap the benefits of a very large installed user base as both are likely to launch this side of Christmas in several international territories, and will they fly?
Both the Social World front end and the DIY games components (LittleBigPlanet and Buko) of these consoles have tremendous impact potential due to the massive installed base. As at the end of 2008 we are looking at PS3, XBox360 and Wii have a potential ‘Console Social Virtual World’ user base of 100 million! Compare that to the 1.5 million Second Lifers or even the 12 million WoW addicts…
The report from International Tribune about the two new ‘social worlds-in-your-console’ rivals, XBox New Experience (launching Nov 19) and Sony’s PS3 Home, suggests that Sony has cried wolf too many times. Sony have over-delayed the launch and are probably are trying to start out too big (vs the lower rez, cartoony avatars we see in the Wii [Miis]) and now the XBox equivalent, image above.
…Hirokazu Hamamura, a game expert and head of Japanese publisher Enterbrain Inc., who was at the Sony booth, said he needs to see more to assess “Home.” “You still can’t tell what it’s all about,” he told The Associated Press, adding that “Home” may be coming a little late compared to rivals. “There are so many more possibilities for a virtualÂ community.”
The NewXBoxExperience (NXE as it shall be now known) on the other hand has much more accessible friendly ‘toons’ which are very simple characters representing you in the basic XBoxLive interface. As I mentioned the interaction is likely to be similar to that on the Wii and Animal Crossing Wii also about to launch looks interesting too in this regards. But NXE will likely put off some of the hardcore gamers who don’t want to be represented by Simpson’s like avatars with minimal options to customise/personalize and make them their own? But is this just a half baked attempt at encouraging more group/tribal ‘mall’ type interaction to get folk to watch more of those ‘netflix’ (one of XBox’s live partners) videos or peer pressure to play/purchase online games they wouldn’t normally play? One think I do like the idea of is layering groups of avatars over full screen movies, so they can ‘play/chat/critique’ but I suspect the studios will put pressure on Microsoft to not allow that. We shall see. Other key partners in the NXE include Netflix, USA Network, MGM, NBC Universal, Universal Studios Home Entertainment and the SCI FI Channel.
The other big question is how to ‘really’ commercialise these spaces vs just incrementally increasing sales of existing product, like videos, within the portal. It is one thing getting your massive online user base to create an avatar and hang out with their friends in an abstract ‘exhibition’ hall while clicking (with a TV remote) on buy-me items like videos and other online games as in NXE but another to draw them in to having their own ‘pad’ as the case in PS3Home.
Having a persistent place to call your own produces, like Second Life, a big increase in user hours (for those who stick with it!) approaching 50 hours per week in the social space. This also brings with it the desire to purchase ‘virtual life’ enhancements (show-off pixel products) and the whole thing turns into aspirational lifestyle marketing on the Home side vs a 3D ‘TV-catalogue’ world on the NXE side. The next question is advertising during your social console moments. Both Home and NXE worlds will have a spattering of environmental or portal advertising from the outset and it will be great to see some contextual ads in there vs generic billboard equivalents. I would hope that Sony or Microsoft don’t go it alone here (even with Massive’s involvement with MS) and that they do adopt the expertise of the worlds largest advertising corporation Google.
So with Google moving into the fray with adsense now being delivered into online games reported by Reuters if brands don’t reach the gamers in the social front end worlds then they have another chance in the games themselves. Google are keen to point out the benefits they offer marketeers here A selection:
Drive your brand: In-game ads have been shown to drive brand familiarity and consideration by significant percentages*
â€¦and have the option for custom sponsorships and integrations: In addition to the media buy you make directly with Google, your Google sales representative can connect you directly with publishing partners for deeper integrations.
Reach the new generation of social gamer: The face of online gaming is changing to include users of all ages, backgrounds, and interests. Get your brand in front of users on the largest social networks, including MySpace, Facebook, and sites across the web.
OK they are starting with simple flash games and SocioNet widgets but they have their sights on traditional online games as it says in the Reuters report they are working with Konami and Sony and a few other key partners are already listed on their Adsense in Games site. (It is interesting to note also that Google are kicking advertisers into action with other initiatives including text ads in Google Maps/Earth and YouTube click-to-buy buttons – both reported by TechCrunch).
But back to the ingame advertising which if done right and using dynamic behavioural and personalised targeted techniques will indeed be a significant step forward for marketeers who are just getting their heads around basic social media. One big hurdle to come though is the old walled garden product/service vs open field product/service – you have lots of great ingame ads pointing to limited content in say NXE or Home Walled Gardens vs the potential of wandering around Halo 3 or Far Cry 2 and being able to purchase the ‘book, music, film’ inserted with 1-click to buy from Amazon, while STILL ingame or at least a quick hop out to the ‘social virtual world portal’.
This is all about clever product placement and relating it to the game your in (see my recent post on the renaissance of hundreds of films being made of games) is both the opportunity and the real challenge (being ‘sensitive’ to the story world and narrative of the game). So for example making sure the latest 2008 car is not being advertised in the 2020 story world of Crysis or subscriptions to Star Trek eps on demand embedded in Star Wars Galaxies. At least the social, vanilla spaces will allow contemporary advertising without too much jarring such as in a simple ‘gathering environment’ like Home below…
In summary I still think NXE is a half way house, a little too old school, cable/IPTV for my liking, and that Sony have the right model in the medium/longer term by persisting with a much more sticky, immersive and larger scale social ‘customisable’ environment – which as we have seen for the past 4 years in Second Life will drive much more inworld commerce. I hope that PS3Home allows some ‘theme’d’ areas too – based on loyal fans of certain games – to the extent that the social hangout becomes almost like a TV/film green room, a place to relax outside game world but feel your with like-minds…the 3D forum becomes a reality.