Feb 132008

…or so it seems by the constant line of broadcasters (ABC, SBS, CBC, C4 and endless news reports) who deliver so called ‘insights’ into the growing phenomenon of Social Virtual Worlds. The new BBC doco aired a couple of nights ago (YouTube segments embedded below) brought to mind reasons why traditional media companies may want to negatively ‘colour’ people’s views about the metaverse – but I see a more positive spin.

Many of the LAMP folk here are old enough to remember the sorts of programmes that appeared on TV around the dawn of the internet – “the web is about child porn, sex, deceit, corruption, unregulated, poor experience, obese people, bad dates, breeds killers, broken families” and so on. In fact one or two people quite close still have some of those views! Ten years on, the web is now the young adult on the block that has to be taken seriously and more importantly befriended by the older traditional media areas – it has become mass media and vast swathes of the audience have shifted as it gives them more control if nothing else.

So I feel (and have said in many keynotes over the past years) that 3D Social Virtual Worlds are about at the same point as the web was 10 years ago. Traditional media companies find it hard to stomach large groups of children spending 2-5 hours a day in worlds like Webkinz, Nictropolis, Neopets when they should be watching their daily dose of kids tele. Or worried that larger numbers of women (around 42% of online gamers are women average age 29) are not watching their passive magazine or cooking shows. So what should the response be. To create programmes that show the wonderful educational activity in these spaces, the amazing amount of creativity by new artists, the societies that are working out new ways of living together in simulated towns and cities, the new form of filmmaking, how people are making money from their new found talents, the new friends made etc: no…exactly like 10 years ago they send their reporters along (who generally have spent minimal time getting to know the inworld culture) and focus on how this new form is about adultery, dubious sexual relationships and how it breaks up society and is generally evil 😉 So the positive spin – traditional broadcasters are taking this movement seriously enough to feel the need to put it down. Or am I being paranoid and this is just ‘bottom of the barrel’ sensationalist journalism. Over to you!

The well made, in that it does sensitively show distressed relationships, but ultimately mis-guided programme from the BBC called “Wonderland: Virtual Adultery and Cyberspace Love ” below is in 4 parts on YouTube

Apr 082006

Not quite open doors, more a slightly ajar gate, the BBC was acting out of character in openly having ideas pitched from indies, in this very public forum. I was reminiscing with Ferhan Cook who organises Milia how interactivity across TV and the internet (this pre-dates mobiles), was relegated to a small stand less than 6 years ago when myself and Scott Gronmark manned the BBC presence on a tiny Ferhan organised stand called the interactive pavilion. Now the TV anywhere, rich interactivity bell is being rung in all Palais De Festival corridors – and the BBC folk are happily ringing it louder than most with its 360 Content initiative. 360 content, or commissioning has been used in the BBC since 1998 or so, yet it seemed a pretty new term for many at the event. Still, it is a term that will stick now.

Ashley Highfield -Gary HayesWhat struck me as surprising from the pitches at several of the 360 content sessions I attended at Milia 2006 was the number of World Firsts that people trip out during their intros. Very little is truly ‘first’. This habit is almost as bad as those who say oh we did that years ago, often to an audience of 20 at some new media arts show in the dark corner of an art gallery. Anyway there was something refreshing about the BBC’s (and Canadian Arts Board and Korean Broadcasting) initiative to solicit pitches from all and sundry across some key progressive media areas.

The content 360 digital pitching competition was really given context by Ashley Highfield’s keynote on Wednesday evening. He talked about the changes ahead and some of the learning from the Integrated Media Player trial that will mean a very likely on-demand future, at least in the UK. My old BBC cohort William Cooper who I sat next to a few times, had a good take on this in his informitv report. It wasn’t clear in Ashley’s presentation what has radically changed in what the BBC delivers in the 2 plus years since I left – beyond more BBC TV delivered over the web, the same iTV engines and a few internet games. Even so he has firmed up some ideas that were deemed as out of scope when I was leading TV-Anytime for the BBC, namely personalization of BBC TV for the great British audience. I asked him in the q&a session at the end of the keynote whether he really thought the BBC would go down this road and adopt personalization engines, collaborative filtering, recommendation agents in an on-demand TV world (a bit leading of course ;-). (from my audio notes…)

“Personally I think it is going to be huge. You can’t watch a programme in the on-demand space by having watched the previous programme, there’s no such thing. You cant be there at 8 o’clock to watch eastenders then be hammered into a worthy programme like panorama afterwards. How do you find a programme? An EPG starts to become an impossible thing to navigate across the thousands of hours of content, and a search engine is a really blunt instrument. The recommendation agent we have built into the IMP trial is very primitive and as we start to expand on that we will really start to understand, this is why I think the relationship with the audience is very important we have got to understand what you are looking for and what your consumption is. If I can build in the overnights, if I knew your type of demographic and what you were looking for and start recommending you content that rated really well in the schedule for people like you well, that’s much more powerful than any other kind of way of presenting programming. It might even become the primary way. I mean build me my channel tonight based on the things I like, schedule me the perfect evenings viewing. I want the live football match at 9 o’clock, build something around it, that you’ll know I will enjoy – and make it easy to reject ones that I don’t like, no not that, not that, and build me a channel. Now wouldn’t that be great”

Mint Digital �Gary HayesThankyou Ashley, now hopefully the BBC will read the DTI report I did with SG Associates a couple of months ago and really begin to adopt the TV-Anytime, MPEG7 standard in this area (oh and the rest of this blog!). The search and personalisation BBC theme was continued in the 360 content session on Long Tail content. Four teams pitched in with ideas for navigating the BBC archive – or as it was ill defined a couple of times, the long tail. The projects were basically random play ambient, a book marking tool, a search engine which looked for text in the closed captions and the eventual deserved winner called “Buried Alive” which was in fact the best project from all the pitch sessions as it really combined user generated, community, rich media and potentially mobile.

Buried Alive was a ‘wisdom-of-the-crowds’ recommendation of the best stuff hidden through the years – viewers review, cross recommend, greenlight content from the massive BBC archive – no brainer really. Mint Digital (a nice company) actually had a simulated website which showed the power of viewers voting for parts of the archive that surface. I suggested at the session that these same viewers could be the ones adding rich metadata to the content, obvious to me, instead of relying on a hundred staffers who will no doubt be yawning through most of the process. Also I suddenly saw the connection here in viewers identifying short clips that could be pulled out and shared on mobile platforms to cross-promote the site. But this would have put the project in ALL categories.

David Gurney �Gary HayesSo that brings us to the strange ‘Zapping Show’ hosted by a irreverent Ray Cokes, the development prizes of 5000-15 000 euro were awarded to the various categories in a comedy awards show (nearly worked). I have queued up a few more blogs that cover these, that will be released while I am in the air over Asia somewhere on the long trip back to Australia. Which leads me nicely onto the fact that the only two teams from Australia, in fact Tasmania, both won in their category! One of the teams was Blue Rocket’s David Gurney, no less, one of our LAMP mentors. He seemed confident about winning at various stages I talked with him and it is a great, pushing the envelope project to boot – unlike quite a few of the other pitches. More later. Well done to David and well done also to Fiora Cutler of Big Structure Creative. Overall the quality and organization of the 360 pitching session needs quite a few tweaks. There needs to be something to push the envelope and have relevance – as many were not public service or particularly inventive. The other winners on this Milia PDF.

Still well done BBC for ‘coming out’, well done to Ashley for sticking in their and flying the flag, now BBC just get on with leading the world – it is catching up VERY FAST!

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2006

Blogs queued include Emmys, Media Tidal Wave, Great TV Virus, Emperors Mobile Clothes, Rights, tell me what it is, Entertainment Everywhere