Dec 312011

Originally published Oct 2011 in Wired Magazine ‘Change Accelerators‘ by Gary Hayes

Image by Gary hayes

Grab some nibbles, pour yourself a drink, and sit down. You’re now ready to immerse yourself in a TV show. And then you notice that CSI Miami is placing Facebook photos of your aunt, uncle, and cousins onto the desk of a perp. Lean forward, and keep your eyes peeled, updates from your Facebook page are about to be incorporated into your favorite TV show’s narrative. (Your best friend becomes the suspect!) As you immerse yourself in the story, the story immerses itself in your social world. In this context, online meets offline and your family and friends will never look the same again!

While this opening scenario sounds like pure fantasy, it’s not. It’s actually based on Warner Brother’s Aim High, an upcoming web series that will integrate pictures, music, and information from a viewer’s Facebook page into the video. One might call it the ultimate transmedia vanity blockbuster, where viewers are watching and playing with their own distributed, but connected story fragments. If this trend continues, soon we’ll be interacting with TV and games mashed up with our own social networks on big and small screens everywhere.

Since 2003, tools that allow people to easily create, upload, and share personal content are now commonplace. With so many people sharing their lives through networks, there is a social story revolution unfolding. There are more photos taken every two minutes today than during the entire 1800s and, as my Social Media Counter shows, most of this new content is created by individuals who used to be called the audience.

Since the late ’90s, the vision of interactive TV has been to meld this viewer-generated content into shows, particularly live TV. Today, we are taking the greatest evolutionary steps in broadcasting since the advent of live TV. In my presentation, “The Gamification of Social TV,” I examine the ways audiences are becoming more and more integrated into media, such as shows, films, games, and live events; first, there is the social level, then the participative, and finally, the inclusive.

Real-time conversation about what’s happening on TV has pretty much been with us since the beginning of mass TV in the ’50s. However, nowadays we have advanced well beyond the cord-tethered telethons of yesteryear. Today, advanced technology, like text voting, allows shows to measure the sentiment of the crowd sitting at home, not just the studio audience, in real time.

Andy Warhol famously predicted, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” That future has arrived: We can all be stars in our own lifetimes, even if it’s just among our social network. We have become our own entertainment hubs, around which our friends and media circulate. Broadcasters and service providers have caught on to this trend, and now, entertainment-based social networking websites, like GetGlue, allow viewers to check in to movies, TV, and music. These personalized hubs fueled by recommendation and loyalty are allowing viewers to lock their worlds to TV space.

Not surprisingly, marketers are also taking notice of the advantages presented by social storytelling. A recent example is the Rommy Gulla Facebook video campaign run by Panasonic Australia. To demonstrate a new Blu-ray recorder’s ability to store 28 full days of HD content, the company developed a Truman Show-esque, promotional Facebook campaign encouraging input and social sharing.

Other online services, like Hulu, are also allowing users to bring media directly to their networks and take root inside Facebook itself, creating a forum for friends to share video content seamlessly. At the other end of the spectrum, there are options like Beckinfield Mass Participation TV, which takes social media to the nth degree by inviting users to film themselves as the stars and extend the web show format. This concept borrows from the realm of social alternate reality games, such as a World Without OilTruth About Marika, or Conspiracy for Good, which have been allowing users to write themselves into scripts and become the activist hero for quite some time now. Social media storytelling has deep roots in multiplayer role-playing gaming; in fact, the fastest growing game on Facebook at the moment is Sims, the $4 billion franchise game, where players inhabit and merge with social experiences in an alternate character-driven world.

Is alternate character acting the future? The film industry is not far behind in embracing social films. Earlier this year, Toshiba, Intel, and their ad agency Pereira & O’Dell took a gamble onInside, an interactive film experiment starring Emmy Rossum directed by D.J. Caruso. Now some people are speculating about whether or not social films are the next big thing in Hollywood. Will we see a social film revolution where plot dilemmas are handed over to the audience to experience and solve?

When it is done well, traditional storytelling married to social media is very powerful: It takes those people who want to go beyond a behind-the-scenes DVD extra into the story. While we watch to see if integrated social media entertainment will really take off, there are still some issues to consider, such as, is it invasive for characters from shows to enter an individual’s social networks? and Can a TV blockbuster become too personal?

That said, for now, I’m off to watch an episode of House, where I’m the patient!

Feb 282011

Mid 2010 draft catch-up post – What will it mean when we all use a handful or even just one device to consume ‘all’ our media? Will we also use it to share ‘all’ our content, pushing it to large, dumb screens around us? When we talk about transmedia we often mean, telling a complex story across many platforms used by many users, objects and screens, perhaps partly in a book, on a TV show, inside Facebook on the PC, in a console game or at the cinema  – but what will happen if all our personal media is consumed only on one screen? A world where TV is not about home screens, where Facebook is not about desk or laptop PCs and the most used games are not on chunky, dedicated consoles?

This is article is not a resurrection of the dreaded, old school (circa late 90s) convergence debate but something much more akin to the Trojan Horse saga. We are palpably moving into a space where a certain medium size screen, portable device, connected, personal & social is slowly permeating our world. As powerful and practical as all the other gadgets & screens we have gotten used to the 7-10″ tablet is has hit a sweet spot. Already the fastest selling device of all time, the iPad has caused a storm, the dam holding the waters back has leaks and other similar devices are starting to trickle out, but the dam is about to burst and we will be flooded in the next year as these tactile hybrids of smartphones and laptops seep into our daily lives – once again 🙂

Painting Original: The Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael. Public Domain

But will we converge towards this swiss army media device? Does it fulfil all our video, game, communication, work & social needs?  More specifically, just as we are starting to master the ‘Art of transmedia Storytelling’ are we now looking at a mono device future? Will the art of transmedia storytelling turn into telling our stories across services and channels on a ‘single’ device rather than across multiple devices and platforms?


Almost half a decade ago I did a post called Media Journeys Part 2 that explored a simple evolution of media technology from cinema at the start of the last century through to the portable revolution of the mid noughties. That post implied a device that would be a screen, with a quality good enough to view films on, portable, tactile, connected, communicative and powerful enough to play networked & graphically rich games on. This post completes that train of thought and asks a key question – are online tablets the end point of a 100 years of platform evolution and more significantly can we actually expect to see a decline in the number of ‘discrete’ platforms available to transmedia producers?

The Evolution Timeframe

Firstly the timeframe. As explained in my earlier post the most useful timeframe for this ‘postulation’ is the last 110 years – from the dawn of mass media communication and non text based story-telling (film). There has been a compression of the evolution in the last twenty years, so the curved template below reflects that year-wise. The reason the chart is curved is to allow my five key trends to converge visually.

Convergence Media Tablets

Evolution of the Human Interface

Convergence Media Tablets

One thing I didn’t cover in the post from five years ago was the evolution of interface which reflects how the technology has become sufficiently powerful enough for us to need to do less ‘unnatural fiddling’ at the ‘control’ end and use our bodies more naturally – less of a slave to qwerty or cross, square, circle, triangle (PS reference!)…a continuum (each number corresponds with the icon sequence, left to right, on the chart)

  1. The remote or keyboard – Alongside the TV in the 1950s the button based infrared remote control was born and a decade plus later early QWERTY keyboards were used (using strange alien languages) to communicate with computers. The remote is still with us today but as we know a revolution is about to take place there.
  2. The mouse – The PC’s popularity spread quickly when the Mac was born in the early 1980s and the computer mouse became the norm for how we interact with complex lean forward screens vs rather clunky text entry using QWERTY keyboards.
  3. The controller – When game consoles entered the living room in the mid 80s more complex controllers were required
  4. Voice – although still not universal, voice controlled PCs became usable for dictation and basic control in the late 90s
  5. Touch – Touchscreens were suddenly on every device from 2005 onwards and today any portable device that is not touch feels very antiquated
  6. Body – at the end of 2010 XBox Kinect led the way for popular use of the whole body to interact with games, of course Sony and others had launched similar interfaces many years earlier, but the 3D sensing of kinect raised the bar significantly
  7. Mind – (future only) having played with controllers such as Emotiv we can certainly look to a time where using parts of our body will seem so old fashioned, but that is another evolution diagram

Items 4 to 7 are of course sensory, based on natural human movement & communication.

So we need a device that responds to my touch, I can wave it around so it gets a good sense of the GPS environment it is in, as well as controlling games or measuring my physicality and without a mouse or remote in sight.

Evolution of Film and TV Viewing Screens

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