Death Valley © Gary HayesA question for one of the thousands of readers out there – well OK perhaps that will come later, but for now you there, that solitary stumbler. Hello, don’t you have something bett… – personal routes through tv or film content? Does it make any sense, is it a game or a new medium, or already a failed format?

Most producers in the factual or drama domain will admit that they construct all their programmes in a modular way. The script is developed on the back of a series of events or story threads. This series of events (or perspectives on those events by witnesses) will often be ordered so their juxtaposition drives the story forward – the telling of the story is compelling to prospective viewers. Each story will have the ‘set-up’ followed by a series of arguments or events finishing in a summary or conclusion.
The story being told therefore is a personal construct made by the writer, director, editor or producer. It is designed to engage the viewer and keep them involved with enough ‘action’ or thought provoking elements at every step.

Viewers watching habits are changing though. They want more control, they need information quickly, want to follow their own routes through the story and understand by doing and choosing what is around the next corner. DVD usage has suggested that a major buying decision is made on the amount of extras (background footage, commentary or featurette) it carries alongside the main programme. Viewers want more background and are therefore becoming less accepting of one persons story through a series of events. Of course we will always want the option to listen to the ‘producers’ story in a linear fashion but the content providers that will survive in the future are the ones who will give optional journeys to inquiring viewers.

Continuity and mediation
One of the real problem areas with segmented VOD is the simple fact that as you effectively the director/editor you control the story. If there is no continuity or glue to help sustain your journey – this story becomes a series of clips that do not flow easily from one to the other. Wherever possible the original presenter or other relevant talent should I believe, be used to guide viewers through the programme – this can be in audio or in-vision.

Global mediation or programme-by-programme mediation
Considering the fact that many TV series will be always delivered as packages to foreign broadband TV aggregators there could and should be a global presence across the whole series – a voice/face/body that guides and glues. This would work if the non-linear programmes were of a similar style, structure and challenge and viewers quickly understood the interactive metaphors for all contained within – a mediator here would then act as:

– An agent for some form of personalising (see below)
– A guide to push the viewer to interesting programming
– A ‘stylised’ personality for the programme’s theme – a manifestation for the activated audience

There are a multitude of ways to build a non-linear video experience and the permutations increase many fold when we add in the capabilities to go online or transact at any junction. Non-linear structures become inextricably linked to the type of programme in this space.

Do the many failed trials in this space suggest even though Broadband TV (and IPTV) provide a much easier route to audience, we a flogging a dead horse? Your thoughts – if you have time.

Posted by: © Gary Hayes 2005