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Oct 032005

Turn off the TV, get off the phone and pay attention! Been doing some recent audience research and feel the need to opine. I talked about this in previous posts but not looked in great detail at some of the interactive, cross-media implications of this very current evolutionary trait. Our (newly developed?) ability to take part in simultaneous activities, parallel process or to simply multitask. It has not appeared out of the blue and I will refer below to one project I produced for two-way interactive TV, way back when. It identified a much sidelined but critical part of all service creation today – so read on. But before I go there let’s get up to date – those 25-34 year olds are at it again, this time they lead the multitasker field.

In July BIGresearch published a survey entitled “Simultaneous Media” to help producers of media and especially advertisers understand this new’ish trend. There is a feeling by many (me included) that this is less to do with a kind of ‘awakening of consciousness’, bigger brains or faster responsiveness but more to do with just tackling too much choice – and peer pressure (needing to know about more – albeit superficially).

“The complexities of everyday life seem to be increasing, and as a result consumers are multitasking as a way of coping.” Joe Pilotta, VP BIGresearch

The survey statistics speak for themselves. Of those studied this is the percentage of users (based on the media type) who do at least one more other thing while using:
Online 69.3%
Radio 69.0%
TV 68.1%
Newspaper/Magazine 40.2%

We are looking at more than two thirds of the audience who are forced perhaps by necessity to parallel process or constantly switch modes. Here lies the rub – are we talking about true parallel processing or just having all channels active and constantly switching between them?. Much research suggests the human brain does not naturally parallel process, but it is incredible at super fast focus switching. Mr. Pilotta agrees

“It’s apparent that multitasking and simultaneous media consumption creates competition for the same time and space. Media may be relegated to the background when consumers multitask e.g. talking on the phone. When they simultaneously consume media, one of the media can morph into the background and back to the foreground intermittently.” said Pilotta

Back to a service I created for BBC interactive TV. Top of the Pops pilot for Digital Interactive Television. I naturally did quite a bit of digging around into the audience demographics and habits for TOTP and found something even in 1999 that resonates even stronger today – young audiences are using TV as ambient filler media while they do immersive, more communicative things (nothing new there – but it was back then!). A slightly more up to date report from 2003 “How Children Use Media Technology – PDF” states now that the 75% of the 8-17 bracket (my TOTP audience) multitask while watching TV. (Incredibly the same report also said that 43% have visited a web site based on a TV ad or promo in the past week – are you listening advertisers?).

Back to TOTP I attempted and succeeded with my service to start the process of meeting the MT’s head-on. If there are large swarms of the population watching TV while browsing the PC in the bedroom, playing with their laptop on the sofa or talking on the mobile between rooms – why not try to bring some of those desired activities onto one screen? If the tech will allow it why not? So…this particular service, some screenshots below, tested extremely well. Young audiences that were able to simultaneous watch four channels of TV at once and answer questions on what they had seen accurately – really got the principle behind this pilot service.


  • TOTP

    It had everything available on one screen, with one pipe (broadcast in, broadband out) meeting many of the demands of the multi-taskers. So this was more to do with cross-media on one platform – the key difference? Multiple modes of operation. So along with the main studio show on the SINGLE SCREEN we had, wait for it:

    live chat, competitions for prizes, an online store, five fun simple, related games, synchronized lyrics, email discussions, chart rundowns, gossip, backstage revelations, tour dates, vote for favourite acts, letters and so on. This was combined with this at least two alternate synchronized streams running parallel to the programme.

    I designed it so that many of the elements desired by user/s was available. It was possible for a fan for example, to watch just the keyboard player stream, while reading a live chat about him AND taking part in a quiz about his band – all on the same screen, at the same time. Or a more favourite mode was watching (OK ambiently watching) the promo video, streaming some text ‘goss about the show’ and voting for your favourite artist. This is not traditional iTV as it mostly became in the UK (a couple of modes of pre-rendered video or text streams) as you can in effect customize or personalize the viewing format and layout for you – or in edu speak “a user controlled construct”.


  • TOTP

    The very interesting aspect was that in testing it fulfilled two needs. A multi-user need, families would share the screen, the kids would play the game while the parents carried on watching the acts. It also met the demand of the multi-tasker who would go into a three or four way mode – it was easy to set up a chat watch, play a competition and listen/watch the current band for example. We don’t see many of these type of ‘multi-modal’ services yet, probably because they are a nightmare to produce (I know from real experience!) – and one often resorts to doing a single mode, compromised service due to production constraints. Things are changing though and viewers are developing their own single screen composites. Even I watched Live8 recently while doing emails, skyping, typing an article, browsing other parts of the web, playing along with the Floyd (I have a little midi keyboard, yes!) and buying something off eBay – ALL on the same screen – even better when we have clearly defined areas on big screens or 3D layers on small mobile screens. Cross-media therefore can mean hundreds of media-types, available in one place – unless the medium really ‘is’ the message?

    Looking at the above it suggests a nod towards that often mis-used term ‘convergence’ – many channels of activity onto a multi-modal device, probably a big one at home and also a take anywhere version (keep saying that!). We are now in a world where viewers very quickly recognise that a service is one-dimensional and then fill the void in their physical world with additional dimensions (TV + mobile + web + games + im etc). Producers need to produce services targeted directly at this new, ‘hungry’ for media-bits, audience on single platforms (what the whole Interactive TV vision was about – well mine at least ;).

    We are moving towards ubiquitous broadband now. Compelling media types spread across platforms may be the start of the journey – perhaps even transitory because that is the environment of change? What lies at the end may be even more compelling cross-media, multi-modal services now technology is catching up. On converged devices, great ideas reinforced by personalized, synchronized, interrelated media choice…let’s hope technical standards, politics and sheer creativity give it another chance.

    Screenshots – Design Jo Hooper, Produced/Conceived Gary Hayes ©BBC

    Just in: A pricey ($1500 US) report just out today from the Center For Media Design looking at The Media Day also reinforce all the above, but note that younger people are not the heaviest web users – in fact it is women 18-39 and 40+ !!:

    These findings and many more reveal the complex and multi-layered media ecosystem within which we live. Whether at home, at work, in the car or elsewhere, media are almost always with us–often in many forms at the same time.

    While many of the long-held assumptions about media–such as the centrality of TV–are reinforced, others–such as the belief that younger people are the heaviest users of the web–are called into question.

    The Middletown Media Studies: The Media Day–as the largest media observation study of its kind–catalogues our daily interactions with media in more detail than ever before.

    Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005

    Oct 022005

    Mesquite Dunes ©Gary Hayes 2005The level of interest in personalization combined with rich media is really bubbling up. It is nice to think one is riding a on the crest of a wave – and not in a ‘race towards an early grave’ (prizes for the band and the song;-). Recently Dan Rosensweig introduced the concept of the Four Pillars of the future reported in MediaPost. If you know who Dan is then you have some context and it seems that there is a great deal of correlation going on at the moment with the larger ‘channels’ of the future. This was from a talk on Tuesday at the Museum of Radio and Television (who are they kidding – still I can see a Museum of the pre-Internet 2.0 not far away!). Anyway here are the said ‘pillars’ in my recommended and preferred order:

    Personalization: Features like “My Yahoo!,” which Rosensweig says 60 million people use globally, and “My Media,” are about what he calls “discoverability.” Personalization and customization features are what will ultimately help marketers build relevant and engaging messages. “We will know more about consumers, not less,” through these types of features, Rosensweig says. In addition, automatic synchronization, which is the synchronizing of all devices across multiple platforms, will enable the steamlining of all information, including consumers’ dislikes and likes.

    Content: Tools and resources for enabling consumers and businesses to find, create, use, watch, listen to, buy, enhance, manipulate, and share content. Basically, this is Yahoo!’s way of saying, “We want to help you do something with content — anything you want.”

    Community: Functions and features to help people connect with one another via groups, instant messaging, and more. There are currently 100 million Yahoo! IM users, by the way. The feature “My Web” reveals what fellow community members read and enjoy. The community, in essence, becomes a filter for preferences, and helps us navigate our way through what Peter Weedfald, Samsung’s head of marketing, calls the “ADD [attention deficit disorder] economy.”

    Search: Tools for finding, organizing, displaying, and publishing relevant content, information, and images. These include mobile, video, desktop, TV search functions and more.

    They all resonate strongly with my posts of the past two weeks especially the themes of synchronized personalization across platforms, tools for rich media tagging and of course collaborative filtering.

    “In addition, automatic synchronization, which is the synchronizing of all devices across multiple platforms, will enable the steamlining of all information, including consumers’ dislikes and likes. ”

    One of those “but-I-was-just-talking-about-that-moments” see my “be what I expect you to be” from a couple of days ago. Personalized cross-platform. There must be ‘something in the air’ (name the year and artist). The journey is of course also about new content or media types which is an area I am currently exploring from ground-up, again in a series of blogs over the next few weeks. Trying to look at it from a back-to-basics (after conversations with those who are just getting it). Another cycle for me – “Round like a circle in a spiral like a wheel within a wheel. Never ending…” But that’s another song.

    PS: Well I still have you. Do I? Dan talked also about the fact that the world has a population of 6.5 billion while only 1 billion can access the internet. Not exactly ubiquitous or fair – is that about to change? A little at least. For those who have not caught up with NASA and Googles plans for the developing world – link here.

    Posted by Gary Hayes©2005

    Sep 282005

    Harley Santa Barbara ©Gary Hayes 2005A post without the obligatory “I-just-read-this-and-heres-the-link”. Just me having a very mild rant – no links, just words. Content over technology, perhaps.

    There is no doubt the media world is in serious transition now. Not the sort of slow transition we have seen since the early 90s as the global network gradually infiltrated our everyday lives but far more profound and ground shifting. A level where the essence of human personality (as blogs become vlogs) and the highest quality media (as real media becomes HD) are beginning to dominate that same network. A shift where the old business models are truly starting to see cracks in their foundations.

    As with any transition where the new replaces the old there is a tendency to focus on the enablers too much. Like the first travellers by steam train, there was more interest by the watchers in the turbines, the coach decoration and the sheer power of the machine rather than the destination itself – the reason the thing existed for in the first place to get bodies from a to b. It took a long time before trains became commonplace and now of course we see them mostly as functional and providing a basic service, while we concentrate on the ‘life of travel’ they enable. The same was true of the car, plane, phone, early TV and so on. So here we are ‘blinded-by-the-next-light’ as we turn this corner towards ubiquitous, broader, bandwidth.

    So it is no surprise that we have commentators the world over, in their train-spotting garb with laptops at the ready, ooh’ing and aar’ing over the new toys on the shelf. These new toys being bit torrent, VoIP, IPTV, PVR’s, PSP’s, 3G mobiles, Xbox360s, MP3 players and so on, and so on. Basically shiny new gadgets that enable new ways to distribute content – but why, oh why, can’t we cut straight to the chase – the content itself. Bit torrent is great, sure. But like the invention of any technology that allows us to self publish and share – cave wall painting, paper, books, the telephone, cassette, CD, VHS, DVD the medium is most definitely not the message. The other technical enablers VoIP or IPTV are just more variations in an already established protocol to move audio or video around more efficiently. When we got over the remarkable texture of mass produced manuscript paper we were able to appreciate Shakespeare’s sonnets. When we lost our fascination in the those amazing moving projected pictures we were able to consider what Citizen Kane really meant. When we stopped gasping at the feat of moving 10 million polygons per second, we just played Halo. Let’s hope when the hype of hyper-distribution dies down we will get on with really creatively exploiting the opportunities.

    Then there are the client devices the PSP, PVR, Media Center to XBox360 and so on. All basic computers in new ‘emperors’ clothes – each new device with a faster processor, bigger hard drive and more receivers for broadband/cast content, part of the transition to who knows where. In any case we all know these are PC constructs. Perhaps we have two clear devices in the future – a home ‘everything’ and a mobile ‘everything’ – sometimes one wishes we could get to that final design quicker. Much the way the car settled into a common format after 40 years or so, we can imagine a converged home server device that connects to any content source and has the horse-power to play photo-realistic games – but here we go again, even I’m talking about the next shiny train coming along the tracks!

    We are moving swiftly towards democratisation of media distribution, a long tail of user generated, self-published content, some good, most average but hopefully full of invention, new forms and deeply personalized. Content that surprises with its originality, content that breaks as many moulds as there are left. As we turn this particular corner, lets hope the transition is swift and that we can again focus quickly on creating compelling new media types, fresh services and the a new generation of interactivity. Never mind the bandwidth feel the content.

    Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005