Sunday, December 11, 2005

Thinking about collaborative media

Part of the purpose of this blog is to allow me to do a little online brainstorming about the concepts that will make the kind of content that Jeff and I want to produce with brightRED fundamentally different than current programming.

One of the things I've been thinking about is collective media - the idea of applying the enormous success of "long tail" style marketing strategies (brilliantly described in this article) to the structure of entertainment. I think the idea of programming formed exclusively from collective, user generated or manipulated content is flawed (just like the mp3.com example in the article), but the integration of some form of collective filmmaking is a key to exploiting the potential of this new media, and engaging viewership that is much more used to creating their own content than my generation or those previous.

A few ways this can possibly be implemented:

1. Interaction with the subjects/characters. This can happen in a variety of ways: the subjects and or characters can have a blog that can give the audience a different insight into the blogger. The character can have a blog and or the actor playing the character can have a blog. The subject of a reality show might have a blog during filming, which is released as each corresponding episode is played. The same subject might have an additional blog, commenting as the finished show is aired, in real time. Viewers can interact by posting comments, etc.

More intense interaction can come from scheduled online chats - maybe once a week, or just a one time thing. Again with a character or with an actor, or with a subject (for reality shows). If a discussion gets heated or interesting, maybe we pull that viewer and continue the conversation on a video chat, which can be intergrated into the next weeks show, or a future show.

2. Content interaction. The viewers can influence the content of the show, through voting, submissions, etc. This can be taken a step furthur through a model like the show Help My Patients where a fictional psychiatrist video tapes his patients' sessions, then viewers comment on how best to treat the patients, and their suggestions are implemented the next time that patient has a session. In this example, audience participation is integrated into the content of the show. One or more characters know that the audience is there, but for the rest - the fourth wall is still up.

3. Structural interaction. Where the viewer is part of the content creation process. Here's where the concept is less formed in my mind, but also where the greatest potential lies. I started this post by insisting that using exclusively user generated content was a recipe for failure, but there is certainly room to use user generated or user manipulated content as a suplement to produced content. You could allow users to manipulate shows, add their own stuff to them, and post them (letting typical rating and tagging methods sort these posts). You could create a section of the show that integrates user contributed work. You could integrate users into the filming - a reality show, for example, where you stage live events, get users to come to the events with their cameras - have the characters or reality subjects interact with them, then use the produced content together with the user generated content together in the episode. In the rawest sense, you could set up a cast of characters and a situation, have a library of clips for the episode, let the users create the episode (they can even add their own material, but they have to add the clips to the library as well) then use ratings and voting, or editorial control by the producers) to determine which of the versions becomes the episode. Lots more potential here, this has to evolve, but hopefully you get where I'm going.

I don't think that collective media is the only unique element to interactive programming, but it is certainly a critical one, with a lot of untapped potential.

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