Collaborative review, rating and assessment: Interactive Television 2.0
Meanwhile, Stateside Henry Jenkins tells us about Digital Nation, a PBS programme which filmed him and other luminaries as "an extra" to the main television programme.
Digital Garnish vs Digital Beef
There's a difference, though, between the PBS "Digital Garnish" and the BBC "Digital Beef". Aleks points out that core to this difference is recognising that her product (a TV series) had at least two audiences:
From the start of the process in early 2009, The Virtual Revolution’s production team envisaged two audiences: the first would be an online community who would help to develop the themes we would explore, clarify hard-to-grasp technological concepts, tell us when we were heading in the right or wrong directions, and really put their stamp on the finished programmes. In the tradition of the new breed of wikinovels, wikiarticles and wikifilms, this would be an open and collaborative project within a larger old media landscape that hoped to engage an increasingly disjointed and distracted audience in a new media way. In return, they’d have access to our rushes that they could use to spin their own documentaries about the web.
As someone who has spent my professional life flirting with old and new media, the openness and collaboration was one of the biggest draws when I was approached by the series producer last March. From my point of view, it would be a gross oversight to create something on this subject without the input of the online peanut gallery.
The second audience would be the BBC2 viewing public. They needed grabby content “on rails”, as game developers describe it, evoking images of a journey viewed through a window. This was the paydirt audience: watching the show that would get the reviews and the ratings. The complex concepts that we worked through with the online community would be presented in an easier-to-consume, more streamlined way. And, despite my interactive bias, it turned out that this was where the art of storytelling really emerged.
Normally, in the world of digital product marketing, focus is where it's at: find what you want to do first, execute it better than anyone else and then move on to take over other land. Amazon did books for sale at a cheaper price first, then personalised book recommendation followed by book recommendation for gifts to others and wishlists. Big Brother does, well, Big Brother.
What Aleks and her team produced is an emerging realisation that it's never as clear cut online as it might be in the world of "product marketing", where you're shifting a finished good to a client or customer. The process is where the innovation is most likely to happen, the final product (for the masses) is where the mainstream element comes in. However, the mainstream element that Aleks and her team produced was different, different because it was most definitely informed by the audience's reactions on the blog and, beautifully, by their own mashups of the filmed content the BBC gave away.
The task of creating a trailer for the programme led to many creative attempts being YouTubed: one of the cleverest is this device-switching-convergence-laden piece of art:
The video at the top of this post is amongst the most amusing, exploring the whitespace and cutaways that always end up on the virtual cutting room floor..
With Aleks it happened by accident, creating two separate projects: it wasn't an process without some turbulence:
"I was uploading a photo I had taken on the shoot to my Flickr site, or dispatching another update to my Twitter followers, when the director of photography asked: “Why?”
"For him and the rest of the crew, I was doing a lot of extra work that was distracting from the real reason we were there: to create a piece of non-interactive storytelling that would broadcast to a mainstream audience in a primetime slot."
In the future, this co-production approach should happen by design. The interactive early adopters will realise the beauty in linear storytelling, and those in the storytelling business will realise the power of editing with your audience:
Now imagine that for a breed of digital product with the potential to be mainstream but with the admission that there is a second, vital audience: the enthusiastic amateur that wants to rehash, remix, recut the original and make something not necessarily better, but certainly different. Take this further: the product your first audience produces is not merely a "nice to have", but core to how you cut your final product. The user-generated editing and user-generated content is but part of your wider editorial, production and developer team, all making a better product together.
Whether you're in the business of making television, designing digital products or designing curricula for the creatives of tomorrow, this co-production approach by design, not accident, should underpin the work we plan, because the results are not just more of a learning experience for the creators of content, but for the audience, too. Learning together, pushing and pulling on the content through digital platforms, ultimately makes for a better end-product that is reviewed, rated and assessed.