We do a lot of work with broadcasters and independent (television) production companies, and one theme that’s been running through a lot of the conversations I’ve been having in the broadcast/television/film industry is about the perceived threat of the internet. It’s very, very easy for companies that are focussed on producing high quality linear video content to look at sites like YouTube and be genuinely panicked and not know how to deal with a brand new medium. I worry, though, that the wrong lessons are being learned and the wrong threat is being dealt with in a disproportionate way.
Without a doubt, online video is incredibly popular – whether it’s YouTube, BitTorrent, iPlayer, NetFlix on the XBOX 360 or 4OD. But, and this the crux of my entire post: the internet isn’t just television. When we talk about creating 360 content, or multi-platform content or an ARG or whatever you want to call it that sits alongside a television show, or a broadcaster commission, online video is only one part of what can, or should, be delivered online.
We work incredibly hard at Six to Start to reassure the partners we work with that, on one level: “Hello, we’re from the internet, and we’re here to help” and that when we’re talking about online/digital, we’re talking about a communications medium or platform whose potential we’re only just beginning to uncover. We want to tell fantastic stories, help people undergo amazing experiences that they’ll keep with them forever.
From our point of view – sitting in our office and thinking about entertainment and media in a genuinely platform agnostic way – we can do anything we want to online. Linear video is only a tiny, tiny part of that potential. Because of that, the thinking that “the internet bit for a television programme” is a programme support site where you can view 3 minute clips of video and read about characters not only isn’t good enough, it’s a failure to understand what the medium is capable of, as well as, we feel, shooting yourself in the foot.
Viewing 3 minute clips of video is all well and good, but it’s only going to get you so far. The internet isn’t a broadcast medium even though it can be used as one – it’s at its best when fostering two-way communication – conversations – amongst small groups of people or massive groups of people. To reduce all of this to being able to watch a clip highlight of a television programme you’ve already watched, or are yet to watch, strikes me as a terrible waste of potential.
The absolute minimum – and I can’t stress this enough – that broadcasters should be doing is producing a programme support site which includes backstory and character information and video, but to not have any interactivity and to not make the production playful means the producers and broadcasters are missing out on a whole amount of attention: both in terms of eyeballs but also in terms of time spent.
We’re producing games at the moment that have no video content, but are ranging consistently from 12 minutes per session, and one in particular is running at an average engagement time of 30 minutes per day for every single player. Attach that to linear video which, if you’re lucky, engages someone for 22 to 45 minutes in one go, and I can’t see why broadcasters aren’t being smarter about how they engage with their audiences online.
The internet isn’t television. It’s not passive, and putting video online is about as passive as you can get. It’s a dynamic, interactive, potentially updating every-single-second medium. It’s absolutely not a static piece of broadcast media.