Commissioning for audiences not platforms

I got a late call on Monday inviting me to the roll out of Channel 4 Education’s new line-up. Hats off to Steve Moore for mentioning me and getting me invited. Steve thought I should be there because Channel 4 was shifting its educational focus from TV to other interactive platforms including social networks, online games and consoles.

The Media Guardian’s Jemima Kiss has the full write up (Yes, the Guardian is my day job):

Channel 4 has unveiled a slate of “high risk and experimental” projects based around social networking sites that it says will tackle the crisis of motivation in education.

The new commissions for 2008 – announced today – are part of the £6m educational budget for 14- to 19-year-olds which involves Channel 4 dropping much of its TV programming in favour of online projects.

What impressed me were a few things that Matt Locke and Alice Taylor – both ex-BBC and now Channel 4 Education – said about the process. Matt said that when they were thinking about the projects, they focused on five characteristics:

  • About being playful. That’s not about being trivial, but about participation. Matt says that this teen audience does things without permission such as creating blogs, podcasts or their own music. They do this without training. “This is about playful exploration.”
  • A social element. Teens go through a lot of change 14-19. They are trying out different selves and normally getting feedback from other teens, their parents and teachers. But now there are so many ways for teens to experiment with themselves and get feedback from a much broader context. Many projects will have social network component, but not just because social networks are the new media fascination de jour, Matt said. Social networks will provide teens with this broader context for social feedback.
  • Exploration. BBC tells you what you need to know. Channel 4 helps you ask the right questions.
  • The projects are built around tools and spaces that teens use – Bebo, MySpace, Flickr or YouTube – instead of creating our own tools
  • They had to be fun.

But the big thing that Matt said was about cross-platform commissioning:

Cross platform commissioning is not about asking: Is it tele or is it web? But where is the audience? We have to commission for our audience wherever they are.

That’s huge. That’s platform-busting, open thinking. That’s the kind of thing that explodes content silos and realises the real revolution in digital content. It gets us past the newspaper versus TV, internet versus newspapers, this versus world of false platform choices. I also think that Matt’s formulation of focussing on the audience translates well to content makers who might otherwise be sceptical of cross-platform commissioning.

Alice did some ground-breaking research for the BBC, and I could tell both from Matt and Alice that they were excited at being able to put their ideas into practice. The Channel 4 Education projects will involve alternate reality games and Alice is keen to consider not only the internet but also consoles and handhelds.

If you’re a journalist and you think that games aren’t something to consider, look at World Without Oil. It was a “collaborative alternate reality simulating an oil shock”. ARGs can be like strategic games used by business, government and the military. They get people to consider scenarios and outcomes.

One of Channel 4’s game will be called Ministry, an online, networked ARG that challenges teens to think about online privacy and identity and how they apply to their lives. How do you develop trust with people you can’t see? Do you think about the information that you are posting online when it “remains persistent and public”? Those are issues that everyone, not just teens, should be thinking about.

They are also considering widgets not as signs of consumption but as a nuanced form of self-expression. Matt, Alice and the rest of the Channel 4 Education team have set themselves and ambitious agenda, and from the questioning, they face some scepticism from traditional educational circles. But they are moving into new areas, and they don’t have established models to use. Not everything will be a raging success, but they have a three to four year plan that will incorporate feedback from the projects and teens uptake and participation.

I also think Janey Walker, Channel 4’s Head of Education, challenged (possibly inadvertently) the idea that to cope with the dizzying array of choice that people have when it comes to information and entertainment that quality is the only solution. She said that Channel 4 Education had been making quality programmes but showing them when teens weren’t at home. TVs were being taken out of schools, and teachers were reluctant to push play on the VCR or DVD player to show a half hour programme. What happens if you make great, quality programming and no one is watching it?

As Matt says, it’s not about tele or the web, or 360 commissioning but about taking your content where the audience is. You can’t do what you’ve always done and hope or think that sooner or later people will consumer your content the way you want them to.

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TV is from Mars, the Internet is from Venus

After a day at Un-festival, attendees reported back to the main festival about the discussions and demonstrations. Suw moderated the panel.

Paul Cleghorn: Tape it off the Internet (TIOTI)

Chris Jackson: freelance broadcast tech and strategy consultant,

Rosie Brown: TV producer (didn’t quite catch all that Rosie does)

Hannu Rajaniemi, with ThinkTank Mathematics

Ian Forrester: BBC Backstage

Suw kicked off the discuss by asking Paul about Tape it off the Internet.

Paul Cleghorn: TIOTI uses a traditional EPG feed for core meta-data (from Tribune), but they cross reference this information with places where people can download these shows. They are looking to make this (information about the programmes) extendable by allowing users to edit it. People can add to the limited programme listings.

Suw: You are pulling in a lot of sources of data. This isn’t just licenced data.

Paul: We’re going into various commercial services and TV websites. We connect that up with general information about the TV show. We’re hoping that to structure that into an open data source.

Paul talked yesterday about creating their own micro-format for television data.

Chris Jackson: You can turn it on or you can choose actively to see a show. You had to do quite a lot of searching. Now we have many other opportunities. Who should own the data? The broadcasters? The broadcaster or the content creator should put this out. The BBC has put out some data. It would be good if there was something like a wikipedia.

Suw: What are the benefits to programme makers?

Chris Jackson: Television has always been open.It’s important to keep it open. That is the best chance for them to get an audience. Most broadcasters don’t allow you to use that information unless you pay them or their agents. There are tremendous beneifts about getting people to watch your show.

Suw: What about the social tools around TV scheduling?

Paul: When it comes to broadcasters mixing it up with the community, you have people doing fan sites. People want to do this. Broadcasters might not. But you see the power of communities around programmes.

(He gave the example of Lost.)

Hannu: There is a huge opportunity to create recommendation engines.

Chris: There are people who like the Amazon system of system. But there are also great systems to build to see what your friends are watching. It’s an easy way to watch what your friends are watching.

(Last year at IBC, I saw a mockup by a major set-top box maker that showed a proof of concept allowing people to navigate through related material being broadcast at that moment or in the near future, material recorded on the hard disc of the set top box and also see what their friends are watching. This is an idea that will be part of mainstream technology in the near future.)

Suw: I want to talk about Zattoo. They are rebroadcasting live broadcast streams online. They are broadcasting live streams over the internet. It’s more interesting for what they can’t do than what they do. We are seeing a chilling effect by the licencing machine. Rosie, do you agree?

Rosie:We all know that there are a lot of people out there who are breaking the rules.

Ian: The quesitons to Zattoo were very telling. Can you time shift? No. Well, there are a lot of services that allow you to time shift.

Chris: There are quite a few contradictions with licencing. With a little playing, you could archive all of primetime video broadcast for a month on less than a $1000 worth of hard drive. With the iPlayer, you are limited. When you record over the air, you have a lot fewer restrictions than if you use the broadcasters’ download player.

Suw: You can see it as a threat or an opportunity. How do we communicate from the technology community to the broadcasting community that this is not a threat but an opportunity.

Ian: That’s why we’re sitting here. I would like to sit down for an hour with broadcasters.Her’s the legal way, here’s the illegal way. But how do you communicate the opportunity without talking to people?

Rosie: The broadcast community is a creative opportunities. They are probably not interested in the technology. But there are stories that can be told in new ways that are so exciting. If you aren’t reaching out and grabbing with this both hands, then you are mad.

Suw: In the podcast, people talked about how immersive, but Zattoo said that people want to watch video while they are doing other things. It’s very easy to get caught up that there is one way that people watch TV. There is a broader perspective than that.

Chris: I think that games are in between TV and the computer. You don’t want to come home after a long day at work and play on computer.

Suw: This brings us to the alternate reality games of Licorice Film called Meigeist. There were blogs, videos on YouTube. They branched out from online into SMS. The characters would ring some of the players. There were events where players could meet actors in character.

Rosie: What fascinated me about that was that people didn’t need to get involved but they could. It was designed to work on the internet, video over the internet, and other platforms. It was designed to do all of those things. It was not TV taken onto the internet.

Hannu: We’re bringing new levels of location awareness into mobile games, experiences with lost bring lots of interactivity. It is not just TV repackaged into other forms. If TV does have a future, it about increasing levels of interaction.

They briefly discussed the nature of the shared experience of television and then quickly turned to the reduced costs of experimentation.

Rosie: We don’t have to wait for 6m pounds and see what happens in a year. We can do something by next year. You can take continual feedback. You don’t have to take big risks.

Ian: I recently talked to someone who spent 650,000 pounds 125,000 pounds on a trailer, and put it up on the internet and wondered why no one was watching. That was a huge risk to take. CORRECTION from Ian: It was 125,000 pounds 🙂 650,000 would just be stupid 🙂 (What do people normally pay for a TV or film trailer?)

Paul: For a long time TV was the most efficient way to deliver an audience to advertisers. Now, you can do it much more efficiently on the internet.

Chris: I think there needs to be a bit of a disclaimer. Great TV content still costs a lot.

Suw: We are used to think about thinking of an audience in terms of quantity, not in terms of quality.

(She talked about the blog Treonaut that focused on the Palm Treo attracted a lot of people interested in the smart phone, and Palm and third party companies developing software, peripherals and accessories for the Treo knew to advertise there to reach Treo users.)

Hannu: To bring the nature of mathematics and social networks, there are key nodes in the community. There are key hubs in any community that drive the whole community forward.

Ian: There is this trend of giving bloggers a product. People who write that blog are the centre of this huge community.

Suw: What was the one highlight?

Ian: Hard. TIOTI. Following TIOTI for a while. To see how far it comes, to see legal and illegal content in the same place is amazing.

Paul: It’s not illegal in some countries.

Paul: The highlight for me was Trusted Places and the amateur videos.

Chris: I was interested in the range of expertise.

Rosie: I was struck by the gulf between the broadcast industry and the technology people. I was hoping that events like it could bridge the chasm. I was excited about the level of engagement. People didn’t just sit there. I think that every project there got moved on. It was so fast and so exciting.

From audience: There are two parallel culture. The higher you up in TV organisations, fewer geeks. People who barely can do email. TV is a lot more competitive. Internet is a lot more collaborative. You’re going to have to go to them. It could lead to a new era of cyber-docs (documentaries) or cyber-dramas. There is an embarrassment about their lack of knowledge.

They are at the heart of 360 degree commissioning. There needs to be a convergence.

Ian: This is the very first time that we ever did this event. It is our first step. Our thoughts about next year.

Deborah Forrest with Studio Scotland: Looking around to see if any channel controllers are her. I hope not. I was Rights Lab in London recently. We had Bebo, Google and AOL, and the very last session, controllers. Didn’t have a Scooby(clue).

If we had a quarter million hits at sites at one time, the hosting, downloading versus streaming. Commercial aspect, we hate to bring it into this. But how do you pay for it? Streaming versus hosting. Some of programmes, some exposes, when exposed to larger audience, there would be a lot of reaction. What is the implication of a whole load of hits at one time?

Paul: This is a hard sell. But once something is broadcast, it is on the intenet. Maybe you should put it up there.

We are keen that people get paid. We’re not a bunch of pirates.

Audience: Once ship the bits. the physics of that work very nicely. Counterintuitive unless you live in that world.

Kojo, design director at ITN: The problems we are facing are culture. There is a technical culture you are coming from. TV coming from creative culture. You guys are trying to get the broadcasters attention. You communicate in a very technical way. It might be frightening. They are not technically minded. You were talking about business models. They are in business of making programmes and in the business of making money.

I have Two things say: 1) Next year, involve the broadcasters. 2) Add a production thing for this. It would be helpful to have demonstrations so that we can see what you are talking about.

Brian Butterworth, I take issue, saying geeks aren’t creative. We are really creative.

Rosie: That’s why we’re changing the world.

Paul Barossa, man in the audience: I run a music production company but have a background in psychology. The meaning of communication is the response you get. You have to look at another angle. You have to look at way that you are communicating the message.

Mike Butcher: I went to the TV Un-festival. Word that dare not speak its name: Facebook. Geeky and trivial but indicative of social networking going mainstream. When my mom asks me what it is about, I know that it is something different in ways that maybe blogging isn’t. Should broadcasters create their own networks or plug into networks?

Chris: Facebook takes things one step more. When you sign up apps, it tells you friends who have signed up before for that app.

The Gulf: Cultural, technical, political

That was about the end of the discussion. But Suw and I have witnessed the cultural chasm that both the Un-festival participants perceived as well as the festival participants at other conferences. We saw it at the Guardian Changing Media when it seemed that the executives were talking about media in a completely different way than we experienced it using a mix of traditional media and the internet. We saw it in how the media executives talked about brand in a way that was completely foreign, alien and alienating to us.

I don’t think that the gap can be put down to the differences in a technical culture versus a creative culture. I do think that there is something in the difference between the ‘sit back’ culture of television and the ‘sit forward’ culture of the internet.

In the end, I think one of the things that came out of the festival session was the lack of knowledge of the internet at senior levels of television companies, and more than that, I keep going back to something that Steve Yelvington said about newspaper companies that the people with the most internet experience have the least political capital in their organisations. Much of this is cultural, but it is also political both in terms of within the industry but also within the organisations. A friend of mine once said of the major broadcaster that he worked for: “There are managers who don’t want to create the future, they just want to control it.”

It took 30 years of circulation declines for US newspapers before those declines seriously threatened their business. It will take more pain before major broadcasters feel the need for change. As was said during the session, television has been the most efficient way to deliver eyeballs to advertisers, but now the internet is challenging that. It’s best for broadcasters to experiment now – especially with the cost of experimentation decreasing. It is far better to change while you have the resources to manage that change rather than delay and have change forced upon you.

TV Un-Festival: Sclipo

Gregory Gimi

Social network that allows people to share knowledge through video. 600 million people use the internet to find information and to learn. Learning on the internet is a very important one. Why Sclipo? Three phenomena:

– video became efficient, most of the learning you could do before was text based. So can see what you are being taught. Added quality of learning.
– web 2.0, user generated content. Not so much that people generated content, but that people looked at people generated by other people and find that attractive, e.g. Wikiepedia, YouTube. Without being recognised professionals. Adds efficiency to the process.
– social networking effect. very popular, and learning experiences depend on social networking.

Have different ways of browsing the video content, looking at videos that teach skills, through ‘Academies” which are channels, and skills channels which are companies demoing their products.

Everything from cooking to technology. Similarities with other websites, but we use more educational terminology. You can learn through two methods – looking at the video and then by webcam, so if I find someone who’s good at cooking and I have a specific question, the next level of learning is through a webcam, and this is what we call SclipoLive, so can request a class from that person.

[Demo of a live webcam teaching session.]

The webcast is automatically recorded, so can then be watched by other people afterwards.

Three models of academies: if you teach and make money then there’s a commission, if you don’t make money then add ads.

Q: Do you share the ad revenue with the person giving the class?

Not at the moment.

[Long discussion of how payment system could be built.]

Q. what licences, e.g. Creative Commons, can I use?

Publisher owns the content, the person putting the video up.

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TV Un-Festival: Jonathan Tweed – BBC iPlayer Facebook app

Hackday – put iPlayer on Facebook, wanted to show the iPlayer team what they should be doing. People are too busy to watch TV. Times this week reported that usage of social networking site exploding and that this is going to have an impact on TV viewing.

When people aren’t watching TV they are either going out or going onto social networks like Facebook. Answer to this is to put TV on Facebook because that’s where people are – put your content where people can’t miss it. Problem – if they are not watching TV, how do they know which shows to watch. They trust their friends more than anyone else, so have to add social features so people can recommend things. Everything else has social features, but iPlayer doesn’t. So added social features to iPlayer, shows what friends are watching, and what they think of them, also have current pics on iPlayer, and last night’s TV. Provides a click through to iPlayer to download/watch the TV, so can also search iPlayer.

Can also add reviews, which adds to Facebook, and to iPlayer. That’s as far as it’s been taken so far. At the moment you have to seek out what your friends are watching but want to add in a notifier to tell you what your friends are watching. Going to add recommendations. Want to find out what you think, what do we need to add to make it compelling?

Should we be doing this? Other companies are doing similar things? Should the BBC host a site where users are reviewing its programmes? What does it need? What would make it use it? What’s the future for Facebook applications? Is it a fad?, but need to be on the iPlayer beta at the moment. Once iPlayer comes out of beta it can be on the directory.

Q: Have you thought about widgets?

Yes, we are. But this isn’t an official project. Did this for Facebook because we can’t do it on MySpace or Bebo, but will put together widgets for other sites.

Q: Why do recommendations by brand?

We’re going to do it but programmes, or by genre, or whatever you want.

Q: What about the ability to become a critic?

That’s a good idea.

Q: Can you recommend stuff that’s not on iPlayer?

No, because it screen scrapes the iPlayer site. Quit hard to get access to the internal BBC data but because this is hosted externally we can’t. Value in the application. Need to get more stuff on there and use other ways of finding it. Is it reasonable for the BBC to do this?

Q: Is this programmes or just clips.

This is full programmes.

Q: Is it worldwide.

Application is available worldwide but iPlayer is UK-only.

[Lots of discussion about possible functionality which I’m not going to transcribe, because I’m getting tired now.]

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TV Un-Festival: Paul Cleghorn – Tape It Off The Internet

Designer by trade, made some screens of what he thought that a compilation of what TV was available on the web, and took a lot of user feedback and started a build from scratch, starting in March. Live with a new version launching in a week or two. Going to open up to beta users.

Core mission of Tape It Off The Internet (TIOTI) – like Wikipedia, start with licensed TV information, can add all sorts of things to it, video clips or photos or text description, fan fiction, production notes, etc. Indexing all stypes of TV. Started with BT because it was the only stuff out there, now also iTunes, Amazon, as well as Joost,, etc. Taking any format and gluing it all together.

Building a social network around it too, can invite fans, can recommend shows, use your peer groups as a basis for recommendation. Trying to get hte whole world of TV in one place. Still a bit hard for people to find what they are looking for, we are trying to smooth that process.

So look at a show, pull in licenced source, but let people add things, so there’s a photo gallery too, so if you saw these people at an awards show then you can draw in from Flickr. Build up user generated stuff around the show. If you find something related on YouTube, e.g. a spoof, or blooper reel or anything else, can add that too so that you build up a full resource.

Trying to connect it up with other services such as Facebook, using Facebook login and will pull in the ‘TV shows you like’ so you don’t have to repeat yourself.

Using tags such as country, and badges so that people can link through to, say, your Flickr page. Looking to open it up over the next couple of weeks. Has widgets.

Indexing stuff like Virgin so detect you have a Virgin IP and show you what they have available.

Being open as possible with user data so that people can take their stuff with them. Trying to cross-reference different sources to help the recommendation engine. Doesn’t seem to be a definitive TV microformat yet, so might make a new one or hijack one. And RSS feeding a lot of stuff, can get feeds for discussion, downloads, etc.

Q: Tivo patent could be an issue for season passes.

We’re not a recording service, we’re just showing information about TV, so we’re not doing season passes, because we’re just listing as many options as possible (unless that becomes unmanageable). But we’re not a recording service.

Q: Where do you licence the data.

From Tribune Services, mainly it’s EPG content, so weekly update with about 2 weeks of information. they have a 40 year archive which we’re using for our archives. Not doing a schedule-based aproach. Do want to skirt around the Gemstart grid patent. Better way to do it.

Q: What about the licensing of data that people put up?

We need to look at Creative Commons, atm, it’s standard terms and conditions, but not sure that’s the best way to do it. But that’s how our lawyers like it at the moment.

Q: You’re being respectful of other sites, but your competitors aren’t and are indexing more content. Is that a worry? E.g.

So we index them but we don’t index YouTube because there are two many cats. Not uch reason for us to spend a huge amount of time filtering big buckets of video when others are doing that. We want to be the metaindex at the top.

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TV Un-Festival: Ian Clarke

Degree in computer science and AI from Edinburgh, and designed a project to exchange info in countries where there is censorship. This became Freenet. Non-profit corp in USA, since 1999. 2 Million downloads of software. One of the things that happened with Freenet, even though it was designed as freedom of speech idea – was at same time as Napster – it was perceived as indestructible Napster as it was designed so that it couldn’t be shut down.

Has been thinking, how do you enforce copyright onlne, and the answer is that you can’t. Enforcement of c is about preventing people sharing information when they don’t have permission to. So if you can’t enforce copyright, what is the alternative?

Founded Revver in 2005, to help foster an environment of creativity online, want an ecosystem where creators can be paid for their work. Interested in online video, this was at the time when broadband was starting to make this possible, devised a way to attach unobtrusive ads to end of videos, release under CC no-derivs, attrib, licence, and share the revenue on a 50-50 basis with creators, or 40-20-20 if there was an affiliate, so produce financial incentive to share video.

A lot of the people you may have heard of use or have used Revver, e.g. LonelyGirl15 for about a year, ZeFrank. Almost every well known video blog has used Revver, except Rocketboom.

Whilst at Revver, got curious of how to figure out what people are interested in and show it to them. Not a new problem. Started to look at collaborative filters, basically a system which looks at your behaviour, perhaps what you buy on Amazon, and then recommends things to you that you might like. Amazon, NetFlicks. Problem is that they either work or scale – but they don’t do both. if they can recommend stuff well, they don’t scale, or they dumb down the recommendation so it can scale. Built a filter called Daedalus for Revver, and licensed it to Reddit.

Whilst working on this collaborative filter, noticed that collaborative filters need a lot of data before they can figure out what they are interested in. So Reddit needs people to use the website for several hours continuously. Real opportunity in online news space, with n otable exception of Reddit, no one was really doing personalised news, and those that were were using collaborative filters that are problematic, and the quality of user submitted news is extremely low. If you’re familiar by Digg, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

This was the genesis of Thoof. Alternative to collaborative filtering, figures out your interests more quickly, based on your behaviour, your browser, your approx. geographic location. There are generalisations you can make about mac vs PC users, or Firefox vs. IE, or based on geography. Built tech to recommend stuff to you, but if you see something on the website that can be improved, you can change it and fix it, although there is a voting step – you propose a change and if it survives the voting process it can be applied to the story. Raised a million dollars in seed foundation, launched in June, and traffic growing at 25% per week.

Using Freenet is like using a web browser, but slower – learnt that one of the key problems is that even when there is information available, that doesn’t mean that people will find it. It’s not just about accessing information that they know they want, but about finding information that will interest them once they know about it.

Go to URL in web browser, it’s easy to find out who’s hosting what. With Freenet, info is distributed through the network in a decentralised way, so unless an author chooses to reveal their ID, you have no way to know who they are. But threat model with Freenet at the time was that no one would know what people are doing with Freenet, but that’s not enough. What if you can be punished for just using the software, irrespective of what you are doing with it, e.g. China, so set about redesigning Freenet to use a darknet methodology, so that you could just connect to those people you know personally, so no one knows you are connected to Freenet, but through those people you become a part of a global network. Been working on this for two years, but working pretty well so far – lot of people don’t already have friends that are using Freenet so there is a way you can connect to strangers as opposed to friends if you choose to do that.

Q: Are there access points into Freenet, like SMS?

Not an SMS gateway to the best of my knowledge, are web gateways, but using a gateway is … you’re throwing away a lot of the benefit. To get the security, you have to be running Freenet on your computer. It’s not going to run on a typical mobile phone.

Q: You said it was friends of friends, if you try to keep cosiness amongst your contacts, how do you deal with infiltrators?

The only people who can cause problems for you are the people you have immediately connected to. So if your friend is stupid and connects to a government agent, that agent has no way to tell you are part of the network. Many Freenet users don’t care, because they live in the US or UK where they aren’t going to be jailed for this, and will connect to anyone. But we try to place it in the hands of the individual as to how much security they want. There’s a trade off between convenient and connected.

Q: What happens with people abuse the tool.

Any tool can be abused. But the freedom to communicate – if one person wants information and someone else wants to have it, that freedom is essential in a democracy. Our leaders are chosen by us, and in order to make effective decisions we need free information. So totalitarian countries spend a lot of money controlling their people’s ability to communicate. Any tool can be misused but the benefits outweigh the potential abused.

Q: How do people know who to trust?

When people are anonymous how do you know when to trust them? That’s a question that the internet in general gets, blogs etc. But at Freenet we address that problem with the concept of a Nym, an anonymous identity so anything you publish is signed by the nym, so you can link together discussions and content to the same person. Even an anonymous identity can build up trust. Similar to the WWW, a blogger can build up trust. This problem is not completely solved – what might be intersting to experiment with, and we may do it with Thoof in the future, and Thoof’s approach is to fix in a peer reviewed way which works well. What we’re likely to do in the future is to create a ‘web of trust’ so can build up trust based on performance. So if you propose a change and it’s rejected, that decreases your trust level, but if you propose a lot of changes and they all get voted through you’d get more trust. So maybe then stories you right are promoted more quickly, but the mechanisms within the site will get rid of it really quickly.

Q: Where are Thoof stories from?

You can submit anything that has an URL. YouTube, BBC article, anything. What goes on Thoof itself is a title, description and tags. Intention is that the title and description will be impartial and unbiased description of what’s being linked to, but the thing being linked to can be expressing an opinion. Can edit review, title, and even URL.

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TV Un-Festival: Hazel Grian, John Williams – Alternate Reality Games

Alternate reality games. History is it was a marketing tool.

Meigeist, partly funded by HP, corss-media narrative, takes place on- and offline. Puzzles for people to solve, and they have to get otgether to get hte next part of the story. Need diverse players. Games like ILoveBees are complex puzzles that need people with diverse interests to solve it. Get passionate online community to solve it.

Story is a scifi one, but set in as much reality as possible. Totally free – funding was from Film Council and HP and other bodies. Eight week run. Main characters had own blogs, Eva McGill, main character was a student who finds herself mixed up in this extraordinary world. Video blogs, backdated to give it history. People could email Eva and she would email back. Level of interactivity was really high, lots of personal contact which people really liked. Answered messages, comments, sent things in the post, had an eBay auction of a toy that had a clue. Had as many platforms as possible, Live chats, set a task, mission is to help the main characters through her problems where she’s starting to have strange psychic happenings in her head. Players made films, and were rung up on the phone, asked to perform tasks, also received SMS messages although US people had a problem with that. Main thing was to keep up the level of interactivity – we could do that because we were doing it full time, role playing, and doing improvisation.

Had a live event in Bristol, had the actors hired for the day, did a mock symposium, had little adventures with the characters in town, so the players got to meet them in person.

Also had a sense of humour, so did characters who were investigating paranormal activities, based in Radstock, but their function was to be like the players to that they could drop hints, a bit like the Greek chorus, emphasising the key points. Developed another game using them.

Most impressie things is the communities that get involved, people from all round the world play. It’s not just 15 year old boys – 50/50 split m/f, age 14 – 47, all getting involved and sending emails. Different levels of interaction, so had lots of different ways to interact depending on people’s own comfort zone. 30,000 unique IPs logged. Want to look into demographic more in future, because it was using platforms everyone uses every day, you didn’t have to buy a different bit of kit or learn new skills. One of the key players was a woman called Sylvia from Ohio. Had a few thousand that gave contact details and about 50 people who got really involved. Quality not quantity.

Cost of project was £30k, for ten month project with two people.

People worked together through a forum. That was set up so that people could collaborate there and that was the hub of how they could communicate. Work people do is amazing. is a good place to start.

Q: What has the most successful ARG?

Well, lots are for marketing, so ILoveBees for Halo, but how do you class its success? Difficult to say how successful it was because it’s hard to say what the aim of each ARG is. Ours was very successful by our own aims, but it didn’t sell anything. We weren’t pitching it that way.

Q: Has it broken through to the mainstream?

Q: PerPlex City, by MindCandy, was bigger, company made quite a bit of money as people could to buy merchandise.

Doesn’t exist any more though. Made a lot of cash from merch, got a lot of investment and sponsorship, but caused so much pressure on MindCandy that it split them apart.

But we didn’t get any bad feedback at all – it was just “the best thing” that the players had done for ages.

Q: I played it, but you didn’t mention yet, the real-time chat channel by IRC, even just 5 – 10 people, but that was the heart of it for me.

Saw that as well, it was nice when something was released in the chat that there’d be a lot of buzz.

Q: Were you in the channels?

We were but we’re not going to say who we were.

You want to know what the audience things, and you have a live feel, you can see what people are thinking and feeling, it’s almost like stand-up comedy.

Q: In reference to early question, one successful one is CourtTV – it’s a story over 14 days of a woman who’d found her husband cheating on her, and it was a story that lots of people followed, but not a game. Another over, proper ARG, 8 days, 30k people playing, 6k got the solution right, all using online materials etc.

Looking now at Geocashing and Geodashing – augmented reality games.

Q: At the moment you are creating things ad hoc, would you imagine in the future would there be a more high-level thing that controls is, so you could create a website that is more automated?

Problem is the more you automate it, the more personal it is. If it’s really chatty, and personal, then it’s a whole different game, autoresponders are a bit cold.

Hazel is a writing on Kate Modern, a Bebo promotional thing. Getting that level of interactivity is interesting, all has to be answered online all the time. New level of this. What’s also interesting is how you fund, sponsor, set up these things. Should the BBC be commissioning these things? Same people as LonelyGirl15.

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TV Un-Festival: George Wright – BBC TV Backstage

Part of BBC Backstage, charter to educate and inform. Interactive TV – BBC is world leader, but find it very hard to find people who know what they are doing in it. Very niche, small talent pool. Focusing on MHEG, but relevant to all formats and platforms.

Going to be doing tutorials, teach people how do work with the technology. Starting off with simple tutorials, including podcasts, including examples. Currently Windows only, but cross-platform coming soon. Plug-in to MythTV, so you can play it from there, looking for extensions for full MHEG 106. Think it could give a kick to the market, the existing vendors, etc. Times we think that the barrier to entry to t his areas should be lower – this is part of the aim. Will also release internal tools and tests. By giving these away it will benefit the community and those who work with us to deliver code.

60 – 70% of interactive developer pool available in UK, so we’re not aiming this at everyone, but want to deliver the equivalent of View Source in web browsers – tiny steps. Going to tell people how we think we do things the right way, but we are going to expect people to tell us we’re wrong. Lots of new ways of doing things, but hoping that by opening it up we’ll get new ideas of how to do things.

Chosen MHEG because it’s an open standard, but increasingly MHEG is being used in a hybrid box, i.e. aerial and internet connections. Other platforms are likely to use MHEG, and it’s becoming more of a worldwide standard, e.g. New Zealand are using it, so code written here is also usable there.

Looking for a bigger developer community. Want others to embrace out code.

Q: Is this the wrong time to do this? People don’t want to interact.

Our figures don’t support that, we have lots of page views each week.

Q: Isn’t this just more about multiscreen?

There is some of that, but that’s not all interactive TV is good for. Yes, we probably should have done this 10 years ago, but when’s a good time to plant a tree? Do you think this is pointless?

Q: I work in this area, but there are very few programmes that you can actually enhance – people want to watch TV they don’t want to do other things. Interfaces are either too lightweight, or they distract from the programme, but generally it doesn’t feel like it’s going to be the future anymore.

I don’t think it needs to be the future. But that’s more about where’s the interactive TV going.

Q: In US, 36% of interactive TV through gaming consoles by 2012. How do you compete with that?

Two questions in there – is MHEG good to learn if you want to work on other platforms? We think it does. Should someone use proprietary stuff? Probably no. If you wanted to learn the most popular interactive TV language, need to look at Open, which is what Sky uses.

Regarding the console,I think it’s the other way round. If I was developing for a console, I’d look at MHEG. Many other things we could take a punt on is because it’s in Freeview, and you can get boxes that you can chuck USB key in and run code.

Q: MythTV is really difficult to get to work. Are you going to help them make it easier?

Not giving end-to-end support, but will be giving instructions for setting it up. Will have stand-alone MHEG browsers based on MythTV, so you don’t have to install it.

Q: You say people can play around with MHEG, but people can’t actually put it live. Is this just about teaching people?

We’re teaching people how to write MHEG, but also telling them how to deploy it. Apache can serve MHEG2 to a set top that’s on the same network.

Q: So you need the hybrid boxes?

We’re not saying that people are going to write this stuff and stick it up on the web. But we might take the best apps and push them out daily, so people can browse through them. Not just teaching, but want to do groundbreaking new ways of doing interactive TV.

Q: How much bandwidth does MHEG take for a typical app?

Overhead is never the text, it’s the broadcast quality video.

Q: What about Flash video? Why not write a Flash player for MHEG?

Have done experiments with SWF format, and there were good things and there were bad things. It’s not something we’re looking at right now. Surprises me that so many sites that use FLV don’t have any interaction in it, because Flash is good for that. We’re partnering with YouTube and other sites that use Flash but haven’t seen any interaction even coming from us. Could do an MHEG -> SWF converter, it’s an interesting thought.

Q: Is there a complete programming language in there? Is there a javascript converter for it?

On the latter, I doubt it, it’s a very different. But yes, it’s a real programming language and it’s complete. You really need to work at a large broadcaster to know anything about it, but we’d like to create the equivalent of a graphical MHEG creation tool as in a drag-and-dropy thing. Would benefit us internally and others who want to have a play.

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TV Un-Festival: Zattoo

Mario Costa, Alexandra Illes

Zattoo is regular straightforward TV as per free to air channels, but played across broadband. Live TV, not time-shifted, but available on your laptop. 24/7. Mac, PC, Linux, free client, all you need is broadband.

Each time you log-on, you get a channel line up, in Switzerland redistributing 52 channels. Quality pretty good, 400kbps to receive, what’s different to most of the other players, but the Zattoo is just redistribution – no catch up, no chat, no video on demand, no frills redistribution of television channels and do that with the most widely possibly channel line up in every country. Reason for being is that a number of interactive players on the market and Zattoo is a platform is focused on only one thing. Don’t want to compete with broadcasters IPTV, as they have more rights to do things with their content, but to be a compilation of different channels as an aggregator.

It worked really well this morning when the network is not being used by so many people.

Unabridged retransmission, limited by legal requirements for broadcasters. Signal protection and geoblocking, another requirement from broadcasters, so operate with the licensing regime and go country by country, and not receive outside the territory of the area we have the licence for.

Idea is to bring linear TV to a new medium, and bring people back to linear TV. Bridge to the old-fashioned TV, and to allow people to do interactive things at the same time. 700k users in Europe, available in Swizterland where co. based, Denmark and Spain. Very successful in Spain, word=of-mouth and blogs at core of success. Beta test in the UK with a couple of channels whilst going through rights clearance, aiming to launch in Germany, Austria, Belgium, then Poland, Italy, France, Poland and the Netherlands.

People use Zattoo because they want to do things at the same time, or use PC in another room than the TV is in. Not a substitute for the TV set, but complementary to it.

Aged distribution, primarily the younger, 25 – 34 is main user group, but that’s shifting. Young, early adopters first, but shifted in Switzerland and have a quarter of the broadband market.

Q: How do you make money?

Advertisements within channels, buffering when switzing channels, and have inserted adverts there. Users don’t mind that. For advertisers, people have focus on the screen as they are waiting for the channel to come up. There are also paid packages, so have a lot of free TV, the public broadcasters and commercial stations, then special interest and ethnic packages. Learn from traditional TV environment, but open to more new things. Think that people online are more interested in special interest. Feel want to make a la carte packages, which can’t be done on traditional TV environment. Foreign language packages too.

Security is a big issue, specially for the broadcasters signal protection and double authentication process that ensures geoblocking works.

Q: What’s the point of that?

We agree with you, that’s what we want, but from a rights point of view we’ll probably not get there. It is not 100% watertight enough, but it’s watertight enough for the reasons we do it. But we can’t get the rights for you to just watch international TV without the right clearance.

Due to launch in the UK, but it’s a question of clearing the rights.

Q: How are you doing the geofiltering?

Don’t know the answer to this.

Q: It’s a p2p service, what’s the upload bandwidth.

400kbps download, and as much upload as your ISP allows.

Zattoo developed by a professor at Michigan in five mins.

Beta testing in UK since July, focused on retransmission. If you want text access, can send an international invitation that will give access to the Swiss line-up to see how it works.

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TV Un-Festival: Chris Jackson – A community effort to improve metadata

I’ve been MCing the TV Un-Festival all day, and it’s been fun so far. Right now they are recording a podcast, which I’m not going to blog because at some point you’ll be able to listen to it yourself. Meantime, here’s a short burst of blog posts that I’ve put together throughout the day for your entertainment. (Note: There was no official schedule, so if I’ve misspelt names, please accept my apologies.)

Chris Jackson – A community effort to improve metadata
Chris is a freelance broadcast tech and strategy consultant, geek at heart, ideas for things that are more community based than big companies. At the TV Festival [of which this is the fringe event] hearing about Joost, wasn’t saying anything anyone in this room would be surprised about but it was news to the TV people. Big disconnect between us here and them there, who don’t know much about tech but do know about audiences.

Technically elegant ways that, say, torrents, work doesn’t make sense for the audience.

Two ways to watch TV – either watch what’s on, or you can dereferencing a pointer, i.e. look something up and make sure you are there. Bit torrent is not that simple for people to use, it’ snot something that works well after a long day. How can we make that process easier, that would turn it from looking through a long list of sites to find the torrent, to something that’s as simple as turning it on and see.

Would love to see:
– Permanent URLs
– List of locations for individual programmes, whether TV schedule, bit torrent, iPlayer, and gives the data as to what DRM there is on it, what sort of format it’s in.
– Wants that info to be flexibly improved, so if broadcaster wants to say “I have the definitive information” that it references the canonical.
– Wants the metadata to be simple, and standardised.

TV Anytime is comprehensive, but difficult to use.

Broadcasters should, ideally, be providing comprehensive information. But some broadcasters have different unique identifiers, e.g. the BBC has three for each programme. But a broadcaster might tell you the metadata but would never tell you where the torrent was. Community could step in and do this.

Need to:
– create a standard extensible format
– with an API
– data licensed liberally
– crowd sourced improvements

If this data was better, could make better clients, that could give you all the official locations, times etc. but would also give you all the other locations, and tie them together with a single URL. So people who have seen a programme could send a URL to someone who could then choose how they wanted to watch it, whether on BT, or iPlayer or old-fashioned TV.

Would be interesting then to gather information on how people like to access programmes, so you could see if they prefer to watch TV or use iPlayer or BT.

Risk with current systems is that you only ever get, say, the link to the RSS feed of Heroes.

Q: Broadcasters don’t see it on their interests, because the first thing that people do is tag where the adverts are and cut it out. And broadcasters don’t want to do anything that makes it easier. From our point of view, an extra person who watches it is an extra person, but they see it as a person that they couldn’t make money from.

CJ: Agree, but can do all sorts of other things.

Q: But this is the same as the Freeview programme scheduler.

CJ: What I’m saying is, why don’t we take that info, plus the torrent sites, and iPlayer, and put it all together.

Q: BBC say that “It’s illegal to do this”, but they have never prosecuted, and never will prosecute, but it’s illegal. The problem is that it’s technically possible, and no one has ever been prosecuted, so until the broadcasters either have a day in court and see whether it is illegal, no system will have any support from the BBC or any other broadcasters. EPG data is copyrights, sharing a programme onto torrent is illegal, so no one has been prosecuted. PACT, who represent non-BBC producers, and say “This is out content, so the BBC can only show it once and that’s all they can do”, and we all have a right to record and store on VHS, but transfer it over hte net and PACT say it’s illegal. So it’s not technical it’s a lawyer.

CJ: But there’s a distinction between content and metadata. My understanding is that you can republish the BBC metadata if it’s non-commercial, and have only been threatened by ITV.

Q: There are all these legal arguments, so why do have to bring them together as a service, because that creates a legal target for litigation. How about a client that pulls together different sources and presents it, differentiating the sources, and lets people choose.

CJ: Yes, we shouldn’t keep it all in one place, but we should have a standard.

Q: So what we need is a common identifier for each programme.

CJ: Or multiple identifiers that are cross-linked. But yes, the identifier.

Q: So you could do it the barcode way, there isn’t a global organisation that organises barcodes, so that would be an easily distributable system.

CJ: i presume the names are URLs. But there are a whole bunch of existing systems, and we should be able to make it better. TVAnytime has programme groups (series), programmes, and segments of programmes, and programme locations (like a URI). If the data format addressed these types of ID (possibly except programme segments), should be able to take the URI, and use that to reverse look-up to get the metadata, and then pass around the URL that describes a specific programme, and then others can use that URL to find the programme itself. Not the only way of doing it that, but doesn’t seem to need permission, or to modify streams, etc. If we did this it might help the broadcasters change their minds.

Q: Are there parallels with the music industry and iTunes. Do we instinctively favour solutions that are too complex.

CJ: This is like an equivalent of MusicBrainz, but with links to all the places you can get the programme, not just a link to one source – Amazon in the case of MusicBrainz.

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