Sunday, September 14, 2008
I would argue that up until now, there has never really been any true interactive television. Yes, it is true that during the UK "National IQ Quiz" a few years back, the BBC and Endemol did allow people with certain types of set-top boxes to play along with the quiz. But the answers were stored on the set-top box and not sent back to the studio. They even put a delay in the software to simulate a "wait" so people thought their answers were being checked. It was in fact one way traffic.
But last night on Norway's commercial TV channel TV2, a company in Bergen I consult to called Vizrt, launched a truly interactive version of "Who wants to be a Millionaire?". As the show played in the studio, viewers at home could play along in real time via the web, facing the same deadlines as the studio contestants. But their answers were stored by TV2's servers, so the producers knew how well the on-line audience was doing - and the results were shown on the screen. It seems more that 100,000 people managed to log-on with nearly 300,000 trying to do so before the servers reached capacity. Not bad for a show that usually scores around 700,000 TV viewers on an average week..half the TV audience wants to play along on-line in real time. Contestants either have a chance to win a car - or to be selected as a contestant on future shows....this is a great way for the producers to find clever candidates.
Technology from Escenic, a company recently acquired by Vizrt, managed the profile of the online players through their new customizable community engine module.
But this technology also means the contestants can not only "ask the audience" when they get stuck, they can ask a much larger on-line audience at home - a sort of "ask the nation" infact. While most solutions embed graphics within the video stream, resulting in lower resolution and non-personalized content, Viz MPS keeps the graphic and video content separate until the last minute. Compositing of the video and interactive graphics happens directly on the viewer’s monitor, with real-time, 3D graphics rendered locally by the viewers computer. To do this requires a quick download of a plug-in called Vizkey.
I think they can take this concept a lot further. Take public broadcasting for instance. Lets say they have a feature on the credit squeeze. Not only can they get real time feedback to questions posed in the TV programme, they can launch small applications on the website which might ask you to put in your salary (anonymously) to get a graphical representation of how the credit crunch will affect you personally. So the viewer is able to query data on the TV station's server and have it personalised to fit their interests. This is an important function for public TV - and clearly a money-spinner for commercial networks.