I remember with surprising clarity the day after Jaws first aired on British TV. Those were the days of few channels - BBC1, BBC2 and ITV. I’m pretty sure it was pre Channel 4. While I can recall parts of the film, what I really remember is discussing the film in the playground the next day. Almost everybody had seen it, after all we had been building up to it for about a week. It really was a huge thing for us kids at the time!
Television has changed a fair bit since then, with the exception of a few popular shows and live events we all consume video in different ways and usually at different times. It no longer feels like a shared experience. I miss it and I’d go as far as to say that the large part of the continuing attraction of visiting the cinema is to get that feeling of a shared experience with others.
A few months ago the BBC launched its Global iPlayer App. Italy was one of the first lucky countries to be given access and after trialling it for a month I bought an annual subscription and a rather expensive lead to connect my iPad to my TV. No hesitation. No doubt. It was always worth it. The content is, on the whole, very good and the app is slick and easy enough for a 3 year old to use.
If you read my previous article you’ll know that I’m currently in what I consider the fantastic position of being paid to create new and challenging applications for Al Jazeera English and one that I’m really looking forward to creating is a web based application for viewing the great documentaries Al Jazeera put out.
As most of the content is Creative Commons licensed I don’t have to worry about monetisation, DRM or anything like that. It really is very liberating. I will no doubt be influenced by the silky smooth experience of the BBC iPlayer (Native) App, but I feel we also have an opportunity to take things further.
I am already working on adding to the somewhat passive consumption of video, being very careful not to overwhelm people and detract from what is often a very pleasant passive experience thank-you-very-much. I want to present additional information and material - multiple language subtitles, transcripts, notes and the like. But I also want to add social - or sharing if you like.
The fact that I am making a web app means that I can integrate easily with other web-services such as social networks, so there is that aspect to explore. However I think we also have an opportunity to create some unique mechanisms allowing deeper interaction with people sharing a similar experience - this is the part I’m really looking forward to. Again with a careful eye on not overwhelming or unnecessarily distracting the watcher I’d like to build in some experiments which would allow viewers to interact with each other in real-time where appropriate.
Technology is available now to allow people to chat and comment over the web. Certainly this is an experience we could build in. Imagine if you could see all the people currently watching the same programme as you and interact with them. Of course people are likely to be at different points in the programme but we could present people with viewers at the closest point to them and who knows maybe people will start to decide to watch things at the same time because after all it’s more fun!
We can also allow commenting on media in non real-time. People could leave comments and notes on documentaries while they watch while others could discover these annotations while viewing or peruse them separately. With the advent of second-screen technology (where the second screen is probably a web connected tablet or phone) different interactions will be possible.
It would also probably be worthwhile collecting ratings and suggestions from viewers. We can also measure popularity and gather other metrics which could provide useful feedback to the programme makers.
Certainly a lot to think about and a lot to do and I’m not sure how far I will get but I am very excited about getting started and helping consumers share and become — in their own way — producers. This is what the web is all about.