[This was my first ever writing on the idea of what would become Virtual World Television. About a week after arriving in Denmark to work for the Virtual World Research Project at Roskilde University, Robert Bloomfield came to our university for a series of talks. Robert Bloomfield, aka Beyer Sellers, told us about his work with Metanomics, and his view on virtual worlds. I was blown away by how I saw people constructing television in this virtual world, and it immediately impacted by research from then on out. Thus, this project began all the way back in September of 2009, and here is the first blog post I ever wrote on the matter.]
I confess to being a newbie to all things Second Life. The virtual worlds I tend to frequent are either places with good stories to sit back and enjoy (books, movies, TV) to places where I can take on an avatar and go off on a mission (digital games). So whenever I go into Second Life, I just think there is not much for me to do but socialize, and that is something people have to drag me to in Real Life.
But I did come upon a part of Second Life this past week that has fascinated me. I had to idea there was a television network broadcasting in SL exclusively user-generated SL-originated content. Second Life Cable Network (SLCN, http://www.slcn.tv) oversees the inworld distribution of SL content, operating under the traditional visual, audio and production values set up by traditional television broadcasts (think sports announcers, three-camera set up, studio audience, etc).
However, because it is in Second Life, and thus in a truly interactive virtual world, these television shows have the potential for being uniquely different than the type of television we are most used to.
First, there is the domination of such shows being generated by SL residents — users who had some idea for a show and got SLCN to help them produce and distribute it. We are seeing a rise in similar Web 2.0 TV across the virtual landscape. People produce their own content and distribute them via their personal website, some InternetTV website, or the most populous YouTube. All of these differ from traditional TV structure, where user-generated TV was typically relegated to late night independent broadcast stations’ schedules or underfunded cable access channels. Here in SL is an entire “network” devoted to the distribution of user-generated content for a specific online virtual world.
Second, there is the potential for greater integration of producer-consumer interaction during the progress of a show. I refer specifically to my experiences with the show Metanomics, which is also available in archives at www.metanomics.net. For each show, various groups IM chats are brought together via a Chatbridge to allow the audience members to converse during the hour-long show — amongst themselves and posing questions and comments directly to the producers. The producers will from time to time scan the Chatbridge window and pick out questions and comments to address during the show. In this way, the audience is able to influence the progress of the show as it happens live.
Of course such influence is possible with traditional TV — talk shows routinely offer up chances for the studio and home audiences to pose questions. And like those traditional shows, what questions and comments are addressed is at the discretion of the Metanomics‘ producers. However, unlike traditional formats, the questions/comments here may be collectively created by the conversation of the audience in the Chatbridge — in that they emerge out of the conversation. Likewise, there are other conversations occurring — from amiable chitchat like you’d find among friends watching the show together in the living room to discussions about the content of the show, with people posting URLs for additional information. And all of this was occurring internationally — as other chats do during a show — with the potential for influencing the content of the show.
Thus it is not so much that the overall concept of an international chatroom influencing content is unique when you break down the various aspects of it — but when you consider the phenomenon holistically, the sum of the parts equals into a uniquely interactive audiencing experience.
Is this the future of the relationship between producers and consumers? Time will tell, based on if this “constructive cacophony” (Metanomic’s word) can be fruitfully applied to more mainstream television.