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Avatars, Audiences and Interactive Television

Avatars, Audiences and Interactive Television



This presentation for PCA 2013 examines how virtual world television producers who utilize the online world Second Life have constructed their virtual spaces to become places of interactive television ...

This presentation for PCA 2013 examines how virtual world television producers who utilize the online world Second Life have constructed their virtual spaces to become places of interactive television with programming that exemplifies access, social and content interactivities. The analysis considers how the producers and their shows’ viewers are both users of the virtual world, but are able to become something more when using the virtual world as a technology to supplant traditional television technology by providing for truly interactive television experiences.



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  • This presentation for PCA 2013 examines how virtual world television producers who utilize the online world Second Life have constructed their virtual spaces to become places of interactive television with programming that exemplifies access, social and content interactivities. The analysis considers how the producers and their shows’ viewers are both users of the virtual world, but are able to become something more when using the virtual world as a technology to supplant traditional television technology by providing for truly interactive television experiences.
  • The dream of an interactive television experience has been with the technology almost since its inception. One of the earliest examples of what we would come to consider as interactive television was the 1953 CBS children’s series Winky Dink and You, where children would put plastic sheets up to their television and draw on them at specific times to help Winky Dink in his adventures. Such interactivity with the show’s content was purely perceptual, and has been replicated with other programs, such as Blue’s Clues. For the most part, in order to create a more interactive television experience, technologies have been developed, from VCRs to DVRs, or appropriated, from the Internet to cellular phones, to supplement traditional television and to empower the audience control in its interaction with television. For the most part, iTV discussions and experiments have focused on making the delivery platform, aka the television set, interactive.Jensen and Toscan (1999) defined interactive television, or “two-way TV”, as occurring when the viewer makes choices and provides input that is more than just interacting with the television set via a remote control.Experiments have been conducted on how to make a more interactive technological system for delivering content, such as the WebTV experiment, or with content offering interactive possibilities for consumers, such as layering information unto television content. Given the a priori nature of the Internet as an interactive medium, requiring activity on the part of the consumer for content to be accessed (Owens 1999), the Internet may be more structurally sound for the broadcastingof interactive television content (Noam 2003). And we have seen more interactivities developed for television as the Internet has increased its presence in our everyday lives.
  • Across the years of research and experimentation in the implementation of iTV, there can be seen three main approaches to making television more interactive. According to Cesar and Chorianopoulos (2009), these approaches can be seen as: content editing, providing authorship and creative capabilities to end-users; content sharing, focusing on synchronous or asynchronous communication with other end-users; and content-control, allowing end-users more control over their selection and consumption processes. While we use different terms, our analysis focuses on the same types of possible interactive activities. Access interactivity is defined as the ability to allow people to control their methods of consumption: the what, whens, wheres, and hows of consumption. Social interactivity is the ability for people to engage with other audience members during consumption. Content interactivity is the ability for audience members to impact the experience and/or the progression of the content. All of these activities could be considered synchronous or asynchronous in relation to the broadcasting or streaming of the television program.Across these three types of activities, access interactivity has been the most common in iTV as it was the first interactivity truly developed and integrated into television technology. While social interactivity has always existed with television – consider the family viewing or the “water cooler” conversations – there has been an increase in technologically-driven social interactivity due to the Internet, mobile technologies and social media. Content interactivity, especially when focused on the progression of content, has been less seen, due to technical hurdles for such interactivity.
  • In this presentation, we are considering the extent to which television produced in an online virtual world affords for all three of these interactivity actions. Virtual worlds are digital environments in which people, via digital representations or avatars, gather and engage in a variety of social and personal activities (Bell, 2008; Schroeder, 2008). The virtual world we focus on for this project is Second Life, a social virtual world dependent upon user-generated design for its very existence.Virtual worlds involve multiple users coordinating in real time to produce series via processes that are similar to television production in the physical world, such as acting, filming, sound recording, sound editing, and video editing. To be considered television series, these productions have to be multi-part fictional or non-fictional productions that are either serial or episodic, and such productions represent a range of genres.  There are productions recorded as avatars interact with one another and are then edited in post-production for streaming.  These productions are analogous to filmed drama and comedy television series.  Then there are productions that live stream the avatars’ interactions as they occur, while also recording them for later streaming.  These productions are analogous to the variety of live shows on television, from news to sports to special events.Second Life as a technology allows for its audiences/users to become producers, and the producers utilize this technology to create interactive television. In their position as producers, these Second Life users produce content that other users, their shows’ audience can control when they access it, watch live and in conversation within the audience, and influence the progression of the content through their conversations. These experimental productions demonstrate how to utilize a digital technology to produce and consume television that aligns with the ideals of interactive television.
  • Within Second Life, at least 54 television series have been produced. Of these located series, 23 producers of 39 series were interviewed. Producers were interviewed as and are referred to by their Second Life avatar names to reflect their in-world identities as producers and to maintain any desire for anonymity and distance between their virtual and physical identities.The producers were contacted via email and interviewed via Skype. They were asked to discuss the following: what led them to enter Second Life and to create their series; what were their ideas of the series' design and the audience’s role for the program; what they were challenged by and learned about; how they were helped and hindered during production; and how they saw virtual world television in relationship to traditional television, as well as its future. The analysis for this presentation focuses on their answers to their ideas about their series’ design and their audience’s role as well as how they see VWTV relating to traditional TV.
  • Three television series illustrate the primary differences in the content and style of these series.  The television series The 1st Question was categorized as a talk show as every episode would feature one or more guests to discuss some aspect of virtual worlds. The producers actively invited audience members to participate by asking the guests questions during the show.  To facilitate this relationship and role of the audience, a television studio was built to resemble those found in the physical world. Audience members could answer the quiz questions via an in-world texting feature, thereby helping the panelists win.  A second example is an ongoing series that differs from The 1st Question in that the audience does not participate and it is not recorded in a television studio format; it represents more of a sports broadcast format The series Giant Snail Races, produced by RacerXGulwing, is part race, part obstacle course. In this show, Second Life users can participate in each episode as contestants that decorate snail avatars to match an episode’s specific theme; the contestants control the avatars around a race track / obstacle course as RacerX and his co-hosts narrate their progress.    A third example replicates programming that would be recorded and edited prior to any audience involvement. In these genres, inhabitants can only participate by being the featured guests or as hired or voluntary actors. Lucy Eberhart’sThe Real Desperate Housewives of Beaver Ridge is an example of a series filmed without any audience but with a cast comprised of Second Life inhabitants. The narrative follows various characters in the setting of Beaver Ridge, and has some distinctly comedic flair to its scripts, themes, and characterizations.
  • VWTV agencies such as Treet TV and Metaverse TV serve as both production houses and broadcast networks. As production houses, they provide SL users with the assistance to utilize the virtual world for television production; thus, they are mediating actors, enabling users to become producers by providing access to the tools, skills, and personnel needed to produce television. As broadcast agencies, they provide both SL users and WWW users that ability to access live streamed or archived material at a time, place, and pace of their choosing.Whether or not a VWTV production utilizes one of their agencies, the series included in this project all allow their audiences members, their consumers, some type of access interactivity that is synonymous with the types seen with the use of the WWW by traditional television. Shows that are live streamed, which is synonymous with live broadcasting, can be viewed either in-world, through special plug-ins or exhibition areas, or via online video sharing platforms or specialized website hosting. Even if a show is live streamed, it is still recorded and archived for later viewing at the same online platforms. Those shows that are recorded and edited are likewise made available online. The posting of episodes online is the same as done by traditional television, as both are capitalizing on the server databases and broadband infrastructure of the Internet to provide consumers with more options for how they engage with the content.
  • Traditional television is experimenting with how to bring synchronous social interactivity to their offerings here in the United States largely by the “second screen” technique: laptops, tablets or smartphones are utilized to sync up with the program as it broadcasts to provide audiences with the means to communicate with each other, as if sharing a “virtual living room”. VWTV, on the other hand, can utilize an inworld feature to facilitate and encourage synchronous social interaction through the same screen as the program’s content. Using the text chat feature structured into the virtual world, VWTV producers can provide their audiences with the ability to chat with one another while watching the show, in a way that would not disrupt the production of the show as it would in traditional television studio audiences. For example, Beyer Sellers, producer of the series Metanomics, called such a texting structure a "chatbridge" or "backchat“, creating what the producer called a "constructive cacophony". At each of the locations in Second Life, there were balls in the audience sections that were treated metaphorically as microphones. If the audience member sat her avatar within a specified range to this "microphone", then anything she types in her chat field will automatically be included as part of this "constructive cacophony". Individuals who watched the live stream at the website could likewise log in and participate in the chatbridge from there. The host and the guests were also a linked to the chatbridge and would sometimes partake in the conversation. The producers also used this chatbridge to send out announcements before, during and after the show, such as information about the show's sponsors, links to websites discussed in the show, and information about upcoming episodes. With Metanomics, this chatbridge also linked the virtual world audience to the audience streaming the episode on their devoted website, thereby expanding access to this synchronous social interactivity.
  • Thechatbridge is not used only for promoting synchronous social interactivity. A number of VWTV productions employed this text chatting feature in order to connect those in the audience with those on stage. As a talk show, Metanomicsconnected the audience, inworld and online, with the show’s producers and the episode’s guests, and encouraged the audience to ask questions and make comments that would be brought into the episode’s discussion. As a quiz show, The 1st Question, the audience is put into direct connection with the contestants, who will often implore the audience to help them find the right answer, and one segment of the show directly requires the audience to vote for one of the contestants. Because the producers, host and guests are all part of the chatbridge, there is the possibility that any audience member could impact the course of the episode.In addition, this conversation can also help insure that the production of the episode goes smoothly, as the audience can inform the producers of any glitches in distribution and exhibition as they occur inworld and online. On other shows, such as sport shows, performance shows, and drama series, Second Life inhabitants who might have only have been audience are given the change to participate as athletes, musicians, actors – chances to participate in the content creation were it not that they were in Second Life. In essence, the audience can become de facto crew members, helping to insure the successful production of each episode. Thus, the producers are able to utilize the technological feature of the virtual world to permit and promote a type of synchronous content interactivity, as the audience can participate to produce the program.
  • For the most part, VWTV is remediating the access and social interactivities that have been increasingly added to traditional television. VWTV permits the same type of timeshifting behaviors that have been seen with DVR devices and online streaming. Given that VWTV exists entirely over the Internet, and thus could be classified as Internet-based television, the ability to permit access interactivity is expected. Additionally, some VWTV productions promote synchronous social interactivity through the text chat channel, thereby creating a form of Social TV that traditional television is increasingly experimenting with through the use of social media and mobile technologies. These productions remediate traditional television genre formats that promote the duality of audience/participant. The programs with such interactivity tend to be live shows, replicating studio audience formats from traditional television that allow for questions from the audience or encouraged the audience to play along. However, the content interactivity of these programs is not equitable with the truest form seen in digital games: the progress of the television content is not reactive to each single viewer. Instead, the content reacted to the aggregated audience or “lucky viewer”; everyone who wanted to influence the content could not directly do so.Where the truest synchronous content interactivity occurs is with the lower barriers to enter the production process. Upon entering the virtual world, these Second Life users are able to produce their own television programs. They are no longer just “audience to television”; they are able to change their position to “producer of television”. In addition there is the duality of audience/crew, as those in the audience can assist in quality assurance of the production or even directly provide some aspect of the content, either behind-the-scenes or in front of the cameras. Thus, a person’s dreams of being part of a television production, while perhaps not possible when considering traditional television, can be more realized with VWTV.
  • The virtual world Second Life, as a social medium, whose existence is predicated on user-generated content, provides these producers and their audiences with the ideal platform within which to produce a range of interactivities that traditional television has thus far not been as successful replicating. The online platform allows for these individuals to express themselves – whether as user turned television producer, audience turned participant, or audience turned crew – while also being another means by which people can gather socially to watch television. The virtual world becomes television channel for access interactivity and a virtual living room for social interactivity, all for those who wish to remain audience in relation to VWTV. The virtual world also becomes television studio for content interactivity, and it is here that those dualities occur. And all of these functions are interconnected, especially on the shows that have audiences participate in the production of each episode. The shows’ audiences have the ability to choose what they watch and where, which can include being a part of a live studio audience – to an extent not feasible with traditional television. If they are at the production of the episode, they can utilize the text chat feature to talk with other audience members, as if they were all sharing a communal space away from the production. And, finally, sometimes those discussions can even include the chance to inform the production as it occurs. Thus far, traditional television has not been able to replicate these interconnected interactivities to the same extent. It may be that the virtual world technology is necessary for this confluence of interactivities to occur. What the VWTV programs in this analysis indicate is that there is definitely an audience out there for these interactivities, and it may be that as interactive media become increasingly common in our daily lives, this audience base may continue to grow.

Avatars, Audiences and Interactive Television Avatars, Audiences and Interactive Television Presentation Transcript

  • Avatars, Audiences and Interactive Television:Television productions in Second Life exemplifying the possibilities of interactive television CarrieLynn D. Reinhard Dominican University Pooky Amsterdam PookyMedia
  • Interactive Television (iTV)• History of iTV o Winky Dink and You (1953) o Technologies to increase interactivity • Developed for TV sets • Appropriated for TV broadcasting• Intentions o Empower to control TV use o Impact delivery platform or content• Best matched with Internet o Inherent interactivity = best fit
  • Three Types of Interactivity• Content control Access interactivity Synchronous• Content sharing Social interactivity Asynchronous• Content editing Content interactivity
  • Virtual World Television• Virtual World Television (VWTV) o Multiple users coordinating synchronously o Multi-part fictional, non-fictional o Live streamed or post-production• Importance of project o Second Life users become television producers o Producing iTV, to various degrees simultaneously: • Access interactivity • Social interactivity • Content interactivity
  • VWTV Project• Project’s participants o 54 television series produced in-world o Interviewed 23 producers of 39 series• Project’s interviews focused on: o Entering Second Life and creating their series o Ideas series design and audience’s role o What challenged by and learned about o How helped and hindered during production o How see VWTV relate to traditional TV o How see VWTV’s future
  • Three Types of Programming1. Live studio audience encouraged to participate2. Live studio audience not encouraged to participate 3. No live studio audience
  • Access Interactivity• Networks serve as collective agencies• Exhibition in-world and online o Specialized in-world add-ons o In-world exhibition areas o Online video sharing platforms o Specialized website hosting• Recording & viewing options o Live but recorded for archival o Recorded, post-production, for archival
  • Social Interactivity• Text channels for synchronous communication o Chatbridges: Constructive cacophony o Encourage audience discussion during production
  • Content Interactivity• Chatbridge communication o Content progression: suggestions impact content• De facto crew members o Glitch checking o Performance as participation
  • Discussion• Remediates access and social interactivities of traditional TV o Timeshifting o Social TV• Remediates TV formats promoting content interactivity o AudienceParticipant o “Lucky Viewer” responsiveness• True content interactivity in ability to enter production process o UserProducer o AudienceCrew
  • Conclusion• Virtual world: social medium, user-generated o Television channel: access interactivity o Virtual living room: social interactivity o Television studio: content interactivity Virtual World Technology Access Social Interactivity Interactivity Content Interactivity
  • Thank You For Listening… Visit www.playingwithresearch.com for more information.