Sunday, February 28, 2010

Feb 10 - Interactive TV

When I was living in the UK a few years back, MTV regularly broadcast shows where the audience was encouraged to interact, and seemingly participate, with a show by sending text messages.

During the course of the programme, the text messages ran across the bottom of the screen. Much like the news feed used by CNN and other news channels these days.

More recently I’ve noticed this type of viewer interaction has shifted from text messages to Twitter. From Masterchef to New Inventors, if you logon to Twitter during any popular TV show you will always find people commenting on aspects of the show.

As yet, this Twitter stream is not being utilised by the TV networks, but it can’t be far away. In fact, I predict that coverage of the next federal election will almost certainly feature a Twitter stream scrolling across the bottom of the screen.

The best use of Twitter/TV interaction at the moment is the ABC’s panel discussion programme Q&A. Throughout the show viewers are invited to add the programme’s hash-tag, #qanda, to their tweets about the show.

By entering the hash-tag #qanda into the Twitter search function, users are able to follow a stream of Q&A related tweets. For me, and many others I’m sure, this greatly enhances the viewing experience.

It does, however, require you to watch TV and follow Twitter at the same time. Some people might roll their eyes at the thought of that, but it’s probably a lot more common than you realise.

In a study conducted by YouTube in December of last year, 36% of broadband users in the UK said that they had the TV and internet on in the same room every day.

On weekdays, the time when this TV/internet multitasking was most likely to happen was 8pm. Ask any TV executive and they’ll tell you that’s primetime in TV land.

So if primetime TV is also the time when around a third of people are also on the internet, how much longer can it be considered primetime? Unless of course you are able to create TV programming that utilises the web to expand or enhance viewing.

This type of viewing has given rise to the term continuous partial attention. This is a much more accurate description than multitasking I think.

When you multitask you are focussed on doing more than one thing and doing it well. When I “watch and web”, my attention is on both media, but with constantly varying levels of attention.

The best explanation of continuous partial attention comes, I think, from noted technology writer and consultant, Linda Stone;

“Continuous partial attention is motivated by a desire to be a live node on the network. Another way of saying this is that we want to connect and be connected. To be busy, to be connected, is to be alive, to be recognized, and to matter.”

So why do so many of us feel the need to do many things at once, when we could be relaxing? According to Stoner, “We pay continuous partial attention in an effort not to miss anything.”

Of course it could easily be argued, that doing multiple things at the same time, that none of them are getting the attention they deserve. Given the disposable nature of much TV programming, I doubt that’s really a problem.

If it is a problem, and I’m not convinced that it is, then how do we explain the success of the interaction between Q&A viewers and twitter? I suspect it comes down to the audience of the show.

Q&A is intelligent television. It is a programme that generates debate. By encouraging viewers to tweet, it is inviting them to become participants in the show.

Obviously they’re only participating with other viewers. But I’m sure it won’t be long until Q&A style twitter streams become commonplace for many of our TV shows.


Linda Stone


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Jan 10 - It ain't easy

When I began writing this column over two years ago, there was very little if any coverage of blogs in the advertising or marketing press.

Whether it’s the growth in importance of social media, the explosion of interest in Facebook or the latest celebrity to hop onto the Twitter bandwagon, I learnt about it all by reading blogs.

Which is one of the reasons why I pitched the idea of an agency blog to our management team at Wunderman.

Given the success and wide readership base of my personal blog, the agency was very keen to pursue the idea. Which we did.

We learnt a great deal developing our agency blog. I thought I’d share some of our experiences with you.

The first thing I did before pitching the idea, was to put together a list of my favourite agency blogs, with the always enjoyable Wieden & Kennedy London at the top of that list.

Their blog has a charming DIY feel, with short posts about the day to day goings on at the agency. It captures, I think, what it’s like to work at W&K London.

Sadly our attempt at a blog turned out to be anything but.

So where did we go wrong? Well first up we gave our designers too much leeway with the build and design.

Blogs don’t need flashy design. Blogs don’t need stuff that’s going to impress other web designers. Blogs need nothing more than good content and storytelling.

Ours was beautifully designed. It looked, if I say so myself, pretty damn slick. It had lots of little design touches.

Problem was, behind the beauty lay a backend that was far from intuitive, even for a seasoned blogger like myself. Which meant that posts to the blog became less and less frequent.

Not because we had less and less to say, but because it was so bloody tricky to actually post something. As a result, our blog started to gather dust. And after just six months I made an executive decision to shut it down.

As the guy who dreamed up the idea of an agency blog, this was not an easy decision to make. And yet it was, because the blog we had built, was not the blog we wanted to build.

So, unbeknownst to anyone at the agency, I set about creating the blog I had always envisioned. My starting point was, as it had been all along, the Wieden & Kennedy London blog.

They used a free blogging software rather than a custom created website. So I followed their lead, and set up a new version of our blog using Google’s free blogging software package.

This took no more than about 15 minutes! I then chose a clean, simple design template from one of the many available from Google. This took about 5 minutes. Next step was to create a masthead. This was as simple as cutting and pasting the masthead from the original blog.

And so our blog, which we had named Wunderings, was born again.

Over the next few months I posted several snippets and photos capturing day to day life in our agency. Other than my creative partner, no-one at the agency knew I was doing this.

When the blog was three months old, I began to drop hints about its existence. Obviously curiosity got the better of many of our staff, who searched for Wunderings on Google, and fell in love with it.

I’m proud to say our blog is now thriving. It is, as I always intended, a window into the day to day life of Wunderman in Australia.

Candidates at interviews have remarked on it. All staff contribute to it. And best of all, it helps position our agency as a great place to work at (and with).