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What will the audience of the future look like? Much like the audience of today… except their social interactions around TV shows will be as much online as offline. A keynote panel at MIPTV today got its crystal balls out to predict the future evolution of social TV, with a few demos thrown.

The session was moderated by Ferhan Cook of AnyScreen Productions and MobiAdNews. “The connected consumer, but how do you connect to them?” she asked, before introducing featured presenter Kevin Slavin, co-founder and chief creative officer at Starling.tv.

He started by talking about TV’s need for “something to fill the void”, which has traditionally been the laughter track for sitcoms. “For 60 years, we faked the audience!” he said. “The audience was out there, 10 million people all seeing it, but not together… If you thought that was weird, it’s about to get really weird.”

Slavin says the TV audience has now become a character in its own right, as people watch TV shows while using social media like Twitter and Facebook. He outlined four ways this happens. First: ‘Audience as a Character’, where viewers vote for reality show contestants – “somebody who’s not on screen who’s made up of all of us”.

Second: ‘Characters Become the Audience’, such as when TV presenter Anthony Bourdain tweeted his thoughts during the broadcast of his show No Reservations – with regular ‘He’s tweeting live now’ messages displayed on screen to alert viewers to the tweets.

Third: ‘The Audience Become Characters’. Slavin explained that Glee viewers are roleplaying on the Tumblr blogging service. “They’re casting for people to take on that persona from Glee and start blogging as them,” he said. “There’s thousands of them, thousands of casts that have been cast, from the ground up.” The same phenomenon has been seen on Twitter with people adopting the personas of Mad Men characters.

Fourth: ‘The Audience Become Characters’. Slavin thinks it’s a big deal that American Idol and X Factor are introducing voting through Facebook. Is that different to voting by text messaging? Yes. “That is a public action,” he said. “It is now entered into the public sphere… This thing that used to be private between me and the show… Now it goes a little bit further, because I’m investing that into everybody who knows me.”

Starling works with broadcasters and producers, MTV in particular, on creating interesting ‘second-screen’ content around shows like Skins. “The first thing is figuring out how to structure all these different conversations,” he said. “Where is that conversation going to take place, what is the shape of that, and how do we give it shape so it’s meaningful for the audience, the producer, the broadcaster…”

He talked about a show called The Game, which attracts 25,000 tweets a minute. “How do we figure out which messages we can filter through that are going to be meaningful?” Slavin also said second-screen content “should have the expressive quality of television” rather than looking like a computer-driven feed of data.

Next up was a panel session: Starling, along with (l-r) Gary Carter, chief creative office of FMX and chief operating officer of FremantleMedia; Bruno Patino, director general of digital and strategy at France Televisions; and Tom Perlmutter, government film commissioner and president of the National Film Board of Canada.

Carter talked first, about the “destruction of a myth” that the TV audience is passive. “This idea of so-called couch potatoes which is very prevalent in the industry that I come from is in my view a complete misunderstanding of the nature of the media that we produce.” He said that TV producers are still surprised at the fact that viewers make relationships with each other around shows.

Patino suggested that another key change is that people are not watching the same content at the same time in the same place. “You have to manage people at different places at different times, and this is a whole new business.”

How do broadcasters fit into these trends? “They have to understand they are not the bosses any more,” said Patino. “Obviously the audience is taking the power. If we want to promote things and do real connected TV, if we want the audience to engage with or through our programmes, we have to let them be the boss.

Perlmutter suggested that Canadian broadcasters haven’t reached the point of understanding how viewers will even time-shift programmes, let alone the more advanced ideas that Slavin had talked about.

But Carter came back to the key point that viewers are engaging with each other, so that’s what second-screen and connected TV apps have to do.

The panel were also asked about the likely direction for Twitter and Facebook. “Social virality is stronger than technology virality,” said Patino. “And I believe that open systems always win upon closed systems.” Make of that what you will.

The session finished with three showcase demos from Metaio, PrimeSense and Emotiv, showing technology bringing new angles to the way people interact with TV.

Noora Guldemond, director of marketing at Metaio, kicked off with a presentation on how augmented reality can be used with TV. “What we do is really showing digital content within the real world at real-time,” she said, by way of a definition of AR.

How can it be used with TV? One of Metaio’s developer partners, ExploreEngage, released an iPhone app that let people point their iPhone at a logo displayed on-screen during the Australian Open tennis tournament, and see a 3D Kia car model coming out of the screen. More than 15,000 people downloaded the app.

More recently, Metaio made AR a feature in a German show called Galileo, using its own Junaio app. There, people could point their iPhones at the screen and see buttons pop up to answer questions faced by the quiz show’s contestants. In the week before the show launched, the Junaio app was downloaded more than 100,000 times, and 40,000 people were actively participating during the show by answering questions.

Uzi Breier, EVO of sales and chief marketing officer of PrimeSense took to the stage next. “Imagine that you can turn your TV into a big iPad,” he said. The idea: users can point their hand at their screen to select options, and even type on a virtual keyboard. A gestural interface, in other words, using a 3D sensor designed to let someone sit on their TV and interact with it by waving and pointing.

“We believe we’re taking TV engagement to the next paradigm shift,” he said, before pointing out that PrimeSense’s technology is at the heart of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 Kinect accessory, which sold eight million units in its first 60 days. So Breier’s message is that the technology inside Kinect can be used for more than games.

We believe that we are changing the entire experience of the living room,” he said, before suggesting that the technology could even be used to track who is watching a TV, and whether they are engaged with what they are watching by tracking which way they are facing. You can imagine this causing something of a stir, privacy-wise.

He added that “The first TVs featuring our technology will be out at the end of this year or early next,” with PCs from Asus shipping with PrimeSense built in before then.

Last up, Tan Le, CEO of Emotiv, showing a technology that will let people interact with TVs and other devices by… brain waves? Yes, brain waves. “Our vision for the future of human/machine interaction is it has to evolve beyond conscious and explicit commands,” she said, while admitting that in the past, this has been cumbersome and expensive to do.

Emotive has made a device that straps onto someone’s head, and is apparently 100 times cheaper than older systems. It can be used for gaming, to control avatars by thinking, or to have the environments in a game change in response to the user’s mood. This may sound futuristic, but Le said the headset is on sale now.

All three of these companies are exhibiting in the MIPTV Experience Hub this week.


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About Author

Stuart Dredge

Stuart Dredge is a freelance journalist, and a regular contributor to The Guardian, Music Ally, and more... including MIPBlog :)

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