Too many interesting people in one room

March 30th, 2007 by Robert

I’ve been participating in the X Media Lab for the past 3 days. It has been an invaluable experience. Talking with each of the mentors at the lab opened up opportunities to look at different business models, interfaces to content and financing opportunities around the world. Some of the mentors have been working on projects directly related to work Suma has been involved in.

Priya Prakash is the product manager for the BBC’s iPlayer (nee iMP). She did the interaction design for the initial prototypes of the BBC iMP and was then made product manager for the release product. Suma have looked at the iPlayer model in some detail so it was interesting to get to speak directly with the owner of the product. Many of the issues we’ve identified with the player (the difficulty of the BBC being able to build a scaled platform and the variety of limitations around viewing the content) where identified by her as well. In fact we commisserated with each other on the number of stakeholder hoops that need to be jumped through in order to deliver a IPTV/video on demand service from inside a public broadcaster.

Discussing the issues round DRM and time limits on viewing as well as opportunities to sell content it became clear where the strengths of the BBC model lie. Being completely open about the limitations of the content and making those limitations a clear part of the interface. Television programs are available in the iPlayer for 7 days after broadcast after which users can pay to view. The may also be able to purchase the content (depending on the deal established). The ‘you’ve got 5 days to watch this show’ is both an annoyance and a powerful call to action. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

There will be an international version of iPlayer with most of the content available on a pay-to-view basis and it will be advertising supported. With the brand clout that the BBC has it’s likely that the iPlayer will gain enough users to support their public service remit what is more interesting is whether the iPlayer can become a wider pay platform with enough critical mass to make it attractive to other content owners to use it for distribution.

Robert Chua is the founder and CEO of The Interactive Channel. This channel is available online and through several pay platforms in Hong Kong. Most of the programming is panel, chat, interview or competition oriented. Production values are not the most important element. Interactivity rules. Viewers are able to participate with live programming via the web and mobile phone, their comments displayed in real time and reacted to by the hosts. In fact users are able to join the panels. Logging in via web cams and participating live on shows. Interviews are conducted with guests via web cams from throughout the world.

It strikes me that most broadcasters are simply trying to add ‘a bit’ of interactivity to their programming while The Interactive Channel is exclusively about interactivity. There are no programs that don’t have audience participation at the core of the format. It seems to have built a loyal audience in Hong Kong and seems to be a good fit with some brands in Australia particularly event brands like Big Brother and Idol.

Dale Herigstad of Schematic is an interaction designer. He develops interfaces for content that extends film and TV programs. Most interestingly he has been working on interfaces that facilitate the intuitive manipulation of the meta-data associated with content. We had a long discussion about the inherent power of aggregation but how the existing ‘click on what seems to be the most appropriate link’ method for moving through content is insufficient when it comes to seeking an understanding of how content relates to other content.

We talked about how to represent space and time in an interface, enabling a user to move intuitively through layers of subjects across a geographic and temporal base line. I have to say that the work he is doing on HD-DVD interfaces, where the DVD content is linked via broadband to a wealth of extended content really blew me away. He showed me an excellent example of visual aggregation of content, 10by10 which builds a grid of news images based on which stories are currently hot.

All in all it was seeing that business models I’d hope would exist do. Digital content isn’t just a site of fear for content owners (which if you spend your life reading MPAA and RIAA press releases it would seem to be) but rather the site of extensive entreprenurial activity throughout the world. I think it’s interesting that the better executed cross-media content initiatives are coming from places like India and Hong Kong. I’m glad our business has an Asia-Pacific focus. I’m not sure we’d have a future without it.

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