Interactive workshop promises practical application

Oct 7, 2002  •  Post A Comment

After four years of offering its enhanced television workshop, the American Film Institute expects the fifth annual workshop to translate beyond the classroom into the actual production of interactive TV prototypes that finally make it to air.
AFI launched this year’s workshop with participants ranging from TV Land to Turner Classic Movies to Food Network. The workshop started in July and runs through December.
“The thought is we need to shake the collars of the traditional producing community and say, `[Interactive TV] is coming.’ [We need to learn] how to build TV shows from the ground up with interactivity in them,” said Marcia Zellers, director of enhanced TV at the AFI.
In years past the program served more as a think piece for ITV. However, last year’s program marked a change as the workshop’s focus moved toward possible implementation of the prototypes. This year’s program has the goal of building models for existing set-top boxes that could be introduced to the market within six months to two years, Ms. Zellers said.
Producers need to think about ITV applications during the production process, said Barry Gribbon, executive producer for Food Network’s “Best Of,” one of this year’s participants. “We have all this information on restaurants, chefs, cuisine,” he said. “It seemed like something we could layer on to the show.”
He is developing an enhanced version of the show with factoids, trivia and polls that include questions such as “What is your favorite food” and “Is this restaurant someplace you would like to eat?” In addition, he’d like to create a virtual channel that would enable viewers to see how well they did in the trivia contests compared with other viewers and to procure even more information on the restaurants covered in the show.
Introducing ITV components from the get-go allows some breathing room in the editing process for those elements. By incorporating ITV early on it may no longer be necessary to have a wall-to-wall narration or audio track, he said. “Also, there is always stuff we can’t get into, so maybe we can add that stuff as ITV elements,” he said.
He said he expects to present the “Best Of” prototype to the network at the end of the workshop for possible deployment.
TV Land’s Michael Gaylord is tinkering with the fabled chocolate factory episode of “I Love Lucy” in this year’s workshop. He’d like to walk away with a business case and two prototypes-one for a low-end box using Liberate technology and the second designed for a richer TV/PC experience. Mr. Gaylord is executive producer and creative director for Nick at Nite and TV Land online.
The first “Lucy” version will likely include factoids on the episode and a play-along opportunity. When Lucy slings chocolate around the factory, the viewer could hit a button on the remote and a splotch of chocolate would land on the screen, he said. There would also be an e-commerce link so that users can visit an online store to buy chocolate.
The richer box experience will likely include some video-on-demand and a much broader color palette, he said. The prototype will serve as a research tool to show to the network and focus groups, though it could conceivably be deployed depending on the results of the research, he said. “I want to show some of the possibilities that are out there now to the higher ups at the network,” he said.
The challenge in developing ITV components for a show such as “I Love Lucy,” with its rich history, is that many TV Land viewers simply want to sit back and relax while watching the tube. “But there is also a core group who want to go deeper, so we want to give them that chance,” he said. “It can’t be obtrusive to those who just want to watch the show, but it has to be accessible to those who want more.”
During this year’s workshop, TCM is developing an interactive fantasy game that will operate like fantasy sports leagues. It will involve contracting of stars for multiple pictures and the use of fictional box office reports to create revenue points for the player’s studio. Such an interactive application could be implemented within a few years, said Kevin Cohen, senior VP and general manager, interactive/enhanced television for Turner Network Sales.
Turner’s CNN Headline News participated in last year’s workshop and developed an interactive ticker that runs in the lower third of the screen. Viewers will be able to customize the scores, stock quotes or news they want to see. CNN is currently in talks with cable operators to introduce such an application on existing set-top boxes, Mr. Cohen said.