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An end to interactive television production? Just the opposite


All stories have one beginning, one middle and one end. But with MECiTV’s interactive television (iTV) authoring platform, producers can easily create programmes in which viewers choose how the story unravels and ends.

As Carmen Mac Williams, MECiTV Project Manager at Cologne’s Institute at the Academy of Media Arts explains, MECiTV arose out of “discontent with traditional linear recording of political events or anything happening in the world, where only one viewpoint is presented.” This led to the belief that there must be different ways of recording and documenting television.

“At the time there were no such tool and we wanted to jump on the MHP [Multimedia Home Platform] train, the open standard for iTV in Europe,” she continues. So they set out to make an MHP iTV authoring platform. And now, as the project nears completion in February 2005, they are just adding the final touches to the authoring software’s usability.

The tool supports authors in the search and retrieval of archived digital film material through text-based and content-based search, in structuring non-linear story lines using dramaturgical principles, and in recombining and linking different video sources.

To demonstrate the tool’s potential MECiTV staged an iTV Docu Drama called Vision Europe. Filming began on 12 April 2003 in Budapest when Hungarians voted for EU accession and ended 1 May 2004 when Hungary finally joined. The film also draws on archive material to cover past events while those interviewed talk about the future. The content is interwoven and interlinked with the tool so viewers can wander at will at the press of the button on their remote control.

“That’s why I like this movie,” says Mac Williams. “Sometimes people watch it and then talk to somebody else and it seems like they’ve watched a totally different movie but still on the same theme.” The viewer, immersed in the story, may simply passively go with the flow, press intuitively or whenever the screen moderator indicates. In the words of Mac Williams: “From passive couch potato [the viewer] becomes an active couch potato.”

The next stage for this IST-programme funded project will be to show it to the market. For that they are producing a DVD simulation that they will send to major media producers and broadcasters, hope they are interested, and then visit them and sell it. However, Mac Williams believes it more likely that they will be interested in their knowledge of staging non-linear stories rather than buying the software. But if one media producer said they would really like to test the software, they could become a guinea pig free of charge for three months, provided MECiTV could capture the user experience, she says.

As for the future, “We dream of going further, as we have just touched the surface,” says Mac Williams. “It would be interesting to use this method for staging live events. Non-linear reporting and documenting would be especially interesting when you have an election like the US elections or a sport event like Olympics, and use these methods in real-time.”

Tara Morris | alfa
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