March 2004

Interaction with Everything

2003 was the year broadcast media went interactive. No major sporting event was complete without a chance to press the red button. Viewers could vote to launch the career of a new pop star, humiliate a celebrity, or throw someone out of the Big Brother house. ‘Just press the red button’ became a new addition to the language. Interaction is becoming an accepted part of every media genre, from current affairs and factual to sport and entertainment.

But until now, any form of interaction has needed large budgets and extensive planning. Fortunately, new ways are emerging to add interaction to any production, at low cost and at a moment’s notice.

Interaction goes mobile

A key factor driving interaction has been the mobile phone, a personal device now in the hands of more than 80% of the population in Britain, and in a number of other countries. Whatever type or age of TV you have (analogue or digital), you can use your mobile to interact with TV programmes via text.

Of course, interaction via phone-ins and conventional ‘phone votes’ has been possible for several years. But text adds another dimension, and it makes interaction available to all programmes, not just those with the biggest budgets. Text interaction is both much cheaper and quicker to set up and process — you don’t need a bank of operators, or expensive interactive voice technology — and more sophisticated. Commercial channels can even use text as a new source of income, provided basic rules and regulations are followed.

Using text you can, for example, combine ‘instant’ in-programme polls and votes with text comments and questions, which can be analysed on the spot and broadcast, or used as input for studio discussions.

Tools for the job

Using the right tools, text is simple enough to use — and low cost enough — that interaction can be included in any programme: national or regional, live or recorded. Our partner company mTank's intxt™ tool, for example, allows interaction to be added in moments to any TV or radio programme, using nothing more than a Web-connected PC.

Interaction gives a new way to connect with audiences, and a new way to understand who is out there and precisely how they respond. intxt™ and its sister product inVote™, for example, are based on intelligent databases which come with a suite of measurement and visual analysis tools. These give an instant, ‘as it happens’ picture of response and interest, together with an automatic record that can analyse trends over a period of days, weeks or months. This does not take days of planning to set up: it can be added to a programme at a moment’s notice.

Across the media

Cross-media interaction is a growing trend. Interestingly, interaction via text can be added not only to TV and radio, but also to newspapers, magazines, leaflets and posters — in fact to any medium. Interaction can be added not just to editorial or programmes, but also to adverts in any of these media. Some forms of interaction (including text) also work 24/7 — inside and outside programme transmission times — without the need for expensive manning. It can be done completely automatically.

What is now possible will increasingly be expected, and will become the norm. The BBC’s recently introduced BBCi service means that many TV programmes now come with interaction as standard. It has become an accepted part of the production process.

Interaction engages viewers, readers and listeners, and gives them an extra reason to take notice of a programme, article, or advert. It provides instant feedback to media producers, feedback that can be automatically collected, measured and analysed. Interaction is here to stay: within a few years, it will be difficult to imagine any kind of media production without it.

©2004 Mediation Technology