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EIF: Virtual Reality TV with Endemol's Peter Cowley
EIF: Virtual Reality TV with Endemol's Peter Cowley
August 13, 2007 | By Andrew Doull, Leigh Alexander

August 13, 2007 | By Andrew Doull, Leigh Alexander
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At this year's Edinburgh Interactive Festival, held August 13-14 at the Royal College of Physicians, reality television producer Endemol's Peter Cowley led a panel called "Virtual Reality TV" to discuss the use of interactive content around Endemol's reality TV properties, including Virtual Me (with Electronic Arts, as previously reported) and iLand, a virtual Big Brother with avatars from AOL USA.

"I want to explore where the world of TV and the world of games will interact in the future," Cowley said. "The consumers who enjoy our content are moving a lot quicker than us in the TV industry."

Cowley noted that while he sees a lot of similarities between the developer industry and the TV producer's industry, one key difference that stands out to him is the element of government intervention in television. "[It] has allowed us to protect our intellectual content around the world," he said.

Describing Endemol's development from independent television production into full content production and recalling such IPs as Deal or No Deal and Fame Academy, Cowley sees many natural extensions for a show like Big Brother into platforms other than television. Internet streaming's one possibility, but "we also try to repackage some of the brands and recreate them on other platforms in particular mobile and online flash based games," Cowley added. "This helps us to work out where our future is."

Noticing the trend of large broadband companies looking to commission and repackage content from producers like Endemol, Cowley said, "We don't believe television or the games industry will go away, but there will be convergence between the producers of television and the games industry."

He continued:

"It's not just about creating the content, it's about understanding the audience. As we move into the digital space, we have to understand how people use these services and how we can make use of [them]."

Cowley said the TV industry has been "slightly put off" by the use of interactivity, owing to what he calls a "failure" around the red-button interactivity of set-top boxes.

"The blurring of physical and virtual is going to have a huge effect on how the content has delivered," he predicted. "It should be possible to create real time avatars with the [mechanics] to get facial expression in a television show."

Noting that banner ads on social networks "[don't] work so well," Cowley felt that Kate Modern, the latest online TV drama from the creators of YouTube's infamous LonelyGirl15, is an example of "an attempt to bridge the gap [using] brands such as Orange MSN and Pantene in everyday life."

"We are all trying to adapt to this new consumer world," he added.

He noted that Endemol has created a small in-house development environment to extend the experience of its game show via gambling and skill-gaming, both of which has "huge amounts of money in a small niche area. [The providers] who have had to get out of this space in the US have got smarter in this area."

Flash-based video and games are another attempt to generate revenue in that area, and Crowley said that Deal or No Deal is Endemol's first foray. "It is a game of chance that has a brand related to it, and we have been able to create fixed-odds betting games, slot machines, scratch cards, java mobile games, interactive DVD [and] board games that extend on it."

"We've tried to take the excitement into a multiplayer online game," Crowley elaborated. "A Deal or No Deal equivalent of online poker."

Crowley also said Endemol has experimented with Big Brother in Second Life:"[It's] interesting, and made us believe there [are] quite a lot of legs in extending brands to worlds like Second Life." However, he notes, "like a lot of people, we have yet to find the 'killer' business model and are still experimenting."

"Big Brother has done well in the social networking area," he continued. "This year, we have gone to online casting for the next Big Brother show. People want to talk about Big Brother, and would like to have a chance to be on Big Brother or their friends to be on Big Brother."

Crowley went on to describe Endemol's interactive content efforts with other properties:

"Roar: The Game has more unique visitors to the website than viewers of the television show. [It] appeals to an audience that is leaving television shows in droves. Roar is a Tamagotchi-style game where you grow your zoo. We didn't have a link between the television show and the game, so we built cheat codes into the television show. For the first time, the website is bigger, braver and bolder than the television show; the cheat codes did brilliantly well."

Cowley described ILand, which was sold to AOL USA as a "multimillion-pound broadband concept" as a "'third life', which uses an online community to go to a real community on an island. The founding family is elected online, and new people are recruited to a real world island on an ongoing process. AOL USA took this to the upfronts in the States and was successful in this approach to the TV advertisers and networks."

Though Cowley provided few details on Signs of Life, an interactive flash drama for teens by the BBC, he did say it combines TV-produced drama with interactivity in "an attempt to get young people to be interested in the news, [with] ideas that could story-tell online.

He described an episodic world with social networking elements: "You can watch 8 episodes of 6 minutes. Within each episode, using Flash video you can solve puzzles, play games and [take] an online personality test that matches the episode. You can then import this personality test into Facebook, Bebo, et cetera."


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