Lawrence Lessig argued in his book Free Culture: The Nature and Future of
Creativity that the bulk of consumers learn about new technology through
Americans learned about the radio from newspapers. They
heard about the television via radio. My mother learned about the Internet from
a dancing baby on Ally McBeal.
Now television programmer RDF USA – creator of such high art
as Wife Swap – wants to put
the synthetic world on the small screen. Sleuths uses "mobile participation
television," blending community interaction with interactive advertising.
Sleuths is marketed at today’s generation of ferocious
tech-consumer kids, with revenue coming from text-messaging fees and
direct-to-phone advertising based on the avatar and clothing choices of the
user. This fact alone makes the show groundbreaking – Sleuths will attempt to
turn around television’s flagging, TiVO-blocked advertising industry by bypassing the television entirely.
Will this do for virtual worlds what the dancing baby did
for the internet? Probably not, but it’s a major step towards creating
generations that grow up completely comfortable with and aware of virtual
worlds as just another means of
entertainment and communication.
Creating Active Consumers
As generations exposed to programming like
Sleuth mature, they’re going to expect
similar levels of interactivity and customizability in every facet of their lives.
my long-held view that passive consumerism – especially the scattershot way ads
are thrown at viewers – is collapsing in the face of the engaged consumer. Engaged consumers don’t sit in front of a
television. They don’t wait for their show to air.
They find their show on the internet, either through a pirated stream or
a sponsored service, and either bypass advertising or see only advertising
tailored to their interests. In short: interactive consumers are more aware consumers. But this isn't a certainty. We've seen a rush of inflated expectations surrounding this exact kind of augmented reality concept since iPhone breached the consumer barricades a few weeks ago with its augmented reality apps.
What can't be argued is that television and virtual worlds cater to two increasingly divergent groups of people. Television watchers are by-and-large older than the average gamer (who is creeping up to 30 in the latest report on virtual worlds) and this means they lack the exposure to virtual worlds so common to the most recent generation.
Will consumers steeped in passive advertising be able to make the shift from one model of interaction to another? Unlikely. Then again, the program is aimed at kids, and kids are the future.
By producing a generation of active consumers, Americans are less likely to accept advertising without question. When interactive television goes fully mainstream, the technology may allow a consumer to explore an ad in-depth even as it airs.
This means advertisers – and companies – will have to adapt to an environment where the nutrition facts of their new burger can be researched before the ad is even off the air.
The big question: Will a major U.S. network pick up Sleuths and market it effectively, or
will it die in the concept bin like HBO’s flop
My Second Life: The Video Diaries of
Molotov Alva? We've seen from research last week that companies are having trouble making profit – or even breaking even – in the virtual world. Could the game-changing technique be something as simple as moving the virtual world onto the small screen?
Given the failings of corporations in the virtual world and the declining interest of young consumers in passive television, it may be too little too late for networks to launch an offensive against the interactivity and surreptitious marketing of Zynga's FarmVille and Mafia Wars.