Is watching telly about to get all touchy feely?

Imagine a world where you can control your TV with a gesture, a wave of your hand, a nod… ok, that is here already with Kinect (“OLD!” I hear you cry). But how about a world where you don’t need a Kinect, a world in which you can turn any camera device on your phone, laptop or TV into a gesture sensor? And where you can literally plug yourself into your TV using a sensor that recognises your emotions and then changes the course of the story as it is playing out? And where you can choose what you watch by what mood you’re in, not just by genre, channel or time.

At the moment there’s a few technologies bubbling up that could really change the way we interact with our screens, in a physical sense, and how we discover content, in an emotional sense.

Last month at Channel 4’s Fuel4 event, I saw a couple of companies pitching some of these technologies and also got into an interesting discussion with my table about the discovery of content. And it got me to thinking, with all these changes, what might they mean for how content can be shaped to embrace these new technologies? And will people even embrace these new technologies? It’s all so new; out there, Tomorrow’s World-ish to me, so I thought I’d share what I saw and some of the ideas that were discussed.

Omnimotion – Motion control technology

Omnimotion by the company Omnimotec is a patented technology that turns any 2D or 3D webcam on your screen or device into a motion-control sensor.  Niall Austin, Managing Director, demonstrated the technology with his Macbook at the session, playing a few sports simulations such as swimming (rather amusingly in his smart suit) from very close and far away.

Here’s a video demonstration of some of the sporting simulations:

It was pretty impressive to see how responsive it was, even when he stepped a good six metres away from it.  Even more impressive was the openness of the possibilities with it, being that it didn’t require you to own any proprietary hardware (like the Kinect) and worked without any calibration via the camera on the Macbook.

Biosuite – emotional response cinema

Gawain Morrison showed us this short clip of his company Filmtrip’s emotion response technology:

Obviously this is quite an out-there concept to grasp, with many questioning if we even want to influence the course of the story we’re being told, as opposed to being taken on a journey by the storyteller. But that said I think this is fascinating technology, which has implications that are still to be discovered. What would it mean if content makers could analyse datasets of emotional reactions from consumers? What other ways might we want to influence the content we’re watching from our emotional reactions? (I would love advertisers to see that I’ve reached saturation point with their advert, or even see when it makes me cringe for example.)

Discovery of content according to the mood you’re in

Another theme that came up on the Fuel4 day was discovery of content according to mood. At one point everyone on the table I was sat at (a mix of digital and TV producers) was able to recount a project they had been involved in or were working on that involved mood-based discovery.

I myself did a project with Channel 4’s 4oD platform last year, which involved personalised recommendations based on mood and age. 4oDSundays was a campaign to bring more people to the on-demand services rich archive, where we invited people on Twitter to tell us their age and mood for a reply of a personalised recommendation from the archive.

The campaign was successful in driving more people to watch archive content over the four consecutive Sundays we ran it on, but what struck me most while running the campaign (the personalised recommendations were being found and tweeted by myself and colleagues in my living room!) were the emotional responses we received. By recommending content based on mood, we managed to hit the mark nearly every time, with people being delighted by the choices and surprisingly thankful, nostalgic and some even seemed, well, touched.

For me there’s something really special in the connection this approach creates – it’s almost as if a recognition and understanding of someone’s mood makes them feel more engaged with the broadcaster. And this in turn makes them feel nice; it feels like we are an inching toward a more human interaction between viewer and broadcaster.

Implications

So what are the possible implications of being more emotionally and/or physically engaged when watching television? I can’t help thinking for all involved this could be a good thing. Rather than the dystopian vision of our future of becoming fat, passive blobs and letting our brains shrivel, could getting a bit active in our consumption save us from that gloomy prognosis? Like the worker who feels more engaged with their company if they have a say in major decisions, will we feel more ownership and love for what we’re watching?

And what about the physicality? I think of myself when I’m not looking after myself much, not really doing exercise or eating well, and a symptom I get of this every time is a tendency to fall asleep in front of the telly every evening. What if I was moving about more, more physically engaged – would I see my brain wake up as a result and therefore be more open to what I’m watching? Of course this would be great news for advertisers. Will TV companies start selling to advertisers based on the fact that their audiences are more physically and emotionally engaged?

I’m looking forward to seeing how this all progresses and all the experiments along the way.

– Anna

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2 thoughts on “Is watching telly about to get all touchy feely?

  1. Natalie says:

    I love that the future has arrived, and that although the technology feels excitingly and eerily sci-fi, there are positive angles and intentions that prevent it from feeling like the realisation of a dystopian prophecy.

  2. Philip says:

    Thanks very much to Anna for the blog post. Since then we’ve (Filmtrip) presented our Sensum mobile emotional response platform again at Fuel 4 in June as well as the TV of Tomorrow show in San Francisco. We’ve also just gone live with our new website at http://www.sensum.co.

    In response to Natalie, we’re only interested in taking a positive and creative angle on this working with musicians like Imogen Heap as well as TV and Film Companies.

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