Author Archives: Anna Carlson

Upcoming talk: ‘Converging people before formats’ at Connected TV Brighton

My colleague Steve and I will be speaking at the Connected TV Brighton mini-conference on Friday 21st September as part of the Brighton Digital festival that is going on all this month. We’re looking forward to sharing our perspectives on the opportunities of convergence with other digital, TV, mobile and gaming companies alongside speakers from Relentless, TV App Agency and more to be announced.

You can sign up for the event here, and here’s the synopsis of our talk:

Converging people before formats

Anna and Steve, from digital consultancy NixonMcInnes, will be sharing their experiences of working with Channel 4’s multiplatform team and TV production companies to create interactive digital content for the tellybox.

Their talk will focus on challenges and opportunities inherent not only in converging formats, but also in converging the working practices of people from two vastly different cultures, TV and digital.

They’ll look at the needs and behaviours of both groups, before exploring how they can learn from each other and work together to create truly world class, connected entertainment experiences.
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Sponsored video: Make Bradford British – a twitter visualisation that will tap into our collective consciousness about what makes us British

Channel 4 has created a lovely visualisation of Twitter conversation for their documentary series ‘Make Bradford British’ which airs this Thursday. The series brings together people of different races and backgrounds to see if they can come up with a common notion of the thread that binds them together – what it means to be British.

The Twitter visualisation is a great match for the genre of documentary; which in itself provokes thought, reaction and most of all is based on a basic human curiosity. By exposing others thoughts and reactions you tap into that aroused curiosity – showing what everyone else is thinking.  It’s tracking the hashtag #makesyoubritish and invites people to say what they think makes us British, be it a full English breakfast, sarcasm or our glorious weather.

It’s also very pretty, and very populated prior to the programme airing, which is a bonus. This is always a worry with Twitter visualisations for TV, with marketing sending people to the programme information page prior to transmission and an empty visualisation looking rather lackluster. Although that said, there are currently no tweets referencing the hashtag in Twitter yet, so it’s obviously dummy data, but I think that works in this case as a catalyst and inspiration to get the conversation going.

I also like the element of ‘play along’ provided by the Channel 4 Citizenship test. When pairing up digital experiences with TV genres it’s not often a ‘play along’ style would work with documentaries (rather quiz shows or contests) but the idea of finding out how you would do in the citizenship test works perfectly for this.

I did the test and scored a pretty embarrassing 38% so according to the test I’m not eligible for UK citizenship. The questions are surprisingly hard. Do you know what percentage of the UK’s population lives in Scotland? Or how many years a driving license is granted for if you take your test after 70??

The first episode of Make Bradford British on Channel 4 at 9pm this Thursday (1st March). Here’s the trailer:

(Sponsored post)

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.


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

2-Screen 2011 notes

Last night I attended the 3rd 2-Screen event organized by Utku and the team at Mint Digital. I went last year and came away really inspired so was full of anticipation about last night’s event. Unfortunately the speakers were a bit mixed this year, but that said there were some interesting bits and I’ve compiled a little round up of some interesting links and points from each of the talks below.

Andy Hood – AKQA – talking about the Heineken Star Player app

Heineken Star Player is a play-along smartphone app for football, where users can ‘bet’ on what’s going to happen next in a football match (this was specifically made for the UEFA champions league). For example, you can predict if there’s going to be a goal in the next 30 seconds, or at certain points of the game, if the ball goes out for a corner, you can bet on what happens next. And as you go along you build up points. I really liked the look of this app, even as a consumer who has about as much interest in football as Richard Desmond has in nuns, and it actually made me want to watch a game of football to ‘play along’ with it. Quite a neat idea of augmenting live sport with play along ‘betting’ and game play. This article gives a nice summary of the app.

David Flynn – Remarkable productions – talking about the Million Pound Drop

The Million Pound Drop has been the flagship multiplatform success of this year, with Jody Smith and co winning countless awards and the play along stats speaking for themselves. David Flynn gave an interesting and different to the other talks I’ve seen perspective from the TV production side, of how they logistically managed the live play along game with real time feedback from the online play into the live broadcast. It’s all pretty simple stuff really, but interesting to see the process between the digital team moderating tweets and collecting data on game play and the production team on set. They created online interfaces to feed game play data and tweets to the production team for them to approve for airing within broadcast (as a ticker on screen and for Davina to announce).

I love the idea of feeding what is happening online into the broadcast and it’s something we’ve pushed for in some of the programmes we’ve worked with Channel 4 on. In reality we’ve been mostly suggesting this too late in the process, as really it needs to be fundamentally embedded into the design of the programme at the beginning of the commissioning process, which is clearly what happened with the Million Pound Drop. Now C4 are making great strides in really putting digital at the heart of their programmes from the beginning of creative with their recent call out to digital companies to pitch multiplatform TV formats.

Some bonus stats for the Million Pound Drop:

  • They’ve had 4.8million game plays in total
  • 189,000 unique individuals have played
  • 8.6% of the total audience played the game
  • During broadcast, they get on average 2.3million page views per week
Declan Caulfield – Starling

This talk was much anticipated as Starling has been around for a long while now with seemingly little activity or development. Declan came on stage saying ‘I’m here to give you an update on Starling’, which was promising, but unfortunately his talk left a lot of people scratching their heads (and kicking over bottles…). Unfortunately his talk wasn’t very well received by the audience. Maybe it was the heat in the room, or the appalling slideware (sorry), or the fact that most of the talk was the same as the one his colleague Kevin Slavin delivered last year at 2-Screen, but mostly I think it was the fact that without going into what Starling actually is and does, he kicked straight off into a lot of (quite obvious and old, for this audience) theory which left a lot of people who didn’t know about them very confused. Sorry Starling, and I really felt for you in the back channel, but come on!

The Almighty and Much Loved Russell Davies

This was what I was looking forward to most. I love Russell, and always find his perspectives refreshing. As he said himself, he wasn’t there to sell anything, hell, his own company would probably rather not be associated with what he might have so say in the talk, and, most wonderfully, he “really doesn’t get TV”.

Love it.

It was a typical RD talk, peppered with a lot of the questions and ‘internet of things’ type experimentations from his blog, but in summary here’s a few cool things that stood out or that I managed to note down in my notebook.*

  • Robot Flaneur – a robot that gives you tours of big cities around the world using Google street view
  • Winky Dink and You – a kids programme from the 1950’s which was probably the first example of interactive television.
  • That mind-blowing face changing video
  • The robot ball for cats – Sphero

His key points were that screens will become (and are already becoming) disposable, showing examples of offices using ‘spare’ screens for presenting the time, or office stereo data, and also talking about the decline in value of the hardware (as per this weeks Kindle announcements). His thought-provoking point was this – maybe it’s not about more screens, maybe it’s about real world objects, physicality… the internet of things. Real buttons to press. ‘Things’ that talk to the TV.

What simple things could we be designing to introduce a physical interaction with our audiences?

*(Interesting to note here, after spending most of the evening ‘second screening’ dividing my attention between the speakers, my iPhone and my note pad, during Russell’s talk I barely looked at my phone and struggled to write notes. This kind of engagement (engrossment) is something that could indicate success in a programme – if your audience isn’t tweeting much, but the barb rating is high, could this indicate they are gripped?)

And finally… the panel

I must admit I struggled to follow or pay attention to the panel at the end, which featured the speakers minus Russell. I had a real feeling that there were some super interesting people in the audience and that I’d already heard enough from these speakers, which gave me an idea: what if a final panel like that could be made up of people nominated from the audience? Just a thought.

Overall, still a really important event and great to catch up with some old faces and meet some new.

Our final #minimovie for Innocent – Dr. Wolfman vs Super Smoothie

Here is our final video, cut down to be 30 seconds long.  Unfortunately Innocent can’t feature it on their page just yet to kick off the competition, as it might be too scary for young people!  Oops. Well, we were asked to make a slasher horror…