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Script Comp

PERSPECTIVE

Playing along

By Stig Olav Kasin 10-08-2017

Virtual reality is transforming the storytelling possibilities of the entertainment industry. Viewers will no longer be confined to their living rooms, but can experience the action just like live studio audiences or even gameshow contestants. Space and time will no longer be constraints, with viewers travelling through new universes without stepping foot into the outside world.

The technology to create virtual TV experiences already exists, although so far is only available over the internet and, of course, in gaming. Worryingly for the TV industry, both are stealing screen time from linear TV.

So how can the TV sector use this new technology? The biggest challenge for content creators is developing the storytelling structure to be suitable for TV. Viewers are used to a linear 2D story. Creating a unified experience where people can move around freely like in a game simply isn’t possible, or at least no one has cracked it yet. The danger for content creators is that they fall into the trap of making the same stories we have today, simply with new visual effects.

At The Future Group, we want to take entertainment experiences one step further. Viewers should be able to participate in the story and universe – on equal footing and at the same time as the contestants.

Lost in Time allows viewers to play the same games as contestants

This was our goal when we created gameshow format Lost in Time in partnership with FremantleMedia. Across six virtual worlds, contestants compete in different challenges in a studio show. The contestants and props are real, but everything you see on screen is visual effects, akin to what you previously would only get from Hollywood movie productions. Even better, the visual effects are real-time capable in a full multi-cam setup. This is true mixed reality (MR).

The big departure from traditional gameshows, though, isn’t just the graphics. At the same time as the show is aired on TV, viewers can compete on equal footing with the contestants and be part of the story via a mobile or tablet app. The best players even win the same prize as the contestants. This takes MR one step further: the real and virtual worlds become one universe, allowing TV contestants and TV viewers to be part of the same storyline – one world, one story, one experience. This is what we call interactive mixed reality (IMR).

In the 2000s, viewers got the power to vote for their favourite contestant in talent competitions and reality shows. It was also good business for the broadcasters. In the IMR universe, however, viewers can be participants in their own right. At the same time, broadcasters and advertisers get the chance to communicate directly with the viewers and gather data about their interests and behaviour, like the social media companies can.

We can’t all sing like Leona Lewis and audition for Simon Cowell, while trivia games favour the older members of the family. The games created for Lost in Time, however, are easy to play but hard to master. A key strength of the show is bringing families together in one activity. Also, participants can play throughout the week to improve their chances of winning the top prize.

The Future Group calls Lost in Time an ‘interactive mixed reality’ format

Lost in Time had its world premiere on Discovery Communications-owned channel TVNorge, Norway’s second largest commercial channel, earlier this year. The show tripled the channel’s average share in its Saturday slot among viewers aged 15 to 50. The games were a runaway success; the app topped the download charts and an unprecedented 38% of viewers on average used it during broadcast.

At the moment, VR headsets aren’t distributed widely enough to justify a primetime viewing slot for a live show. That’s why we developed the games for iOS and Android devices, giving a large global audience the chance to compete and engage with the content. However, once VR headsets are more widespread, it will open up a new world of possibilities for the TV industry to blend the best elements of gaming and traditional TV.

Exciting new formats will be coming through, and content creators and channels need to embrace the development. MR technology does not only hold the power to create new stories, it can enhance existing formats. In the coming years, existing gameshow formats will be revamped to make them more exciting and relevant for existing and new viewers alike.

The real challenge to show creators is not to get overly focused on the new technical possibilities – a trap into which many 3D productions have fallen – but to remember that a good story needs real human drama and emotion.

today's correspondent

Stig Olav Kasin Chief content officer The Future Group

Stig Olav Kasin is chief content officer at Norwegian tech firm The Future Group. Prior to that, he was exec VP of entertainment at the same company and series producer at Nordisk Film TV, part of the Banijay Group.

His production credits include Lost in Time, The Voice and Who Wants to be a Millionaire?.