It’s taken a while, but there has really never been a better time for those of us who work in interactive media. It’s not about Web 2.0, user-generated content, video-on-demand, social networking or IPTV – no, it’s really all about the C-word.
Content – experiences, stories, narratives, journeys – whatever you call it, is the satisfying part of the smorgasbord of media we consume every day. Speaking as an Australian, who has spent time in the US, there is no better place to be for a content producer right now than the UK.
It’s very tempting for a content producer to get carried away with platforms, but getting your content onto online channels like Joost or YouTube; creating Facebook applications or MySpace groups; or making content available on VOD platforms like 4oD, the BBC iPlayer or Amazon Unboxed, is ultimately just promotion or distribution. You still need to create the content and the UK, with its strong independent production sector and commitment to public service media, is leading the way.
Public service broadcasters have turned the UK into a R&D lab. When I arrived here nearly six years ago the BBC’s online and red button activities such as Walking with Dinosaurs, Death in Rome and Wimbledon were leading the world. At that time, when I attended conferences in the US, colleagues from very large media conglomerates would freely admit that the UK was three to four years ahead of anything happening there.
Today the BBC continues to be at the forefront of interactive content with the award-winning history experience CDX, the raft of Dr Who content such as the Tardisodes and standalone mobile services like Bitesize GCSEs. The new multiplatform commissioning structure at BBC Vision is the right strategy in this world of omnicontent. Its commitment to thinking big and taking risks with online, mobile and red button content is unparalleled by any other broadcaster.
Equally impressive is the move by Channel 4 Education to take the £6million ($11.8m) it spends on telly that 14-18-year-olds weren’t watching and spend it on broadband projects. This is a brave move but makes total sense in trying to engage a generation which is spoilt for choice and platforms. Teacher’s TV is another landmark project, a channel and website stuffed full of content for the classroom and professional development.
Over on BBC Three, Danny Cohen is keen for his channel to become a multiplatform pioneer and he’s putting his money where his mouth is by commissioning formats like Upstaged where the majority of action will happen online.
Many of the interactive producers are also developing and selling content which never appears on television. At a recent conference, Joanna Shields, from social network Bebo, described television as "just an Internet connection". Bebo is a pioneer in commissioning original content for its networks such as The Gap Year and Kate Modern.
As one of the few TV production companies with an interactive business, we at Lion Television are developing content that actually doesn’t have TV at its start point. We’re forming relationships with new commissioning editors, such as Bebo and MySpace, as well as building on existing relationships with the heads of digital divisions at BBC and Channel 4. We also continue to produce multiplatform projects such as Castaway (BBC), Britain’s Best (UKTV History), History Detectives (PBS) and currently, Britain from Above (BBC).
Despite the growing number of platforms and the gradual breakdown of the broadcasting model, which we are seeing every day, one thing remains irrefutable: content is indeed king.
Whether it’s viewed on TV or online and whether a consumer finds it from their remote control or a Facebook application, it’s all going to be about great storytelling and who has the best content. Everyone is watching each other to see who gets it right, and with some of the most innovative broadcasters and creative production companies in the world, many eyes will be on the UK.